Reputation Management: Scam or strategy?

Debra Pickett is president of Page 2 Communications (www.page2comm.com).  A former newspaper columnist and television commentator, Pickett offers consulting and training services to law firms and lawyers who deal with the media.  Reach her at deb@page2comm.com.

As a business, “reputation management” has a reputation somewhere just south of “masculine enhancement.”  And, certainly, there are plenty of folks out there who’d be happy to take your money for doing nothing more than arguing with a blogger who posted a complaint about your firm on a local chat board.

But the concept of reputation management – a strategy of actively monitoring and engaging with what’s being said about your work via social media and other channels – is bigger, and far more valuable, than this.  It is, in fact, the most important and effective kind of marketing a firm can do.

For most types of businesses, a comprehensive approach to reputation management involves first collecting reviews and comments (“consumer generated content”) from their customers and then making sure that content is widely published and distributed on review sites, like Yelp, and through other channels.  In addition, the business needs to respond to the comments (positive and negative) and to take action, even changing policies and practices when necessary, based on the feedback.

With law firms, where customer comments, reviews and testimonials generally aren’t widely disseminated, beyond, say, the Martindale-Hubbell Lawyer Index, this first aspect of reputation management is less relevant.  But the second part is still critical.  In fact, it’s even more so.

Even if your firm is not directly engaging in online or social media advertising, your work and your reputation has a digital presence.  People are talking about the work you do.  They’re talking about a case you handled or something your client did or the way your summer associates all jammed into the elevator at once, crowding out the hard-working bike messenger.

Referral business, a critical source of new clients for virtually every firm, is directly impacted by these comments and conversations, whether they happen online or in the real world.  To manage your firm’s reputation in this climate, you need to be actively following a variety of outlets, from hyperlocal sites, such as EveryBlock, to Facebook and Twitter and searching for your firm’s name, as well as keywords related to the clients and matters you’re working with.

When you know what people are saying, you can make informed, strategic decisions about how and whether to respond (or help your client respond) and, most importantly, review the way you work to see if there are things you might change.  Did a neighbor at a community meeting, where one of your attorneys was representing an environmental client, make a snarky comment about the very expensive suit she happened to be wearing?  And did a dozen other neighbors chime in to agree?  Maybe it’s time to start recommending casual dress for public events.

Reputation management doesn’t have to be sneaky.  And it doesn’t have to be complicated.  It might be as simple as taking off your jacket.

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