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Help ‘webify’ tax by educating your site’s users

Tax is not a frivolous subject; it’s no surprise there’s very little of it in what would be considered the pop culture of the web. There is a lot of online whingeing about tax – the vast majority of it hackneyed at best – but hardly any witty pastiches or gentle mockery.

Where is the tax professionals’ version of Sexy Executives, the brilliant comedy blog that pokes fun at company bosses’ official photos? Where are the slyly satirical Facebook groups, or the smartly irreverent YouTube clips?

At the time of writing, a search for ‘tax’ in the Snowclones Database, which joyfully catalogues thousands of ‘fill in the blank’ clichés (X is the new Y: that sort of thing), produced zero results. Are you aware of a tax-based internet meme? No, me neither.

The story might well be different were the subject better understood by lay people, who would be able to intelligently discuss (and tease) tax and its proponents. This is a matter with which everyone in the profession can help.

‘It’s all about education,’ says Marcus Green. He’s a web commentator whose firm, Toolkit Websites, provides online design solutions to more than 1,000 small businesses. ‘Tax is complicated, but the beauty of the web is that it can simplify subjects.’

Although that’s not the case with the HMRC site, which compared to other services for managing personal finances – online banking, for instance – is ‘a complete dog’. That’s Marcus’s phrase; he has an idea for the ideal Revenue offering. It’d allow a taxpayer to log in to a personal, secure space that would contain easy-to-follow information about his or her tax status and history.

It’s a utopian vision that won’t become reality in our lifetimes. It’d be a logistical nightmare, financially crippling, and trying to placate myriad concerns about privacy would have the taxman tied in knots for years and years.

We’ll have to settle for the next best thing, which is judicious use by tax advisers of their online resources. That returns us to the point Marcus makes about the need to educate.

It’s not a tricky thing to do and no special kit is needed, although some care is necessary. You, as a tax expert, should simply pick a salient subject, and then post an update – a story, guide or opinion piece – that’s short (no more than 500 words; 300 is a better length) and easy to follow (eschew jargon and overly technical detail).

Tone is important. ‘Write as if addressing a friend,’ says Marcus, who points out that the writer’s aim is to build trust between him/her and (potential) clients. Yes, the correct tone is crucial, much more so than ‘being glitzy’ (Marcus again). Dry PR material is inadvisable, and being silly is out of the question. (That Saucy CTAs blog will have to wait.)

Patience will be necessary; building an online audience takes time. You’ll need to set up profiles on the likes of Facebook and Twitter, and then let people know when new updates are available on your site.

Those updates should stick to the point and not attempt to cover all bases; readers will usually need to contact you directly to discuss the finer points of their tax situations. It’s also important not to make too much noise, says Marcus, meaning you shouldn’t overwhelm visitors with information.

What else not to do, Marcus? ‘Don’t upset readers [with scare stories or warnings]. Don’t be afraid to link to other sites that contain further information. And don’t tweet in the early hours of the morning unless you’re stone-cold sober.’

Finally, keep up. ‘Tax is one of last areas to become webified. As it develops online, most likely through secure accountancy services from larger companies, taxpayers will become more engaged and the smaller tax adviser will need to stay up to date so as not to be left behind. He or she will advise clients not only in tax, but also on the online services that can be used to help manage finances.’

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