MAY 11, 2013
“With Online Reviews, It Pays To Know What You’re Doing”
Jane Pribek, Idaho Business Review
What would you do if someone called you “a real tool” on Avvo?
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 not actionable. 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. 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. 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.”