Online Reputation Management (ORM) has become one of the latest marketing and brand buzz-concepts. This is one every leader and manager of law firms as well as all legal professionals should be concerned about and should understand.

Much has already been written about ORM, as any search on the internet will show. I have found much of it does not explain where ORM ‘fits in’ with other important brand concepts, to thereby help readers understand why it is important, why it creates personal and organisational risk and how to manage it.

In this short note I will try to do this in the context of my concept of brand outlined in Brand Strategy & Management for Law Firms and how I explain brand to clients.

Ideally, your and your organisation’s ORM should be a strong contributor to the strength of your brands. To ensure this happens requires some internal education, discipline and management resolve and follow-through.

Your personal and organisational brands (your brands) are what other individuals think and feel about you or your law firm. What people think is due in part to what brand offer you make to market and whether you deliver on that and they experience it in the way in which you suggest they will.

Your brand offer in turn is what you put out to market as your offer to the market – what you offer or promise to do or can do or deliver on.

Your brand offer can comprise a number of important attributes – your technical, leadership or management expertise, experience, reputation and style, your ethical behaviour, whether you live up to what you promise to deliver, and your accessibility, responsiveness and reliability. It also includes how you interface with those who work for or with you and for whom you work, what you have written or said, your experience, expertise and reputation, your thought leadership, level of emotional intelligence (EQ), communication skills and style, personal values etc. The combination of all this, and how other individuals experience these things and feel about you as a result, contributes directly to your brands.

However, bear in mind that your brand offer is generally not your brands as such. It is what you offer to market. Your brands are what other individuals think and feel about your personal brand and your organisation’s brands.

What is published online by you or about you also becomes part of your brand offer to market in the form of your online reputation, digital footprint or ‘presence’. The challenge about what is online about you is that some of it you will have authored or published, while other pieces are from others in the form of comments, complaints, reviews of something you have written or said and so on. It all goes into that online melting pot.

Of course, while it is out there it is searchable and ‘findable’ and may influence others about you and your firm and what they think, i.e. your brands. So, it becomes part of your intended or maybe unintended or even unwanted brand offer and can in turn influence your personal and organisational brands. In this way it also becomes part of your brands as such.

So, this cause and effect nature of your online presence and reputation means it is both part of your brand offer to market as well as being part of what others think or feel about you i.e. your brands. It is for these reasons that it is particularly important to do all you can to manage your online reputation.

This in turn impacts what I term Brand Fusion (BF) – that is, whether what you offer is actually delivered on by you and experienced in that way by other individuals. BF is important as it directly impacts trust in your personal brand, and trust is the vital foundation stone of a strong brand. Think about brands you trust and respect – you don’t think twice about using, buying or recommending them.

Given the weight and attention given to what is online – written or published by or about you, and that many people do online research before making purchasing decisions or committing themselves, it is worth taking care to ensure it is as favourable as possible. It lives there for a long time and is not easy to alter or take down, particularly if you were not the author of it nor control the relevant media. This can create risk for individual professionals and their organisations and even cause damage.

What can you do to manage this risk? For a start I suggest:

  • create awareness amongst your professionals by having someone come in and explain the importance of ORM, where it fits in to brand, the risks involved and how it can impact your or your organisation’s brand;
  • rather than merely adopting a defensive strategy I suggest being assertive and taking steps to ensure there is much useful online material published about your professionals and your firm. Many lawyers don’t bother to do this, sometimes as they don’t recognise the value of it and think it will be a waste of time. Remind them that all such materials are searchable and findable way into the future and can result in leads for new work or clients even in years to come. Anyone who has published extensively online will confirm this;
  • research this topic thoroughly and have a clear policy around online publishing and even speaking engagements undertaken by any of your professionals to ensure they are qualified to do this and will not mis-state or mis-speak;
  • consider using one of the many online tools which can virtually search the internet and vet and report on anything online about the firm or its professionals. This becomes an ongoing due diligence of what is ‘out there’;
  • if you don’t take the latter step, at least do this manually from time to time or have a qualified person do it for you, simply by doing appropriate manual online searches; and
  • take active steps to manage what is online and try to have damaging material removed, corrected or responded to as soon as possible after it is published.

Do this and you will be better managing two important elements of your brands – your brand offers to market as well as what others think of you or your organisation, that is your personal and organisational brands.