The Internet is many things to many people. For some, it’s an educational resource. For others, it’s a place to socialize or attract customers. Unfortunately, still others view the Internet as their personal battlefield. Blogs, social media communities and online review sites have become platforms for anyone with an axe to grind, or for taking swipes at competitors.
It may be hard to imagine yourself or your law practice as the subject of an online hit job. After all, if you provide your clients with the best legal representation possible, what do you have to worry about? A lot, unfortunately. Clients can fire off an impulsive unfavorable review, while a misinformed blog post can mix up names or trial outcomes and saddle you with a permanent and inaccurate online record. Even a photo of a college night out can be the first thing a prospective client sees when searching for your firm if you don’t keep close tabs on your online reputation.
“If I Heard It on the Internet, It Must Be True”
You might not think your competitors would spread misinformation about you, but people — and businesses — do write fake reviews to make their work look stellar and, conversely, to make their competitors look incompetent. Gartner predicts that by 2014, 10 to 15 percent of online reviews will be fabricated. It’s become so serious that the New York attorney general is cracking down on fake reviews. Still, studies show 72 percent of people continue to trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. Clearly this kind of feedback has a big influence on people doing research online.
Shields Up! Protect Your Reputation by Being Proactive
As an attorney, your name and professional reputation are virtually synonymous. The good news is you have more power than you think in shaping your online image. The key is to be proactive about building a protective layer of positive online content that blocks the occasional bad review or negative comment. Here are some steps to get the process underway.
- Monitor what’s being said about you and your firm. Use tools to help you find online conversations involving your name so that you can influence the tone if needed. At minimum, set a Google Alert for yourself and any high-publicity cases you work on, but also use applications like TweetBeep, Social Mention and Kurrently to track what’s being said about you on social media.
- Focus on content. Fill your firm’s website with high-value, SEO-rich content and promote all case wins, articles and philanthropic activities. Blog posts also are a great way to build your reputation as a thought leader.
- Engage. You’ve probably heard of businesses cultivating “brand evangelists” — customers so enthusiastic they serve as a sales channel. You want to talk with clients on social media (where appropriate) and participate in online conversations so that you cultivate an online network of friends and contacts. This way, you’ll develop “evangelists” who praise and recommend your law practice to others.
- Ask for reviews. While the validity of reviews can be questioned, they are still powerful selling tools, so you want to make sure your firm has a collection of valid reviews for prospects to read. You might encourage satisfied clients (your brand evangelists) to post positive reviews, or to write testimonials for your website. The fake or negative reviews may still pop up, but they won’t have as much power when they’re outnumbered by good ones. Though in all instances, of course, be sure you conform to your jurisdiction’s ethics rules.
- Own your listings. If don’t list yourself on review sites like Yelp and Google Reviews, other people will. Make sure you claim and own those accounts. You should also claim your profile on the top directories for lawyers, such as Avvo.
To build a prestigious and trusted online image and attract a steady roster of clients, you must guard your name by surrounding it with a halo of impressive and positive content. The dark side of the Internet can affect any attorney. Take charge and work to slowly and steadily build an honorable personal and professional brand that no negative review can penetrate.
Matt Spiegel is the founder of MyCase. He is an attorney in San Diego and started his criminal defense practice in 2009 after working with one of San Diego’s largest consumer law firms. He often speaks at legal conferences regarding the ins-and-outs of running a law practice and how cloud computing technologies can benefit the profession. He can be reached at @mattspiegelesq.