If there is one thing to keep in mind when talking about the internet, is that it never forgets. As a result, anything posted online will live forever in some form– no matter how obscure you may believe the space to be. The fact that online postings are permanent, makes it even more of a challenge when we consider that for some people, their sole motivation apparently is to cause as much damage as possible online, with lawyers – like the rest of us – not immune to the potential damage that can be done by a person who wishes to tarnish a someone’s reputation. How? Well, what about a disgruntled former client that has set up a page which is solely dedicated to ruining the reputation of your firm and that of your practitioners, and any person who types the name of your firm in a search engine, will find the negative site as the top result. It may appear to some that we’re being overdramatic – but the aforementioned scenario can, and has happened to innocent parties before.
The openness of the internet has allowed it to thrive, but the flipside is that with that freedom and ease of access, a person with malicious intent can easily damage the reputation of your firm, and your practitioners. Therefore, reputation management is of paramount importance for lawyers who rely on their good standing to not only maintain, but to also generate new business.
What are the options if a firm runs into problems online? There are companies that specialise in reputation management but such services can potentially be time consuming, costly and may not always be completely effective. Therefore, if you don’t want to engage in the services of a company who specialises in reputation management, there are a number of small steps that you may be able to take if you happen to find yourself on the receiving end of some nasty online behaviour.
Monitor what is being said about your firm
Search engines such as Google are wonderful for well, search, and with that being said, using the tools at your disposal is a good starting off point. Additionally, you have the ability to set up Google Alerts to find out what is being said about you or the firm, allowing you to receive emails every time new results pop up regarding the search term(s) you wish to monitor. Furthermore, if you wish to monitor any mentions on social media, there are also tools available that you can utilise to keep tabs on any social media mentions as well.
Managing your reputation is an all encompassing and consistent effort
From the moment you have established your online footprint, it’s important that you consistently maintain your reputation by spreading your presence far and wide, by engaging with a variety of online platforms with the aim of producing relevant content either on your own website, law society publications and of course, social media. By having an active and prolific presence online, may help to drown out the negatives with the positives.
Sometimes, you can’t ignore the trolls – but look before you leap
The adage of ‘don’t feed the trolls’ is generally the correct approach to take. However, there may be instances where the behaviour is so unacceptable that some sort of response is required: But what? Like any professional interaction you may have, a measured response is of utmost importance if you’re dealing with a less than savoury character, because it never helps your cause if you lash out emotionally. In fact, some trolls thrive on an emotional response. Therefore, it’s important that you echo the professional tone of your firm and to get the right person in place if there is a feeling that a response is required, and drawing up a plan of action will be a good place to start.
Additionally, search engines, forums and websites may have various mechanisms in place that allow you to request false statements to be removed. However, these sites may also require additional information from you to support your request, so approach any such interaction as you would if you’re preparing for court. We should emphasise that it’s not possible to fight every online battle, nor is it desirable, because you might be expending more energy on dealing with the trolls, rather than saving your efforts towards your all important clients.