It’s important for solos to manage their online reputations
As anyone who’s ever scanned Amazon.com probably knows, most online reviews of products and services are written by people who are either extremely happy with what they got or extremely unhappy.
For solo and small attorneys, the online rantings of an unhappy client can have devastating consequences. But more and more attorneys are fighting back with a relatively new marketing tool called online reputation management.
Many marketing firms now offer not only ways for businesses to enhance their online presence (via social media and search engine optimization), but also to reduce the damage that can be done to a business via negative comments in blogs, message boards, or public sites such as Facebook or Twitter.
According to marketing research firm BIA/Kelsey, small and medium businesses spent $1.6 billion in reputation management in 2011, a figure that should rise to $5 billion by 2015. Small-firm and solo lawyers likely make up a very small portion of that total expenditure, but they can employ some of the tricks of the trade to make sure their name or practice isn’t smeared online.
Drown them out
Online reputation management is simply monitoring how you and your business are discussed online, with the goal of either suppressing negative comments or pushing them lower on search engine results pages to decrease their visibility. While trying to drown out negative comments might seem counterproductive, experts say it’s all a part of doing business in 2012.
“The mechanism for working with Google to remove content and can be difficult and laborious,” said Andrea Douglas, a principal with Nighthawk Marketing in Minneapolis. “You should learn how to push bad reviews down in Google, or at least push them off page one of your search results.”
A few sites, such as Avvo.com, allow lawyers to be rated and discussed, but the site’s rating system has come under fire from lawyers who pay to be listed on the site.
“I’m a big fan of Avvo,” said Paul Jahn, owner of Localmn Internet Marketing. “But there’s not too much control for attorneys. The most they can do is recommend that their happy clients say something nice.”
In fact, encouraging satisfied clients to speak out is one of the most tried-and-true ways for solos to manage their online reputation. One way to do this while managing the content that’s posted is by creating a blog or Facebook page devoted to your practice where clients can ask questions and post comments, all moderated by you.
“Be prepared to handle negative comments on Facebook or on blogs,” advised Christina Milanowski, social media director and account supervisor with Maccabee Public Relations in St. Paul. “Know in advance how you would respond. We help clients create Facebook moderation policies so that they know, if there’s a high-risk comment, how do you respond quickly?”
Google+ Local, in which area businesses are rated, is another place where attorneys can encourage positive feedback from clients. And because Google+ Local now requires that users supply their email address and full name before logging in, the recommendations carry more credibility than they might on sites that allow anonymous comments.
“On Google in particular, people used to become frustrated with what I call review spam,” said Jahn. “That’s why they created the new sign-in process. I think it will help.”
A civil tongue
Another recommended way to deal with negative comments online: Contact the commenter, and take the discussion offline.
“The three rules I try to get clients to follow when they respond to a review are: Be nice, keep it short, and thank them for their interest,” said Jahn. “Don’t get into an argument.”
“Thank them for comment and invite them to call you,” said Jean Hill, a vice president with Maccabee. “It might involve a closed case or a matter that you shouldn’t comment on publicly, so you might not want to continue the conversation online. But it shows that you’re hearing the person. You can say, ‘We’re working on the case.’”
Overall, according to Douglas, establishing and maintaining an ongoing review monitoring strategy can keep what’s said about your practice online under control.
“Check consistently and often what’s being said about you,” she said. “One comment can get indexed in multiple places pretty quickly.”
At the same time, though, it’s worth remembering that the Internet still has a Wild West quality, and most users are savvy enough to distinguish between a negative comment that was the result of shoddy work and one that’s the result of someone — who you may or may not have worked with — just wanting to cause trouble.
“You can tell the different between someone with a serious concern and someone just wreaking havoc online,” said Hill.