While crises come and go, reputations last forever.
Reputation management is an attempt to bridge the gap between how a law firm perceives itself and how others view it. It requires monitoring the reputation of individual lawyers and the firm brand, addressing content which may be damaging to either, and using early warning signals to thwart reputation problems.
Online reputation management escalated in strategic necessity with the advent of social networks, online forums, blogs and other forms of online communication and information sharing. Unfortunately, perceptions are not always based on fact, but on opinion, conjecture and rumours. Since current laws are inadequate to prevent total strangers from tarnishing your online reputation, active online reputation management is now essential.
Think of it this way: online reputation management is the practice of making people and businesses look their best on the Internet. It’s not a question of whether or not you should be managing your reputation online, it’s a question of how. Just because you haven’t drawn fire from detractors online yet doesn’t mean it won’t happen. And when it does, you better be ready for it.
You probably can’t remove all potentially damaging content from the Internet, but the steps outlined below and a heaping handful of common sense can help you minimize its impact on the reputation entrusted to you to manage.
You have an online reputation – so listen
Everyone and every law firm has an online reputation to maintain. Google yourself, a lawyer or your firm. Also do a search in Google Images. Even if you don’t find anything written, that’s still a reputation – a void, so to speak. Think about whether what can be found in a Google, Facebook or Twittersearch is something you and your firm would be comfortable with reading. You need to know what people are saying about you, your lawyers and your law firm. Spend twice as much effort on listening as you do responding. It’s just too easy to simply jump in and reply to that tweet or Facebook post without fixing the underlying issue.
Your reputation is an extension of your firm’s values and character
It doesn’t matter how hard you work at managing your firm’s reputation and creating a strategically perfect perception, your reputation will only ever be as solid as the actual firm values and demonstrated behaviour of everyone both internally and externally.
You are not perfect
What is your reputation’s weakness? When you recognize and acknowledge your weaknesses before your clients, competitors and the press do, you have the opportunity to craft a strong proactive strategy. No matter how hard you try, one day someone will try and tarnish your reputation. And as you trudge down the reputation management path, don’t forget how to say ‘sorry’, when appropriate. The reputation graveyard is littered with case studies where ‘sorry’ was too little, too late.
A crowd is louder than a voice in a crowd
After witnessing recent international events, it’s startling to see the power of a networked, connected crowd. Follow their strategic lead and shape your reputation with a crowd of opinions in harmony rather than one single voice. Be proactive and nurturing of your online community. Don’t ignore them and only try to respond when they rise up in anger.
What have you built lately?
If you build an official, firm supported social network, your clients, news influencers and prospects will know exactly where to head should they have a question, need some relevant information or have a query to resolve. Own your own name; it’s a good idea to buy your domain brand name in various formats in all media platforms. It will prevent ‘unauthorized’ use of your firm’s name.
They will build it if you don’t
In our uber-connected ecosystem, the default is to communicate, sometimes with anybody who will listen. And that’s when online communities are formed that don’t embrace your business strategy or your management committee’s view of the universe. Address every online issue promptly.
Your community will be forgiving... to a point
Some may cut you a little slack. But don’t build your plan or your career on it. A solid SEO (search engine optimization) strategy can help ensure that your law firm’s website appears at or near the top of search engine results. In a similar vein, search engines look for unique, fresh content, so blogging regularly, adding articles or videos to your website and staying active with social media can help fortify your reputation. The idea is to offset negative or false statements about your firm with regular waves of positive information.
Many users take search engines for granted. In reality, however, search engines are changing all the time - and none more so than Google, which receives algorithmic updates hundreds of times over the course of a year. If you are engaged in an active SEO program, you already know that this should be incorporated into your thinking.
You won’t be lonely
Being a relatively new field of endeavour, crowds of energetic online reputation management consultants will beseech you to hear their proprietary solution for what ails you this week.
Bottom line: once again, as with all law firm marketing opportunities, common sense will prevail. It’s not magic, it’s not rocket science and online reputation management is not difficult to comprehend.
About the Author
Paul Kuttner is principal of Innovate! Marketing Inc. and an executive member of the OBA Sole, Small and General Practice Section. innovatemarketing.ca