Don’t follow in the footsteps of Dr. David McKee, who responded to his negative review by filing a defamation lawsuit, which the Minnesota Supreme Court recently ruled was inactionable. In addition to losing the case, McKee’s action generated negative publicity about the poor review.
If only he had known about online reputation management.
“The spread of social media has touched everyone and every business owner,” said Joe Preston, of Attorney Reputation Management, a Washington-based marketing and public relations firm. “We’ve had clients who’ve been affected by jealous competitors, disgruntled former employees and sometimes, frankly, clients who are unreasonable.”
There are steps attorneys can and should take to protect their reputations, said Preston and intellectual property attorney Scott Scioli, who are co-authoring a book on the topic, scheduled for publication in June.
They recommend you start by claiming your profiles on the various directories and reviewing websites, primarily for search engine optimization purposes. But be strategic. For example, Scioli said he’s on Avvo, LinkedIn and Martindale-Hubbell, but has avoided Yelp because it’s more consumer-law oriented and he typically seeks business clients.
Then, you’ll need to monitor the reviews or comments on those websites, frequently, along with periodically Googling your name and your firm’s name to see what results come up.
Some advise using Google Alerts and similar services to stay on top of new mentions. But you can’t rely on alerts alone, Preston said, because Google has curtailed how often the alerts are sent.
You can be proactive by encouraging happy clients to write positive, truthful reviews. Many websites use algorithms to determine the credibility of posted reviews, and reviews sent from mobile devices often are seen as more likely to be authentic, Preston said.
When someone posts an unflattering review, don’t expect the website to take action. Still, you should bring blatantly false reviews to their attention, such as when you never represented the reviewer. But website owners’ tend to trust their own software’s indicia of authenticity over your word, Preston warned. Once they deem a review authentic, it’s very hard to convince the company to remove it.
More often, it’s better to respond to negative reviews, tactfully and ethically. Be cautious not to reveal any confidential information about the representation.
“I haven’t seen any bar opinions on this yet,” Scioli said, “but it’s absolutely going to happen.”
Reach out to the reviewer, Preston said. Be positive, and ask him or her to call so you can resolve the matter.
As for taking legal action, Scioli advised against it, noting that when you file a defamation lawsuit, it makes the news and keeps the negative information as a top result on Google. Moreover, there can be significant proof issues: Sometimes people use proxies or hire people outside the U.S. to write negative reviews. Then there’s the issue of whether you even can collect the judgment.
“The perception of being the kind of person who sues someone for criticizing you is very negative, and can lead to additional negative feedback about you and your firm,” Scioli said. “You have to be careful about asserting your rights, even when you’re in the right, because sometimes it’s not a question of who’s right, but rather what’s the better strategy.”
And if you really want to be proactive, consider reserving domain names containing your own name and your law firm’s name. For example, I might snap up janepribek.com, janepribek.biz, janepribek.net — and even janepribeksucks.com — before someone else does and posts something negative about me.
A version of this column originally appeared in Wisconsin Law Journal, sister publication to Idaho Business Review.