reputation

Reputation Mismanagement

Some people think the first page of a Google search has the power of God. They hope and pray their business name appears on the first page and rejoice when it does because thinking thier business is set for life. Reputation management seems to boil down to the top of a web page.
When I did a Google search for “reputation management,” three companies came to the top of the page as offering a service to help improve your on-line reputation: ReputationManagementConsultants, ReputationDefender, and Positive Search Results. Positive Search Results even offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee on their services. While, I can’t endorse any of these companies, I can give them credit for accomplishing a first page listing of their companies that is positive. While online reputations can be ruined by real or false claims against companies by places like RipoffReport.com and PissedConsumer.com, there’s a bigger issue that many companies fail to address.

While a few customer complaints can make even the most respected companies look bad online, it really has to do with the culture of the company in building it’s image through internal and external public relations. For example, PissedConsumer.com has a complaint against Verizon. I use Verizon for my mobile phone and they recently charged me almost $200 by their mistake. When I saw the bill I was ticked-off. However, I called customer service and they verified the mistake and immediately corrected the bill. So, when I see others complain about them, I’m less likely to agree with the angry consumer, since I had a positive experience. 
For the company that wants to manage their reputations and keep them in a positive light, even when things get dark with customer complaints, keep in mind:

1. A reputation is connected to a company’s character: Character is who you are when nobody is looking. Business that create a culture where employees can admit mistakes to management and to the customers, will come out ahead in the reputation game. We all make mistakes, the key is how quickly we address them and how we go about correcting the matter above the call of duty.

2. Character is connected to consistency: What you do repeatedly is how you are remembered over time. Do you avoid making the same mistake more than a few times? Does you company empower employees to make reputation-saving decisions on their own? One time I was in Trader Joe’s and the peanut butter rung up with the wrong price. The cashier took my word for it that it was wrong and decided to not charge me for the bread I was buying. Their marketing about being a great place to shop connects with great service (and trust in the customers) from the employees.

3. Consistency will always get you better “rankings” online and offline: While the Internet has become the choice for many to evaluate a product or service, getting positive reviews with traditional word of mouth trumps all else. When you’re at a restaurant checking email on your Blackberry and someone is doing the same on their Droid, any comparison with intuitive features shared in-person and then verified online will be a powerful brand and reputation builder.

As a practical matter, some companies know how to “work the Internet” system to get better rankings with the SEO strategies. So building your reputation from the inside out will help your business stay the course whether or not someone gets “pissed” or “feels ripped” off by you.

lawyer-reputation

Lawyers to Avoid

I’ve been thinking about why a law firm decides to spend money on public relations. If it’s not to further promote their reputation and trusted attorneys, then that money is wasted.
If you do a Google search for “lawyer” and “reputation” one of the top paid links is for Lawyerratingz,which has the headline: Lawyers to Avoid. It appears to mostly cater to consumers looking for lawyers. For fun, I put in the name of a personal injury attorney I know and he was not listed. I then searched for one of the top intellectual property attorneys I work for and he was listed, but had no reviews for him. It’s not clear to me how this particular site has value for someone searching for a lawyer be it a PI or IP practice.

While I am an advocate of lawyers having blogs to exhibit their expertise (assuming it is very specific), I also encourage them to consider how “not” to become a lawyer that people want to avoid.
Certainly, building the reputation of a personal injury lawyer is much different than a patent attorney’s. I believe there are common image building traits for many practice areas:

1. Lawyers need to overcome an inherent mistrust about their character. I’m not talking about the “ambulance chaser” image of PI attorneys when I was growing up. I’m talking about 21st century “overbilling image” that is calling for the death of the billable hour. Attorneys who address this issue in regards to the integrity of their billing practices will go a long way in enhancing their reputations. For example, check out the website for Valorem Law Group. Their first flash animation states “The Billable Hour is Dead.” Talk about tackling the issue head on.

2. When it comes to marketing, lawyers are still learning to crawl: I wonder how many 2010 law school graduates understand the 1950s legal term “rainmaker?” Firm growth is no longer about a few super stars at the top that bring in all the revenue. New associates are now being trained early on in business development. They are also being told in firm policy manuals to mind their manners with their online profiles at social networks.Face time client development has morphed into Facebook policing at some law firms.

3. Lawyers Fear Asking the Hard Questions for Marketing Services: I had a blog post titled Social Media Snakes for Lawyers. My point was that there are hundreds of marketing, public relations and social media services making near impossible promises such as simply pay a fee, get consultations with a marketing/public relations expert, and like magic the firm’s reputation will be enhanced and clients will come begging for your services. This type of magic is reserved for something more realistic, like unicorns. I’ve seen too many law firms think they can throw money at something that can enhance their reputation, without their involvement. Attorneys need to ask the questions to know exactly how their reputation will be enhanced with these services and understand the “costs” that has nothing to do with what they are charged (e.g. their personal time, giving the consultants direction and benchmarks to measure progress against).

For attorneys to become trust advisors to their clients, it starts with a reputation management strategy, not a repulsive brand of lawyering.