5 Ways to Protect Your Online Reputation

Vol. 15 No. 9

Elizabeth E. Spainhour is an associate with Brooks Pierce in Raleigh, North Carolina.

As lawyers, especially as younger lawyers, our reputations are critical to our ability to attract and retain clients. As such, we younger lawyers need to vigorously protect our online reputations. The wealth of information about us online, accurate or not, can be easily found by our employers, clients, and opposing counsel and have a major impact on our career success. Here are five tips to help you protect your good name online.

As lawyers, especially as younger lawyers, our reputations are critical to our ability to attract and retain clients. As such, we younger lawyers need to vigorously protect our online reputations. The wealth of information about us online, accurate or not, can be easily found by our employers, clients, and opposing counsel and have a major impact on our career success. For example, according to a 2010 survey, 86 percent of surveyed employers reported that a positive online reputation was a factor in hiring decisions. See Megan Gibson, Repairing Your Damaged Online Reputation:  When Is It Time to Call the Experts?

Here are five tips to help you protect your good name online.

 

1. Expect any digitized information about you to appear on the Internet.

The first step in protecting your online reputation is to control the content you distribute about yourself. This rule applies not only to social media and blogs but to e-mails. The chances of a printed picture or written letter going “viral” are slim—not so for e-mails, digital photos, and text messages. We can easily forward digital content to all of our contacts in seconds, without ever leaving our desks. Do not type, post or send anything digital that you would not want to see posted on the public Internet for all to see.

 

2. Monitor your online reputation regularly.

It may seem a little egotistical to type your own name into a search engine; however, doing so on a regular basis is a crucial—and free—way of protecting your online reputation. Easier still, you can sign up for news feeds, such as Google Alerts, that alert you when your name is used in online publications. Other services, such as Reputation.com and Integrity Defenders, will monitor your online reputation for you for a fee.

 

3. Overcome “bad” information with “good” information.

What if a friend tags you in a photograph on her Facebook page and you don’t want potential clients to see it? You can simply ask your friend to “hide” it in a more private location or, better yet, remove your name and/or the digital picture from her page entirely. Most friends would gladly oblige.

In some cases, though, it can be much more difficult to have unwanted information about you removed from the Internet. First, you may not know the poster, and you may not even be able to ascertain who the poster is. Further, there are First Amendment protections attached to speech on the Internet, and content that is not found by a court to be defamatory, a copyright infringement, or tortious can be difficult to have removed. However, you can help overcome bad information about you on the Internet by contributing more good information than bad. Here are some ways to do that:

 

  • Complete a LinkedIn profile (www.linkedin.com); be sure to use it wisely, though (see number 4 below). These profile pages rank highly in most Internet search results.
  • Start or contribute to a legal blog that allows you to showcase your expertise. These posts may help dilute “bad” information.
  • If someone posts an unflattering review of you on the Internet, ask a client if she would be willing to post a positive review. (Be sure you are confident that the client will say what you hope she will, but do not force words on anyone. Also, if necessary, obtain permission from firm management before you ask.)
  • If you recently won an award, work with your firm’s marketing specialist, if you have one, to write and publish a news release and post it on your firm’s website. If you wrote an article for an industry publication, ask if you can post it or link to it on your firm’s website or your LinkedIn page.
  • Take advantage of search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to enhance the visibility of certain good Web content in Internet search results. Website designers can help you prioritize information about you using particular techniques, such as carefully crafted keywords and web page titles.
  • As mentioned in number 2 above, there are also professional online reputation-monitoring companies that specialize in combating negative information about you.

 

4. Pick your social networks carefully, and recognize the differences among them.

Some social networks are more appropriate than others for building a good professional reputation. For example, Facebook may be great for staying in touch with friends and family, but it may not be the best website to identify yourself as an attorney and make connections with potential or current clients—for this, professional networks such as LinkedIn are a better fit. Before stating where you work on any website, verify whether your employer has an opinion and/or policy about how and where you identify yourself as an employee.

 

5. Know your privacy settings, and check them periodically.

Most websites, including social networking websites, have privacy policies posted. Read the privacy policy before creating any Internet account and choose the appropriate privacy settings for you. For example, you may allow certain web pages to be seen by the public but others to be seen only by people you specify. Because privacy settings change, review them periodically to make sure your information is secure.

Making online connections now with potential clients and referral sources may pay dividends down the road. However, don’t let your comfort with social networking and e-mail lull you into a false sense of security. Remember that your online reputation is only as good as what information is circulating on the Internet.

 

Next Steps

Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier. 2010. PC # 5110710. Law Practice Management Section.

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