Reputation management essentially refers to controlling the message everyone sees relative to you and your profile, or that of your firm. Good reputation management helps you to establish trust, highlight your successes, and even accomplish goals before you meet a prospective client in person. Reputation management is an important part of every lawyer’s and law firm’s online presence. Without a planned strategy in place, your online reputation will be at the mercy of the Internet.
With the Internet being accessible to almost everyone around the globe, one comment can spread exponentially in a matter of seconds. Bad commentary has a higher potential to do damage because of where it is posted, not exactly because of what it says. What matters most is who sees it. The main thing to remember when it comes to managing your online reputation is that no matter what you do, good or bad, you’re doing it in front of an audience. Always act with the knowledge that people outside of any particular situation will see — and judge — how you conduct yourself.
Here are six important principles you should keep in mind as you build your online reputation management plan:
- Good SEO Helps Reputation Management: One of the worst places for bad comments to show up is in the search results when someone is searching for you or your firm. If you keep on top of SEO and make sure that pages from your own website stay in the top results when people search for your law firm’s name or the name of one of your attorneys, there’s less room for any bad word of mouth to pop up where anyone will see it.
- Know How You Appear To Prospects: More specifically, know how you want to appear to prospects. Use a combination of technology and human expertise to analyze how netizens see your firm. What are you known for? Which group are you most popular with? You’ll find a wealth of data in your online reviews and ratings. Social media is also a great way to look at yourself and your firm in the mirror and see where your strengths and flaws are.
- Listen To Your Past Clients: Reach out to your previous clients and ask them for feedback. Word of mouth is still an effective marketing tool. Welcome both positive and negative feedback so you can establish what your best practices are and what your clients think you might be able to improve. Everything is worth learning from.
- Be Proactive About Gaining Reviews: Place an option on your website or social media pages for your visitors to review you. It can do wonders for your online presence and reputation. This way, they can also share feedback with their friends, family and associates that will help get the word out there.
- Always Balance Your Response: One of the worst mistakes companies make when it comes to responding to issues is ignoring things they don’t like. When you ignore serious issues expressed by concerned individuals, you are essentially saying that their concerns are not valid and that you couldn’t care less. Other potential clients will see this and assume this is business as usual for your law firm. Always address issues head-on, amicably and respectfully. Don’t make excuses, don’t shift the blame, and most of all, keep it short and simple.
- Make A Plan And Be Prepared: Be sure to have a contingency plan in case a crisis occurs. A sure way to fail is to be so confident in your existing procedures that you have no plan B or C. You should always have a backup plan. Remember, the Internet moves fast. If things really go wrong, you won’t have much time to try to contain the damage.
It is also important to have one go-to spokesperson who can issue a statement. Notify everyone that this spokesperson is the only one authorized to send an official statement. Mixed messages coming from different people will undermine people’s trust in you.
Most importantly, consider your position as a legal authority. Use only gender-neutral and politically correct terms. Consider cultural and religious sensitivities, and gather the facts. Information can spread so quickly these days that it’s nearly impossible to retract statements that contain errors.
Reputation, especially online reputation, can make or break careers and businesses. Take an active and deliberate role in planning your reputation management efforts to secure your future as a lawyer or law firm. Good reputation management can help you exploit everything positive and find new opportunities in the negative. Don’t leave the fate of your online reputation up to anyone else.
Kevin Vermeulen is Partner and Chief Operating Officer at Good2bSocial. He has 30 years of marketing and advertising experience, with the last 22 years working in various senior management roles for ALM Media, a leading legal publisher, helping lawyers, law firms, consultants and vendors grow their business. During Kevin’s tenure at ALM, he worked with professional services companies in the financial, digital, real estate and legal industries.