[This post first appeared on Slaw.ca, June 20, 2013]
Your reputation is how other people see you. What we do frames that perception so we should act professionally and positively. At the end of the day, we can’t make people think well of us. The Web expands the areas in which we need to watch for how we appear to others. It’s important for lawyers to regularly look at how they appear to the world on the Web. Just because you aren’t on the Web or in social media, doesn’t mean information about you isn’t.
This is a technology column so I’m not talking about search engine optimization, social media, or reputation management as such. I’ll leave that to the marketers. Let’s instead look at search and how you appear on the Web to potential clients and referring lawyers. Surveys keep returning to the idea that clients frequently find lawyers through friends and family. But once they’ve got your name, they may use search to learn more.
You should go to Google and do an “ego Google” search a couple times a year. Yes, there are other search engines but Google’s the dominant one, it’s where your clients are likely to be searching. Feel free to search others but don’t skip Google. Make sure you page through a lot of the results; dig deep.
What do you see when you search for information about yourself?
I Look Like That?
I was doing some prep for a talk for solo lawyers and looked up a lawyer in the area. He was listed in a variety of ways and what I noticed was that they weren’t all consistent. Here’s why:
Example 1: Google Plus and other social sites auto-create profiles. You may not have a Google Plus account or any social media presence at all. This lawyer didn’t. But his firm had created a brochureware page with name, address, and a phone number on it in the past. Google indexed it, recognized it as a business, and created a Google Plus Page. Not surprisingly, that page comes up pretty high in a Google search for that lawyer’s name.
Take control of your profiles. Whether you asked your Realtor(r) friend to list you on her Web site or your profile was created automatically, know where you are listed and take control of those profiles. Make sure the information is up to date or, if you don’t want the listing or profile, get it deleted.
Example 2: What does your (Google Street) View look like? Type your law firm’s address in Google Maps and see what you find. First, you may be listed as a local business. If that’s the case, congratulations! Now look to see if you have any reviews! Both positive and negative reviews can be posted through sites like Google Maps and it’s worth knowing if you have any.
Whether or how you respond to them is up to you. But don’t stop there. Zoom in and see if there is a street view of your address. Drop the little yellow Street View man in front of your office. One thing I noticed recently was that a law firm had moved. Google Street View showed a different law firm at the address because the photos were from before the old law firm moved out and the new law firm moved in. There’s not much you can do about the image, but you can anticipate your client’s confusion.
Forewarned is forearmed. Whether it’s a review or a photo of some other lawyer’s office sign at your new address, there may be nothing you can or need to do about it. If you find clients are getting lost getting to your office, or perhaps the phone stops ringing as often, you can be proactive if you know. You can build that awareness into your customer service.
Your Social You
If you do not participate in any social networks, like LinkedIn or Facebook, you can probably skip ahead. But profile sites often can help you to see yourself through the view of your visitors. For example, on Facebook, visit your profile, click on the Settings button and choose View As. Google Plus has a similar feature and you can also preview your LinkedIn profile.
Focus on Yourself
We use search all the time, usually looking for information about other people. We may stop at the first page of results and rekey our search until we get the perfect answer. If a search on your name returns too many results, you can always add in your town or practice area. You might even try looking at just a particular site (your name site:yelp.ca for example). Don’t assume that the first page of results are conclusive.
If you are keeping an eye on how you and your law practice appear to others, you may find opportunities to shortcut misunderstandings. You might also find new opportunities or ideas for placing your practice in front of current or new clients.