From social media to review sites, there are conversations going on out there about your business. You need to know how to react when one of those turns negative, so you can avoid lasting damage to your online reputation. David Gilroy explains

Maintaining your online reputation as a law firm is crucial. From tweeting and getting involved in LinkedIn discussions to responding to reviews, every step you take is vital and can make or break the way your firm is viewed in the public eye.

The knee-jerk reaction may be to threaten clients with defamation action if they leave bad reviews – and there are regularly press reports of firms doing exactly that. But this only stifles public opinion. It is better to respond to negative reviews in a way which aims to manage the fallout

Online reputation management is all about the way you present yourself online. This can range from social media and website content, to online reviews. Any of these platforms can potentially influence the way the public perceives your firm. Social media analytics are a good way to see what people think about your brand and how they’re interacting with your content. Reputation management campaigns can help push positive content about your firm to overshadow any negative organic content that may have cropped up. Remaining responsive in your network is another crucial factor.

However, when it goes wrong… well, it can be disastrous, to say the least. Understandably, reputation management is imperative in the legal sector, and when we see news stories of Twitter scandals and bad reviews, it can make us increasingly wary of what we do and how we would go about handling these situations.

How not to do it

Poor reputation management in law firms has been showcased in the press throughout 2016. One story in particular received a lot of attention. Back in June, the law firm Baker Small was involved in a Twitter scandal after gloating about a win against parents with special needs children. Baker Small acts on behalf of local authorities and after a particular case, one of their tweets read: ‘Crikey, had a great “win” last week which sent some parents into a storm!’

It didn’t stop there, though. After a tribunal victory against parents seeking funding for applied behavioural analysis for autistic children, the firm tweeted: ‘Great ABA Trib win this week…interesting to see how parents continue to persist with it. Funny thing is parents think they won.’

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As you can probably imagine, this was met with a massive backlash. Although Baker Small deleted the tweets, they can still be seen on a number of blogs, like

This scandal has not only given the firm a bad reputation, but also created even more unease between parents and local authorities. Baker Small apologised for its behaviour and donated to Children’s Hospice South West, but the angry responses on social media prove that the matter is far from forgotten.

This is social media done completely wrong – and it could have been very easily avoided if the firm had put more thought into its social media campaign.

What steps can I take to control my online presence?

When it comes to your online presence, it’s important to have as much control as possible over what appears in search engine results when people type in either your firm’s name or keywords relevant to the services you provide. This means you need to optimise all elements of your online presence. Put all relevant information and keywords on your social media profiles, website, Google+ pages and Google Maps.

When it comes to your social media presence, you must keep track of all conversations that are going on about your firm. This means you have to choose a selection of keywords to keep an eye on, such as: firm’s name; website address; services provided; names of senior lawyers; close competitors; and common expressions (eg ‘[firm name] was rubbish’).

Now, I know the next question is going to be: ‘But how do I do that?’ Well, there are free social media monitoring tools you can use, such as Google Alerts, Hootsuite, MonitorThis and SocialMention. The beauty of these services is that you can see the homepages for all your social media profiles, whether that be Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. It’s useful to set up alerts and searches so you’re constantly notified when one of your keywords crops up. This keeps you in the loop and ensures prompt responses.

Although this probably goes without saying (I hope!), post relevant content regularly on your social media profiles. This will keep your audience engaged and remind them that you’re a credible thought leader in your field and can be trusted. A good way to get your content out to a wider audience and to enhance your brand is to get other team members to post it on their personal LinkedIn pages. And keep an eye out, through your monitoring services, for any conversations about your industry that you can get involved in; get your name out there in a positive light.

What do I do if I get negative social media comments?

As shown by the Baker Small scenario, it can be difficult to recover from a social media scandal. But if you follow a few simple steps, you can help diffuse the situation and avoid any significant lasting damage.

The key is to get involved – if you receive a particularly grumpy tweet from someone, there’s nothing worse than ignoring it. Just ensure that your replies are speedy, well informed, pleasant and proactive. Below are my seven top tips for managing negative social media comments or conversations.

1. Respond ASAP

24 hours is a lifetime in social media time, so ensure there’s always someone on hand to respond straight away.

2. Own up

Address the problem, fully admit to your mistake, and be open and honest.

3. Don’t get angry

It can be easy to lose your cool when responding to a comment, especially if you do so instantly. If you can’t control your emotions, take a little time (but not too much!) to step back and collect your thoughts, or try to find someone more calm and circumspect to respond. And never reply after a drink of the alcoholic kind!

4. Don’t be patronising

You’re a law firm. Anyone who goes ‘up against’ you in a complaint or social media argument is going to have to be pretty sure about their grounds, seeing as you ‘do the law’ for a living. Although you may know more than your audience about a specific legal matter, it’s important to be personable and understanding. Put that legal jargon away. Argue your case clearly, concisely and accurately.

5. Take it offline

Try to get the conversation out of the public domain as soon as possible; offer to phone the person, for example.

6. Be proactive

Don’t let all your energy online go into managing the crisis – keep posting positive things on your social media platforms, too. Social media is not there just to promote your firm every now and again. It’s there to build and maintain relationships.

7. Take stock

Analyse what went wrong and use what you’ve learnt from your mistakes to build a better campaign next time.

What do I do if I get negative online reviews?

TripAdvisor-style reviews websites for the legal sector – such as Review Solicitors, LegallyBetter, Solicitor.Info and GoodLawyerGuide – have become increasingly popular among people looking for good, trustworthy law firms. Receiving negative reviews is any law firm’s nightmare when trying to keep on top of their online reputation. Whether these sites can be of any use to a law firm is a topic for another article, but what is certainly true is that it only takes a few negative reviews to tarnish the good reputation of a firm. It can feel like it’s completely out of your control – your clients have the right to speak their minds, after all, and you don’t have the power to delete bad reviews – but you can make things so much worse by what you do next.

The knee-jerk reaction may be to threaten clients with defamation action if they leave bad reviews – and there are regularly press reports of firms doing exactly that. But this only stifles public opinion. It is better to respond to negative reviews in a way which aims to manage the fallout, rather than try to have those reviews removed. Also, trying to quash them doesn’t address an obvious issue: that some improvements may be needed within the firm.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that threatening and bullying clients is not the right way to respond to negative reviews. Dr Michelle Goddard, a lawyer on the consumer panel of the Legal Services Board, blogged about this behaviour: ‘It can’t be right that lawyers can intimidate consumers by using their position and greater knowledge of the law to stop genuine reviews’ (

So how can you manage the fallout from negative reviews of your firm, not only to ensure that your reputation is not tarnished, but also that you don’t stifle public opinion? The following suggestions will help you diffuse the situation as far as possible.

Review sites allow the businesses which are reviewed to make a response to each review. Follow the same rules as for responding to negative comments on social media. Keep calm, and respond promptly and respectfully. Remember to have your ethical brain on – never divulge any information about a case. If you’ve recently changed the way you handle the service referred to since the reviewer used you, say so; this should put prospects’ minds at ease. Before posting the response, get at least two people to look over it and give you their honest feedback – perhaps you let your emotions interfere without realising? It’s also useful to get an outsider’s perspective.

And try to take the conversation out of the public domain as soon as you can!

After responding in a cool and collected manner, work on getting more positive reviews from new clients – for example, point them to Yelp or Review Solicitors. The aim here is to drown out the negative reviews and bring your reputation back up again. A recent survey by BrightLocal showed that 40 per cent of buyers

form an opinion of a business after reading just one to three reviews, so you don’t need hundreds of reviews, just a handful of good ones. A handy thing to bear in mind is that Review Solicitors is connected to Google, which may help with your search engine optimisation and make your reviews more visible in Google search results. It can also be a good idea to comment on any particularly ‘special’ positive reviews, which can both help with client retention and enhance your reputation by demonstrating ongoing engagement with clients.

Make the most of the platforms you can control. Although you can’t delete a bad review, you can post quality content on your website, encourage new, happy clients to leave reviews, and remain engaged on social media.

Finally, although it may be tempting, never ever post fake reviews. It’s just not worth it, and it will make you look bad in the long run. Yelp can normally pick out ‘scam’ reviews anyway, based on a similar IP address or internet connection.

Remember, although it might not feel like it, you can control the narrative when it comes to bad reviews. A respectful response and a flood of positive reviews will eventually counteract the original negativity. You have the power to turn your online reputation around; you just have to be smart about it.

We also think that you ‘need’ some negative reviews. Think about how you use TripAdvisor. If an inexpensive B&B has 100 per cent positive reviews, do you ever find yourself wondering if it can really be that good?

What if the negative reviews keep cropping up?

If you find that you are receiving the same negative feedback time and time again, it may be worth looking into what your firm could do to improve. At times like this, you could consider investing in a survey of your clients, using a provider which specialises in customer feedback for law firms. For example, Law League offers a wide range of survey questions developed in conjunction with law firms and compliance experts. It may be that your firm is struggling to respond to enquiries, or perhaps you aren’t keeping the client fully informed throughout the process. Whatever the problem is, Law League helps to set out the results in a clear and concise way, so you can see exactly what you’re doing wrong and decide how you want to proceed. This is also an easy way to get reviews from your clients – Law League gives you the option to post client responses to Review Solicitors.

There is also a staff survey option within Law League that can prove very useful. By identifying areas where your staff are unhappy, you could come up with a simple solution that could drastically change and improve the way your firm is run. Ultimately, this small change could make those negative reviews a lot less frequent.

A final thought: breathe, think, act rationally

Your online reputation can be daunting to manage; with people sharing their views on various social media platforms and review sites, it can be difficult to keep up. However, there are so many ways you can deal with the situation calmly and logically. Social media monitoring tools will be your lifesaver, so if you’re not already using them, start now. The ability to track keywords and get involved in conversations instantly will help you head off negative social media comments, and deal with them when they do arise.

Similarly, responding calmly to negative reviews is the only sure-fire way of dealing with them. Ignoring them or flying off the handle will only make the situation worse and damage your reputation further. The good will always counteract the bad, so move on and focus on collecting more positive reviews from willing clients.

To err is human – and if you make a mistake, just pick yourself up again and learn from it. The more practice you get interacting with people on social media and review sites, the better you’ll get at it. Criticism can help you analyse what you may need to improve on, so don’t ignore it. Follow these simple steps and aim to keep improving and developing your firm’s reputation.

If you want to know more…