9 Ways to Destroy Your Online Reputation

9 Ways to Destroy Your Online Reputation


Building an influential online reputation is essential to business development and the growth of a thriving law practice.   The Internet and social marketing provides attorneys with a powerful platform for developing a brand with local and even national appeal; however, this platform can be dangerous when used carelessly.   Unlike in-person conversations, information shared on the Internet and social networks can go “viral” quickly and they almost always remain accessible forever.  Once a thoughtless comment is made online, in most cases you cannot simply “delete” your way out of trouble. For example, tools like Google’s Wayback Machine take digital snapshots of the Internet, allowing savvy Internet users to access archives of your comments, even the ones that were written on websites that no longer exists.   I say this not to scare you, but to emphasize the importance of being intentional about what you post online.

So how do you use social media effectively to build (and not tarnish) your personal and professional reputation online?   Keep reading and you'll learn 9 things you must not do if you want to build an online reputation that is not only strong and influential today, but will remain that way in the years to come.

Do Not Ignore Negative Comments and Reviews
Potential clients who find you while searching the Internet to find help for their legal needs will see reviews that have been written about you – the good, bad and ugly … as well as comments on sites that allow them.  When you do not respond to comments and address criticisms that are left online, you leave the impression that your client care leaves a lot to be desired.  If you can’t be bothered to type a hundred-word response to a comment, how does a potential client know that you'll return her phone calls or focus on his legal issues?   Worse still … by failing to respond to online comments and reviews, you leave it up to a prospective client's imagination to interpret your silence.

Do Not Be Defensive When Poorly to Negative Comments
Worse than failing to respond to negative commentary is responding in poor taste.  Respond to negative online comments in the same way you would respond to an emotional client. Say that you appreciate that something hasn’t gone as the commenter expected and perhaps offer to follow-up off-line.   Never criticize the person online or engage in any online banter.  Not only will you damage your reputation, you just may find yourself before bar counsel for an ethics violation.   Be thoughtful.  Be careful.  Be professional.

Do Not Pay Clients for Testimonials
Never pay a client for a testimonial.   Do it and you'll most likely have your bar association's ethnics counsel hot on your case.   Instead, focus on getting results for clients and practicing exceptional client service.  When you accomplish these things, you’ll have no shortage of clients willing to provide you with positive testimonials.   Just be sure to review attorney advertising rules in the jurisdictions in which you practice before using them.

Do Not Purchase or Otherwise Post  Fake Reviews
Purchase or otherwise post fake reviews and testimonials and get ready to face bar counsel.  This is in addition to destroying your online brand.   Focus on getting results, delivering exceptional client care and staying within attorney advertising guidelines and you have all of the positive testimonials and reviews that you need to build a profitable brand.

Do Not Set-Up Social Media Accounts and Fail to Monitor Them 
Like failing to respond to comments – abandoned social media accounts give prospective clients the impression that you are careless.   People may also leave comments on abandoned accounts that need to be addressed.   If you've set up social media accounts that you do not plan to actively use – at a minimum, leave a placeholder messages that tells folks who come across your site how to find you online.  Do this by posting your website URL and links to your active social media accounts.

Do Not Bad Mouth Your Colleagues (aka Other Attorneys) or Judges
It can be tempting to complain about incompetent opposing counsels or even judges (presiding and not) – however, the Internet and especially social media sites (even your private accounts) are no place to do this.   While this seems like common sense, there are many cases of attorneys being disciplined for such careless behavior.

Do Not Share Private Information About Your Clients.
In fact … Do Not Share Any Information About Your Clients Without Express Permission 

In everyday life, we’re accustomed to swapping war stories and tales about clients with our colleagues. Online, it’s important to recognize that every exchange is amplified and published to the world.  A story, a complaint, or even a well intentioned request for advice can inadvertently reveal information that breaches your client's confidentiality.  Be careful.

Do Not Over-share Personal Information
When commenting and using social media accounts remember this, you are a professional.   Everything that you say online (on your personal and professional accounts) build your credibility, reinforces your credibility or diminishes your credibility.   Furthermore, nothing that you publish is every really private.   There are lots of tools and software that can access your private accounts and publish your online posts to the world.   When thinking about posting updates on social media that involve risqué humor, politics, or matters of the heart, I highly discourage publishing anything online that you would not publish it on the front page of your hometown paper, do not write it online.

Here's the thing … the Internet presents an enormous opportunity for large firms and solo practices to automate portions of their business development funnels; however, carelessness can turn this opportunity into a liability.   Use common sense, be ethical, and remember that what you say online will either strengthen your online reputation or diminish it.