Legal Marketing Lesson: Responding to Negative Reviews About Your Law Firm
A common phrase touts that “all press is good press,” but any legal professional worth their salt knows that to be untrue. Negative publicity, whether in the form of poor client reviews or a social media campaign gone wrong, can severely damage a law firm’s reputation and slow a steady stream of business to a mere trickle.
So what do you do when a publication runs a negative news story about your firm? The suggestions below may just help you navigate a sticky legal marketing situation and come out on top.
1. Don’t wait to gather information.
Responding prematurely to a situation without knowing all the facts can land you in hot water, but wait too long and you risk the chance of letting the story spiral out of control. When faced with a situation that compromises the integrity of your brand, immediately jump into information gathering mode in order to arm yourself with the facts.
2. Analyze information to determine the best course of action (or inaction).
Sometimes, staying quiet about a situation and letting things blow over is the best thing to do. In most other cases, the best public relations move incorporates a statement from your law firm. This could involve:
- A response negating supposed “facts” represented in the article or feature
- An admittance that you are currently gathering the facts and investigating the situation, but have not come to conclusions
- A confirmation of knowledge about the situation, and an apology (note: this approach should only be taken after thorough analysis and discussion; it should not be a knee-jerk response to bad press)
The second option above may be the correct route to take if you feel that you absolutely must release a statement but are still scrambling to dissect the incident and form a legal marketing plan of action. It can convince others that you are aware and in control of the situation, which may calm the hubbub long enough to quickly and efficiently resolve the issue.
With that said, do not be afraid to first stay quiet and resist the urge to respond to bad press. Use your time and energy to gather information and monitor the situation so you can be prepared to release a comprehensive public statement when necessary.
3. Get in touch with the outlet spreading the story.
It may be tempting to chew out the person responsible for releasing a detrimental story to the public, but this will only make the situation worse. If you get the publication’s editor or writer on the phone, be sure to use the conversation to clear up misunderstandings or misrepresentations of the facts.
Although the reporter will most likely refuse to release a follow-up story representing your side of the story, he or she may be more willing to represent your firm well in the future.
We can help your firm develop an online marketing strategy to drive business. Contact us!
Avoid an Online Reputation Bomb (or Recover When One Hits)
Any little slip-up online nowadays can quickly take on a life of its own and turn into a PR nightmare for your law firm. And when enough slip-ups compile, your practice’s reputation may never recover. Maintaining a positive brand requires proactivity—implementing processes to avoid online reputation bombs. Read on to discover a handful of these attorney marketing strategies as well as one helpful idea for recovering from a reputation hiccup if it does occur.
Proactive Strategies to Avoid an Online Reputation Bomb
- Make exclusive PR connections
You probably already know that the best way to avoid any reputation killers is to develop a strong brand that is synonymous with high quality work, great client management, and a hefty success rate. But did you know that electronic press releases can help you do that?
No, press releases are not dead; they have just moved from the world of print to electronic. Publications large and small now send press releases out online, which provides your law firm ample opportunity to announce to the internet:
- Any new partners hired at your firm
- A new line of legal services
- Prestigious awards won by your practice or attorney team
- Partnerships with community organizations
- Philanthropic milestones achieved, such as X number of dollars raised to combat food insecurity in your community
Think of press releases as another branding tool to add to your attorney marketing arsenal. To make them effective, however, you should avoid sending them to every publication across the board. Instead, develop a relationship with one or two publications and give them exclusive access to your PR content. They are more likely to publish for your law firm when they have priority over other publications, and when they have developed a strong professional relationship with the staff at your law firm.
- ABM: always be monitoring
Part of ensuring that your reputation is constantly intact means always monitoring your brand online. Not only do you want to keep track of how you are representing your law firm on social media, your website, and other publications (mentioned above), but you always want to see how other sources are mentioning you.
Set up a Google Alert for your law firm’s and attorneys’ names. It is simple:
- Visit google.com/alerts
- Type terms into the query box
- Click the “Show options” link to adjust your settings, such as how often you receive notifications
- After creating an alert, you will receive emails when Google finds matching results
Google Alerts are an easy way to keep a finger on the pulse of your brand online so you can stay informed and respond accordingly.
- Build a cache of positive online reviews
Every negative review about your law firm on Google, Facebook, Avvo, and Yelp can significantly harm your reputation. According to an infographic from Vision Critical (which pulled from sources such as Oracle, LinkedIn, and Businessweek), 80% of people refuse to work with companies that have negative reviews.
However, you can proactively combat these reputation bombs by building a cache of positive reviews that demonstrate your value to online searchers. The online reputation management (ORM) system included in our James Legal CRM (client relationship manager) is an attorney’s marketing dream, as it makes gathering positive online reviews faster and easier.
It automates the review-gathering process so you do not have to worry about spending valuable time begging for reviews, and it makes leaving a review simple for your clients.
Some of our clients have seen incredible success growing their caseload using positive online reviews, since glowing assessments and a high average rating can help convince potential clients to reach out during those critical “should I or should I not call?” moments. Reviews really are one of the best resources at your disposal to build a great reputation online (and avoid a poor one).
How To Defend Your Firm’s Online Reputation in 3 Easy Steps
Maintaining a solid reputation for your law firm is a critical component to its success. A good reputation gives potential clients a reason to trust you, and to seek out your services. As long as you consistently engage in ethical practices and provide superior customer service, your reputation should reflect this, and online reviews about your firm should stay positive, or better, gleam with accolades.
However, one negative review left by a not-so-happy client can tarnish your reputation immediately, and maybe permanently, depending on its severity. When this happens, although it can seem daunting to try and rectify the damage, it can be done, and you can regain your reputable status.
Here are 3 easy ways to effectively defend your firm’s online reputation, in the event that it has been compromised.
1. Monitor Top Rating and Review Sites
For starters, here are the top rating and review sites:
- Google Reviews/Local/Places/+
- Yahoo! Local Listings
- Insider Pages
Make sure that your firm is monitoring what is being said about you on these sites, as millions of people read what is being said here daily. Also, make sure you check social media, too, such as Facebook and Twitter. A bad comment left here unattended can spread like wildfire.
2. Respond To Negative Posts
The most important step to successful damage control is to responding to negative reviews. Negative comments aren’t simply going to disappear, because once something is on the Internet, it’s on there forever. Make sure you professionally address any bad review(s), and try to offer a way to fix the problem, and alter the way the commenter feels about your firm and your services.
TIP: A bad comment is one thing, but a false comment is another. If someone posts a comment about your firm that is not factually true, you can call or send an email to the review site requesting that it be removed, and why. In addition, top SE’s such as Google and Bing allow you to request that false information be removed from both business and personal websites.
3. Use Positive Testimonials
A great way to counteract a negative comment is with a positive one written by a satisfied client. You can link to these on review sites, if for instance they’re on your website, or better yet, ask the commenter for permission to repost. Chances are, they’ll say yes.
A positive review can take a negative review and not only challenge it, but defuse it, if the comment is well-written, detailed, and describes a personal and highly-satisfying experience with your firm.
Transform Negative Publicity into Positive Legal Marketing
When negative publicity hits close to home, your instinct may be to downplay the situation and then retreat from the spotlight as soon as possible. Before you do, remember the old cliché that “all publicity is good publicity.” It is possible to spin negative publicity into positive legal marketing for your firm—just follow the steps below.
- Gather information
Get the facts before responding to negative reviews. This ensures that you make informed decisions, perpetuate correct information, and display a firm grasp of the situation to followers and critics alike. Consider personally approaching all individuals involved with the issue at hand to hear things straight from the source(s), and withhold judgment until after gathering the facts.
- Form an appropriate plan of action
Every negative PR situation calls for a slightly different legal marketing response. For example, if your personal injury firm received a slew of negative Yelp reviews or negative Facebook comments regarding the poor client service, the issue can be dealt with in-house; simply address substandard client service practices, train the person(s) involved for better client interactions in the future, and then apologetically address the comments on social media. Attempting to make amends and trying to woo a critic into a fan demonstrates to everyone that you take mistakes seriously and are committed to making things right.
- Hit all avenues
If the scale of the issue requires you to communicate with media outlets, leverage existing relationships to bring those conversations to fruition or take initiative and reach out to journalists. Once you make those connections, don’t just consider them a one-time deal. Instead, plan on regularly communicating with journalists, taking them out to lunch or perhaps even providing third-party legal analysis on news pieces. If you’re a bankruptcy law practice, consider making yourself available to comment on current events like celebrity bankruptcies or new state bankruptcy legislation, for instance. Media relationships forged under less than ideal circumstances may actually help your firm perpetuate positive legal marketing in the future.
If the detrimental story starts to trend on social media, reach out to social media users involved in the conversation. You might say, “Thank you so much for your constructive criticism! At Law Firm Name, our mission is to maximize every client experience to make their life better. Sometimes we fall short, giving us an opportunity to make improvements so that our clients receive nothing but the best. We’d love to hear your feedback and discuss the changes we’re making every day. Please feel free to call us at 999-999-9999.”
Starting productive conversations is a great way to humanize your brand and display your integrity—something that your audience will appreciate and respect.
- Explain the situation
In negative PR situations, a united front is always best. Discuss negative PR situations with your team members. They will appreciate being informed and you’ll remain in control by nipping rumors in the bud. Most importantly, your team’s response to the negative PR will be consistent all around, and everyone will have an opportunity to learn how to improve upon your firm’s legal marketing strategy in both positive and negative situations.
Your website is the online face of your firm. Receive a free website evaluation and learn how to accrue more clients!
The Top 3 Things To Do If You’ve Upset Your Client
Your clients are the foundation of your business, and as such, you should be acquiescing to their every request. However, this doesn’t always work out—sometimes through no fault of your own, and sometimes through every fault.
If you’ve failed to live up to your client’s expectations in any way, this can break trust—and your client-attorney relationship can be broken, as well. Before tempers and time lost gets too out of hand, here are the top 3 things to do if you’ve upset your client.
1. Take a Lesson From Grade School: Say You’re Sorry
An upset client needs to hear you say you’re sorry. Apologizing for any inconvenience they’ve experienced can go a long way to retain the trust and business of your client. Make sure you say “I’m sorry,” or “We’re sorry,” if more than one firm member is working equally on the case, other than “We apologize,” or “I regret that happened.” Think about when someone has said, “I’m sorry” to you. It sounds more genuine, doesn’t it?
TIP: Whatever you do, make sure you’re sincere when you say you’re sorry. A half-assed apology is worse than no apology at all, and a client can see right through this. Patronizing an upset client is a surefire way to send that client packing—straight into the office of one of your competitors.
2. Allow Your Client To Vent
Legal matters are personal matters, and if something falls short of a client’s expectations, or misses the mark altogether, they’re going to be rightfully upset; e.g. a phone call wasn’t returned on time, or worse, case files weren’t processed when promised. If your firm dropped the ball, for whatever reason, allow your client to vent—yell, be confrontational, etc.
Let your client express what they need to, listen, and then offer ways to rectify the situation. And if you really don’t know what they want to right the wrong, ask directly: “What do you want me to do?” This can get you both on the same page.
3. Right the Wrong, With Padding
Whatever your client gives you as a solution to right what has upset them, do it, and then offer something extra. After all, if your client is upset because you didn’t fulfill an aspect of your client-attorney relationship that you should have been doing anyway, you actually owe them—whether this is comped billable hours, etc.
Accommodate their requests to quell the disappointment, and add a little something extra to pad the deal.
FAQs for Small-Firm Lawyers About Online Reputation Management
Can I control what the public sees online about my law firm and me?
To a surprising degree, yes you can. “Influence” is probably a more accurate description than “control.” But you can make an enormous difference in what your prospective clients see. Read on to learn how.
Is influencing my online reputation worth my time and attention?
Reputation is everything for a lawyer. We don’t need to elaborate on that point. What has changed for lawyers is that reputation has moved online, which has made it far more accessible and highly used. Over 2/3s of consumers check reviews before making a vendor selection … including choosing a lawyer.
How has the legal profession adapted to this change?
Poorly and tardily. Of the many types of small businesses, small law firms have been among the slowest to respond to the rising influence of online reputation. Plumbers and restaurants, just to name two, are better at managing their online reputations than lawyers.
Can you be more specific?
Take Google’s hugely-important local search 3-pack as an example. Few small-firm lawyers understand that their reviews affect both (a) whether they appear at all and (b) how they compare to the competition.
When 3 lawyers are listed in response to a prospective client’s search, with 1 lawyer having no star ranking, 1 having 2.5 stars, and 1 have a 4.6 ranking, who do you think the prospective client is going to call?
Staying with that example, how do I improve my star ranking?
Simple: load Google+ with 4 and 5-star reviews.
But how can I direct reviews to Google+?
You can’t when pursuing reviews the old-fashioned manual way. But you can direct reviews to specific review sites with software.
What else do you recommend?
The small-firm lawyer serious about his or her online marketing will take a long-term approach to reputation management. After building a strong collection of 4 and 5-star reviews in Google+, the review-generation effort should methodically be shifted from review site to review site.
Your long-term goal should be to create impressive and dominant review collections in all of the major general-audience and lawyer-specific review sites, and smaller collections in the larger number of minor sites.
Can you give me examples?
The three big search-engine review sites are of course: Bing Places, Google+, and Yahoo.
Other major general-audience review sites are: Angie’s List, Better Business Bureau, Epinions, Foursquare, HundredX, Manta, Merchant Circle, SiteJabber, SuperPages, YellowPages, Yelp, and Yext.
Some of the more influential lawyer-review sites are: Avvo, Find a Bankruptcy Lawyer, Find a Family Attorney, Law Link, Lawyer Ratingz, Lawyers.com, LawZam, Legal Match, Martindale-Hubbell, and Path Legal.
How do I eliminate a negative review?
We find it far more efficient and effective to bury a negative review behind a pile of positive reviews than attempt to have a negative review removed. But you can certainly try to pacify the negative reviewer and then ask him or her to take down the review.
Tell me more about how I can build my collections of positive reviews.
Do-it-yourselfers need to ask, ask, ask. Ask in person during representation, ask at case conclusion, and ask again post-representation. Monitor whether a review has been posted using Google Alerts. But the effectiveness of the manual approach pales next to what software can accomplish. Our review solicitation software:
- Eliminates the need for clients to pre-register on review sites
- Provides a simple response and star-rating box so no separate site lookup is needed
- Allows you to read the review before it is posted so you can hide any less-than-positive reviews
- Permits you to direct reviews to a particular review site,
- Gathers all your reviews on one testimonial page that is added to your website, and
- Most important, has a response rate that dwarfs the manual method
If you are interested in improving your online reputation, we can help. We are currently building positive review collections for dozens of lawyers, and can give you references who will detail the positive impact those reviews have had on their lead flow and client caseloads.
To request a report showing all your online reviews, simply complete the form below. Please allow one business day for us to prepare and email your custom report.
Recovering Your Good Name
As a lawyer, you will understand the importance of reputation. Having a good name is literally the key to success for a law firm. Your name is on the door and so if your name gets dragged into the mud, your firm goes with it. The World Wide Web amplifies the importance of a good name. If something bad happens, a record of that event will be around on record long after it ceases to be relevant to your performance and it will damage your marketability.
Search engine rankings introduce a whole new dimension to the importance of a good name because they depend on whether you please the search engine algorithm. If you fall foul of the rules, a penalty can seriously harm your company’s visibility on the Web, and you need to fix that problem or forget about finding clients on the Internet.
Young Consumers Read More Reviews & Are More Likely To Write Reviews
The title of this report is a little misleading, because it gives the impression that reviews are a way to capture the business of young people, but not the older generation. In the report, however, one of the stats shows that 69 per cent of consumers over the age of 55 trust online reviews more than personal recommendations. So, online reviews are really important and a series of bad reviews can damage your law firm’s chances of winning clients. Although this article does not explain how to create a review strategy for a business, it sets the scene on the importance of getting good reviews. Make sure satisfied clients always give you a good review online. A bad review every now and again does not harm you – it shows that the reviews about you are not faked.
How to use PPC in a PR crisis
“PPC” stands for “pay per click.” It is the main charging method that websites use for advertising, so “PPC” means advertising on the Web. This article covers a short-term strategy if something goes wrong with your legal practice that generates bad news stories – you won a case for a client who then went on to do a bad thing and took your reputation with him; an employee sues you for sexual harassment; and so on. The PPC strategy is just an attempt to divert the public’s attention away from the bad thing and draw attention to your good side. However, as your paid messages will be taken down when you stop the campaign and the bad news story will be accessible for years, this is not a long-term method for recovering your good name.
How social signals really affect your search rankings
Social signals are like very short reviews of your business and work mainly in the positive. For the time being, Facebook only has “Likes” and Google+ has “+1.” These are like mini-votes, so you can use this medium to improve the status of your law firm. This works in two ways. First, if you have a lot of likes and +1s, it shows your practice is good, despite what it says in that bad review. Secondly, search engines incorporate these signals in their ranking algorithm so if your rankings have been hit by a bad SEO technique, a lot of likes can help you inch back up the rankings again and make up for the loss of position caused by a penalty.
Your First 3 Steps After Receiving a Manual Penalty
With this article, we are focusing on the technical type of good or bad name that your law firm’s website can accumulate. A clever SEO trick gone wrong will earn you a penalty. This is the search engine equivalent of a conviction and, just like in the real world, you need to work to get that judgment overturned and then removed from the record. If you don’t, the damage this does to your rankings will make your law firm practically invisible in search engine results pages.
Everything you need to know about the disavow file
One major cause of penalties is spammy links. Basically, your site is being tarred by the poor reputation of the company it keeps. Fortunately, there is a way out of this type of damage. Just as you can claim a client’s innocence in court: “Tommy didn’t know that Brad had drugs in the car, he just hitched a ride minutes before the police pulled the car over,” you can disassociate your site from the bad sites that link to it. The links into your site are still the major source of ranking points known to SEO. However, you have no control over who links to your site, because they reside on other people’s websites. So, Google invented the disavow file and this article explains how to use it to remove a manual penalty from your website.
Need more legal marketing tips? We’ve got plenty of them! Get a hold of our marketing team today.