At Consultwebs, our law firm web marketing consultants know that one of the most important assets for a law firm is its reputation. However, we also understand that your reputation faces the constant risk of online attacks, especially through social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+, as well as on review sites such as Avvo and Yelp. Our team can help you manage these risks, respond to negative feedback, and build a positive reflection of your brand online.
Your reputation has always preceded you. But in this day and age, your online reputation can stretch far beyond the word-of-mouth reviews that used to drive the legal business.
More people are turning to the Internet to find a lawyer than ever before (38 percent, according to one study, compared with 29 percent who asked a friend or relative for a recommendation). But these potential clients are not just picking the first firm to pop up in their search results. They are doing their research, checking online reviews, looking for five-star ratings, and taking their cues from a web of strangers whose words are forever memorialized on trusted sites that you may not control.
So how can you harness the power of your online reputation (and avoid the nagging curse of that one bad review)? The law firm online marketing experts at Consultwebs can help. We work with firms to build positive reviews, update inaccurate information, and address negative feedback in a constructive way. Our goal is to turn your online reputation into a lead generator.
The Importance of Online Reputation Management
First impressions matter online. A law firm may have thousands of satisfied customers in real life, but if it’s only sign of customer satisfaction online is one poor review, that’s what potential clients will use to make their decision. In fact, one survey showed that 88 percent of consumers consider online reviews to be as trustworthy as a personal recommendation. It also found that 88 percent of people relied on online reviews to decide whether a local business was good or not.
“What this means is that not offering user reviews (or ignoring them as a potential marketing opportunity) is akin to alienating 88 percent of your buying population, depriving them of information they want to help them make their buying decisions,” Forbes reported in analyzing the survey’s results.
But it’s not just clients who are swayed by your firm’s online reputation. Referring attorneys, business partners, potential employees, and personal contacts may all be influenced by what they see about you online. Not to mention what your opposing counsel might latch on to.
How to Improve Your Law Firm’s Online Reputation
As with any self-improvement plan, you should always start by looking within. Some of the questions you should ask are:
- Does your law firm currently have a process in place for gauging client satisfaction?
- Are you asking clients for feedback on what you could do better? (And are you acting on it?)
- Are you addressing client concerns as soon as possible, before they spill over into an online review?
- Do you make it easy for satisfied clients to leave you reviews online?
- Do you have a policy in place for responding to negative reviews online?
- Is your law firm website up to date and has implemented law firm SEO?
- Have you set up or updated profiles for your firm and individual attorneys on sites such as Avvo and Yelp?
- Have your attorney’s taken advantage of peer reviews on sites such as Avvo?
- Have you set up profiles on the most popular social media platforms, and are you using them?
- Are you taking the opportunity to show your legal prowess by publishing articles both on your own blog and writing for outside sites?
It may seem like a juggling act, but think about it as networking with people you haven’t yet met. Potential clients will only find you if you stand out from the crowd of law firms jockeying for their attention online.
Where to Start with Positive Reviews
It makes the most sense to start your collection of positive reviews where people are searching for your services. As you probably guessed, Google is dominant among search engines, with 65 percent of searches. Yelp has also proven to be tops among those searching for legal help, according to Software Advice’s survey.
So, with that in mind, consider soliciting reviews based on where your potential clients are:
- Google (Google My Business)
- Martindale Hubbell
- Better Business Bureau (BBB.org)
The opportunities to collect reviews abound online, but getting your clients to take that next step can be tricky. Make it as easy as possible for them. Link to your profiles from your website and newsletters, and don’t hesitate to ask your happy clients to share their experience.
When setting your strategy to collect online reviews, be sure that your approach is in compliance with regulations and guidelines from applicable bars and legal organizations, as well as those of the platforms themselves.
How to Address Negative Reviews or Comments
If you are just starting to actively manage your law firm’s online reputation, you should begin by doing a general search for your firm and your attorneys to check for negative reviews. You will also need to check popular review sites such as Avvo and Yelp to see what is showing up in potential client searches.
If you encounter a negative review, do not freak out. The American Bar Association suggests several steps you can take to address it:
- If the review is accurate, respond to the reviewer in a compassionate way that puts a spotlight on the type of customer service your firm provides. Ask if you can contact the person directly to discuss the matter more thoroughly and make things right.
- If the review is inaccurate, respond publicly in a measured, reasonable way. Don’t let your emotions get the better of you. Don’t respond in a way that will prompt a public argument. Let your professionalism shine through in your polite response.
- Do not ignore the review. At the very least, craft a short response so others can see that you take client satisfaction seriously.
- Pile on the positive reviews. Keep in mind that you can’t please everybody, and reasonable people know that. As long as you continue to collect positive reviews, those one or two negative ones won’t mean much in the big picture.
The ABA warns that you should always keep your state bar’s ethics rules in mind when responding to negative reviews. Lawyers can get themselves in trouble by accidentally sharing confidential information in response to an online review.
Once you have completed your initial assessment of any negative reviews, set up a Google Alert for your law firm and attorneys so you can stay on top of any new mentions.
How to Handle Negative Articles
From time to time, your law firm may face scrutiny or be painted in an unflattering light in an article online. Although this type of ding to your reputation can hurt, don’t let it get you too upset. Depending on the circumstances, you have a few options for how to respond to negative articles online:
- If the article is factually accurate, your best bet may be to not respond publicly. Issuing a response may add more fuel to the fire and keep the issue in the spotlight. Just keep moving and prepare to answer questions from any clients who may have read the article.
- If the article is not accurate, you can contact the reporter or editor to ask for a correction or retraction. A reputable news source will want to set the story straight. Just remember, your opinion on how they should correct it may not match theirs.
- Focus on creating more positive mentions (such as through press releases, guest author opportunities, etc.) and building robust firm profiles to help bury the negative article deep in the search returns.
Build the Reputation You Want
Active online reputation management should be an ongoing part of every law firm’s business development strategy. And flying under the radar is not an option these days. Your law firm will have a reputation online, whether you contribute to it or not. Why not take control and make it the reputation you want to precede you?