Online Reputation Management: Take Charge of Your Brand and Stay Calm
Let’s suppose you were driving down a highway and someone with road rage made vulgar gestures and called you names. What would your reaction be?
The smart reaction is to ignore the jerk and stay away from him. Any response can escalate the one-way temper tantrum into a two-way confrontation with possible tragic consequences. By ignoring the jerk, few if any people will even notice the incident. Those who do notice will know who the jerk in the situation was.
Because of what I do for a living – provide online marketing tools for attorneys – I often talk with professionals in Internet marketing about online reputation management. They tell me that the strategies that work in real life also work online.
Now let’s suppose someone said something disparaging about you on Twitter. You might be aware of it because your name came up. But who else noticed? A few followers of the person might notice. Most won’t care. And probably none of them are potential clients. In most cases the complaint will die a natural death because of lack of interest.
If you respond to the remark online, it will draw more attention – especially if there is an extensive engagement involving back-and-forth remarks. That will draw the attention of more people and of the search engines. Now when there is a search on your name, the disagreement could be on the first page of a search.
If you do respond, it’s a good idea to take it offline. Sometimes a person might have a legitimate concern that you can defuse quietly. A strong response online can have the effect of making you, the “powerful attorney,” look like a bully.
Take control of your brand.
It costs very little to assure your brand stays in your hands and your control. Register all the relevant URLs you can think of using your firm’s name. Examples: SmithJoneslaw, SmithJoneslawfirm, SmithJonesattorneys. Don’t forget to register dot-com, dot-net, and free registrations like dot-blogspot and dot-wordpress.
A reputable law firm I know of did not register a blogspot address. A disgruntled former client registered the blogspot address and wrote a scathing commentary about the law firm. When potential clients or anyone else searches on the firm’s name, the blogspot is in the top five listings.
What if the comments rise to the level of libel?
Online or offline, the response is the same. As a lawyer, you know what to do. A firmly worded cease-and-desist letter may solve the problem. Handle it as carefully and discreetly as you would if the libel had occurred offline.
Monitor your brand.
Track what people are saying about you online. You can use Google alerts, a free service, and other tools to keep current about any reference to you or your law firm online.
What will you do with that information? First, stay calm. Reactions on the Internet can be instantaneous – and extremely difficult, if not impossible, to retract.
By monitoring your brand, you can also be aware of positive comments people say about you – and respond online with your thanks. That increases brand awareness and value in a positive way.
Avoid the Rick Santorum “Google Problem.”
Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum has a Google problem that has become the stuff of legends. Back in 2003, he made some controversial statements about homosexuality. Nationally syndicated sex advice columnist Dan Savage started a campaign to redefine “santorum” as a sex term.
Because the domain “santorum.com” had not been registered, Savage was able to register the name and use it for a website (See “Take control of your brand”, above). As news of the website spread, it was linked to by more than 18,000 other websites, giving it credibility.
To make matters worse, the senator himself mentioned the website in interviews with the press. His objective was, of course, to disparage the website, but the result was to bring more attention to it. In addition, while the senator’s home page is attractive, it does not have much content that would draw a search engine’s notice.
The result? Today, eight years later, the anti-Santorum website is number one on a Google search for the senator’s name.
Take a positive approach to online reputation management.
• Protect your brand by registering the relevant domains – including free domains.
• Put new, positive information about your firm on the Internet on a regular basis, using your website, blogs and other social media.
• Resist the urge to respond in kind and online to negative comments made about you and your firm.
• Monitor what is being said about your law firm.
• Do not draw attention to negative comments.