Yesterday, I had the privilege of moderating an LMA webinar with Lance Godard, the Client Relationship Manager for Fisher & Phillips, and Mark Elliott, the Director of Business Development & Human Resources at Eastman & Smith on “Reputation Management and Social Media.”
I consider myself a fairly savvy social media user, and a regular, responsible manager of my online reputation, but I learned quite a bit of new information during yesterday’s session, which I want to pass along to Zen readers for your benefit as well!
There are two sides to reputation management that you’re probably thinking of – one of those is crisis management, and this is what to do when someone does or says something damaging to the firm or their personal reputation online. That wasn’t the subject of yesterday’s session, but is also something you want to be conscious and aware of (there’s lots of resources for you out there on how to manage that).
The second part is actively monitoring and managing your personal/professional and firm reputation, and participating in the conversations other people are having about your brand. Don’t worry about my use of the word “brand” here – we’re just talking about the image that you present to the world, whether it’s the image that you want people to have of your firm as a whole, or the image that you want them to have of you as a lawyer or law firm professional.
Does online reputation management matter?
The first area that Lance and Mark addressed was why we have to care about online reputation management at all – does it even matter? The short answer is yes, of course.
No matter the size of your firm, you’re susceptible to online criticism. Even if clients aren’t being critical of you, conversations are happening about you online, and wouldn’t it be better to be aware of those conversations (at the minimum) and able to participate in them when necessary, then to be a totally unaware, silent bystander?
Lawyers and firms of all sizes need to be vigilant about their brands. You could even venture to say that there’s an ethical obligation to manage your online reputation and any criticism that arises, said the panelists.
You don’t want to miss things merely because you’re not paying attention.” — Lance Godard
Warren Buffet also gave us a valuable piece of advice that the panelists shared:
It takes 20 years to build a reputation….and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
Four Steps to Manage Your Brand
Lance and Mark shared four steps that we should be using to manage our online reputations:
Protect Your Brand
The first of these steps is protecting your brand. Remember, we’re using the word “brand” here, but you can consider it to be interchangeable with “image” or “reputation.”
Protecting your brand is all about planning – while the panelists didn’t delve into how to develop a communications plan, they did advise having one (as do I). Develop your plan BEFORE you start posting and choosing what channels you’re going to use online, and then knowing what to do in any given scenario becomes more of a guided exercise and less of a “what do we do now?” experience.
You can’t be everywhere just for the sake of it – decide as part of the communications planning process which of the social media channels make the most sense based on your goals and client base, and prioritize those. Protecting your name/brand then starts with owning it in all of those places that are important to you and your firm, today and in the future. This is the step that probably many of you have already taken (you’ve got your Twitter handle, your LinkedIn name, your web address, etc.).
The panelists suggested using a tool like KnowEm? where you can enter a name to search over 500 social networks and 200 domain names to instantly secure your brand across the web.
Build Your Brand
The second step is to build your brand, and you do this by ensuring that you’re posting only relevant content to each channel – and post regularly. The idea is that in the event some negative does come up, you’ll already have enough other content online to balance it out so that it doesn’t dominate the conversation.
That’s not the only reason you’re doing this though – the primary reason is that when someone does a search for your firm or your brand in Google, you want them to find YOU in the results!
A key tip here is to use your firm name whenever possible when you’re posting, and to use the words that your clients use for their business. That’s going to further connect YOU with those brands and areas of expertise.
The temptation here can be to post all about me, me, me. But that’s not advisable. A good rule of thumb, says Mark, is the 30/40/30 rule – that says 30% of your content should be substantive content, 40% should be about the industry or sectors in which you’re working, and 30% should be about yourself.
Monitor Your Brand
Whether it’s good or bad, you have to be monitoring what people are saying about you and your firm. You or someone from your firm should be monitoring all firm mentions, and all possible modifications – that includes misspellings, and modifiers like “sucks,” “scam,” or “kudos.”
You should also be monitoring industries and practice areas, and I also recommend monitoring your top clients as well (that’s less about monitoring your brand, and more about good social media practice).
There are a lot of ways to track mentions, but you’ll find that most of them are covered by using Google alerts, per the panelists. They also recommended checking the following tools, which have both paid and free versions:
Another good rule of thumb is to Google yourself regularly. Search results will tell you how the online world views you. Make sure to check images and videos to see what is coming up there, and if there is anything unflattering posted, you can submit a request to Google to have it removed, using www.google.com/webmasters/tools/removals
Engage and Respond to Criticism
This is the toughest one, but it’s a must-do – to manage your online reputation, you must engage and respond to criticism. The majority of your online mentions are likely going to be positive. But even if you’re the nicest person out there, the internet will find ways to criticize you – that’s just how it is.
Importantly, you need to have procedures in place as part of your communications plan to how to respond – both to positive and negative mentions. The panelists recommend pre-approving positive mentions, and then having a system for negative mentions – ignore certain people, and take others to the attention of the managing partner, or the person designated to deal with these situations. Always keep the firm’s image in mind.
We had some discussion following the presentation as well, with Mark offering a great comment:
Measure twice, post once.”
The idea being that you should always exercise caution when posting, especially in a professional capacity – and these days, no matter where you’re posting, you are essentially posting in a professional capacity. Even if you think you have strict privacy settings on your Facebook page, and you’re safely raging away about something, you never know who is taking a screen capture of your rant and subsequently sharing it in a very public online forum with your name attached (and maybe even your firm name).
Privacy is a thing of the past, so caution is the word of the day. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use social media, or you should let the fear of putting a foot out of line keep you from posting or engaging passionately and actively. It DOES mean that you should work to achieve a balance between the sense of immediacy that social media encourages within us, and the need for review and responsibility that the legal industry brings out in all of us (which is a good thing).
What other tips and tricks for online reputation management can you offer?