Whether you like it or not, you are being Googled each day by clients, potential clients, the media, adversaries, referral sources, potential employers, your current employer, recruits, friends, family members, even a potential romantic partner – the list goes on. But most professionals aren’t regularly conducting Google searches on their own names, which is extremely risky in managing your online reputation and professional brand.

The lines between our personal and professional lives are getting blurrier by the day in today’s hyper-connected digital world. As a result, it’s imperative to take cautionary steps to protect your professional reputation and brand, while also embracing social media as a necessary networking, business development and branding tool, especially in today’s environment. Here’s how. 

Track What Is Being Said About You, Your Clients and Prospects ASAP

Google yourself at least once per month (I recommend Googling yourself weekly if you are someone who is in the public eye). Pay special attention to the first page of results as most people do not go past those. A word of caution: use a private window or view the results in Google’s incognito mode option, and clear your cache so that your results are not customized because of your location or your browsing history.

I also suggest viewing the results on several search browsers because you may see slight differences between them. Pay special attention to the images of you that appear in the search results – they are prominently situated on the front page of Google and on its corresponding “Images” tab (more on photos a bit later). 

Set up a Google Alert for yourself if you don’t already have one, which is a free service that sends you a daily or weekly e-mail notification (based on your preference) when your name appears online. It allows you to listen to conversations of which you may not be aware and conversations that involve you or your firm (as well as your competitors, which can be very useful).

As a legal marketer, I have Google Alerts set up for my own name, each of my clients (the firms and the lawyers at the firm) and I encourage my clients to set up alerts on their top clients and prospects. I also have Google Alerts enabled to monitor the activities of our key competitors, such as their notable client representations, successes and other general activities. These notifications – or competitive intelligence – come in handy every day with useful information that is delivered to my inbox. While I do need to sift through the headlines and some are not relevant, being a more informed professional overall is invaluable and enables me to deliver value to my clients.

Lawyers should also set up Google Alerts on their clients and prospects – this will give them an advantage on their competitors and additional reasons to reach out to those contacts to congratulate them on a success, send an article of interest on a legal issue they might be facing, or let’s say they see that a client may soon be facing a legal issue and they’d like to potentially represent them. Use this intelligence to reach out to those individuals in your network who you’ve been meaning to contact – this is powerful information, don’t let it go to waste. These touchpoints enable you to stay top of mind with important connections.

You can also set up a Google Alert to monitor online activity for specific keywords and phrases related to various practices/industries to help determine trending topics and even better, where the competition may be lacking, which can greatly benefit you with the generation of content. Take this one step further and keep a content feed – for me, this is a spreadsheet of articles, studies and infographics from publications and other sources that I follow through Google Alerts and other sources. I regularly post this content to social media to stay top of mind with my connections. Sharing information of value to your network will position you as a thought leader and can raise your profile.

A Word of Caution on Negative Google Search Results

Keep in mind that you must be careful where you click when you Google yourself, because if there are any negative or unwanted search results, clicking on them may indicate to Google that the world is interested in those results and as a result, move them to an even more prominent position, which is the last thing you want. Searching for the term won’t do additional harm but more clicks on that content can.

People often ask me, “How do I get negative content pushed down in Google results?” Providing relevant and useful information to your target audiences through thought-leadership content is the best way to rank highly in Google searches and to help negative content about you to drop in the results.

When thinking of content to create, consider blog posts, videos, articles, infographics, anything with lists (think “5 Ways to…” or 10 Things I Learned at…”) as well as links to past PowerPoint presentations posted on Slideshare.

You Are Your Best Online Reputation Advocate

A few other things to consider in protecting your online reputation: run a Google search for your past and current email addresses and phone numbers. It’s also a good idea to do a search for your social media account usernames. These can turn up additional results about you that you hadn’t considered.

Annoying online data brokers such as Spokeo, PeopleSmart, Intelius, ZoomInfo and Whitepages scour the web for personal information about you, such as social media, public records and corporate filings to create online profiles in your name. It’s a good idea to remove these from the web as they often publish your home address and other personal information about you. Take advantage of the opt-out forms that most of these sites have.

Let’s talk about photos a bit more. What do you do if you want to have a photo of yourself that you found in Google removed from the internet? If the information is from a site you control, such as Facebook, you can simply go to your account and change the privacy settings, or just delete the post. Note that old profile photos that are pulled into Google from LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram may take a short time to disappear even if you delete them. If there are photos online that you can’t control, take a proactive approach. Contact website administrators and request the photos be removed. This can be a time-consuming process. If several requests do not result in a response or the removal of the photo, it may be time to contact a lawyer.

It’s crucial to remember that everything you post on social media can be screenshotted and sent to anyone at any time even after it is deleted from the internet. Every image you send in private to someone via text could be sent to someone or posted on the internet. You never know, so that’s why I always say to err on the side of caution in the very first place.

The Hazy Shades of Social Media

Personal and professional social media is getting hazier every day as we discussed, and I am regularly asked by lawyers and colleagues, “What do I do when a client/colleague sends me a Facebook/Instagram friend request?” There is no right or wrong answer – you must use your good judgment here. Accept requests from only those people who are truly your friends. Only post content that reflects you and your values. Try to remain politically neutral no matter how hard it is – and if you can’t, you can set up various friend lists on Facebook to be more specific on who can view your status updates and photos. This is very easy to do from your desktop. Unfortunately you cannot edit the audiences on Instagram, so keep that in mind when posting content – each of your posts will go to all of your followers on that social channel with the exception of Instagram stories, for which you can limit certain people from seeing.

The advent of social media has brought many wonderful things to our profession, but there are some downsides. For example, online lawyer review sites such as avvo.com have opened up a can of worms.

Last year, a lawyer at my prior firm thankfully Googled himself and found a fake negative review of himself on avvo.com. (There happens to be another lawyer with the same name in the legal industry and the review was intended for that lawyer, not him. Whew.)

While Avvo says it has checks in place to maintain the quality and validity of reviews posted to its site, and it requires users to register before submitting a review, situations like this happen quite often. Avvo has a dispute process whereby they will contact the reviewer and ask them to confirm that they were in fact a real or potential client, and give them the option to edit or delete the review.

During the dispute, the review will not appear on the profile. Unfortunately, this process can take time and it is not perfect. As a law firm, we went the route of having a lawyer at the firm who specialized in reputation management contact Avvo and explain that this was a case of mistaken identity. After a few strongly worded emails, the review was taken down.

I encourage you to utilize the resources of your firm in these kinds of situations. Here’s what to do if you get a negative review on Avvo.com. A decision by the New York State Bar Association found that it’s unethical for lawyers in New York to participate in Avvo (having a profile on the site is fine, the sticky issue is when lawyers pay a “marketing fee” to the site, creating a very thorny situation on the credibility of its rankings and referrals) in one of two opinions discussing lead-generating sites, bringing concerns about this site into the headlines once again.

Social media is an incredibly powerful tool for law firms and their lawyers to differentiate themselves, to disseminate information to key target audiences and ultimately lead to new business, but it’s very important to protect yourself and manage your online reputation just as you would check your credit or online bank statement. Being aware is being smart in this new digital world.