Here are some unsettling thoughts: Right now, a bored teenager could be posting a scathing — and entirely fabricated — review of your law firm on an online recommendation site such as Yelp or Google +. A disgruntled client could be mocking you in an online discussion group. Or an old college roommate could be posting unflattering mid-1980s party pictures of you to Facebook.
Thanks to the uncensored and largely unregulated world of the Web, all of these scenarios are entirely plausible. And that makes online reputation management something you can’t afford to ignore.
What can you do? You could hire a company that specializes in online reputation repair. While they can be effective, they’re not cheap — their fees can quickly climb into the six-figure range.
They aren’t your only option, however. In fact, there are simple steps you can take to manage your law firm’s online reputation.
Step #1: Listen
Before you can prepare a defense, you need to know what people are saying about you or your law firm. The easiest way is to search for yourself or your law firm with Google, Bing or another search engine. You can also set up keyword alerts for mentions of your name on the Web. And there are a variety of more sophisticated approaches, including dashboard-style tools that notify you when your personal or firm information appears on the Web and in social media mentions.
2. Go on the offensive
Yes, it’s a cliché, but the “best defense is a good offense” adage applies here. A solid SEO 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 core idea is to offset negative or false statements about your firm with regular waves of positive information.
3. Plan your response
The key goal is to put yourself in control of your online reputation. Unfortunately, you can’t control everything. That’s why you need a plan for how to respond if or when your name gets dragged through the digital mud. For example, what happens if you find a negative review of your law firm? Do you ignore it? Do you post a reply on the review site? Or do you address it in a blog post or via social media channels? You’ll also want to lay out such items as who will serve as the firm’s voice, how quickly you’ll take action and the like.
Another key point to consider: Google and other search engines allow you to request that false information be removed from websites. You can also contact the webmasters of individual review sites and ask them to delete misleading or inflammatory remarks. Be prepared to back up your request with tangible details, however. And be careful to pick your battles wisely — today’s hyper-savvy Web users have little tolerance for anything that hints at censorship.
The bottom line: You probably can’t remove all potentially damaging content from the Internet, but the steps outlined above can help you minimize its impact on your reputation.