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In a recent episode of “Black Mirror,” now streaming on Netflix, a woman needs a higher rating on her profile to get a better apartment. In every daily interaction, people rate her and she rates them back with her cell phone. She has a 4.2 rating but needs a coveted 4.5 rating from premium users. A bright smile in an elevator wins her points on her online profile. But an outburst of anger leads to a low rating and she's kicked out of a wedding and jailed.
Doesn't this spooky story ring true in real life today?
We can all thank Amazon.com for changing the way that Americans make decisions. It pioneered easy online reviews of products, services, delivery and customer service. Clients today are presented with heart, star, thumbs up, and number ratings on nearly everything.
For many attorneys, the top priority for 2017 will be review marketing. Many law firms are still coming to grips with the reality that client reviews about them are online everywhere. But now, a turning point has been reached so that they can no longer be ignored.
“Many lawyers who say they get all their business from referrals are likely to lose clients to their competitors, because of their online reputation or the lack of one,” says attorney Dan Jaffe, CEO of LawLytics. “A good client who had a good case will decide to hire a different lawyer than the one he was referred to, because he had a better rating on Yelp or Avvo.”
Make or break your business
The tipping point was the moment that online reviews started affecting referrals.
- Today 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. https://goo.gl/3OVbsk
- In December 2016, Pew Internet Research stated, “Fully 82% of U.S. adults say they at least sometimes read online customer ratings or reviews.” https://goo.gl/mSpFFD
- This corroborates 2014 research that 83% of consumers use online review sites as the first step in searching for an attorney. https://goo.gl/hSkptU
“Not monitoring your online reviews, not carefully tending to those who take the time to post a positive or negative review, is going to make or break your business,” writes marketing consultant Susan Cartier Liebel.
The fact that a review could affect the revenue of a law firm sparked many attorneys to pay attention. A one-star increase on Yelp leads to a 5% to 9% increase in revenue of a business, according to Harvard Business School. https://goo.gl/wSCUcM. Many attorneys are still in disbelief that Yelp, a site where hot dog stands are reviewed, is the most popular and trusted review site for law firms. https://goo.gl/tw8p2U
Online reviews are so commonplace that already around one-in-ten Americans nearly always post their own reviews of products, services and restaurants. https://goo.gl/mSpFFD
In fact, I've written so many reviews myself on TripAdvisor, the travel site, that it awarded me 11 badges for being a top reviewer and it seduces me to write more by telling me how many hundreds of people worldwide have read them.
It's time for law firms to get in on the action. The description of the activity is called reputation management or review marketing, and happily, it's not that difficult. Jaffe advises that law firms should do three things:
- Monitor the review sites and take note when a new review is posted about you.
- Distribute a positive review across the internet and social media so that your best reviews get noticed.
- Acquire new reviews by making it simple for happy clients to write them.
Software like Birdeye can automate all three steps, but more about that later.
Oh no! Bad reviews!
Meanwhile, what about the likelihood of bad reviews? The possibility of a negative review still drives many law firms from even contemplating review marketing. Recent reactions from law firms to bad reviews include a Houston law firm suing a woman for a bad review on Facebook last year. https://goo.gl/MK5LVk In another case, a Florida lawyer who was smeared in a review on Avvo recovered a $350,000 verdict, which was affirmed on appeal. https://goo.gl/5fIawN
A better approach is the one perfected by hotel managers. They watch review sites with a close eye. When they spot a bad review they respond with (a) I'm so sorry that you are not happy with your stay at our hotel (b) because our aim is to give everyone five-star service (c) so I invite you to call me at the following phone number and (d) take this conversation off-line (e) because we would like to understand your feelings and learn where our service fell short (f) so that we can improve and do better next time (g) and perhaps convince you to take down your negative review (h) and hope we can avoid getting another bad review in the future.
It's a simple (a) through (h) approach that any law firm can use.
The fire-and-brimstone approach may work sometimes in legal warfare, but review marketing requires a more sophisticated touch. Libel and slander aside, the idea is not to kill the messenger -- but rather to encourage more messengers to carry good news.
The starting point is to claim all of your law firm's online directory listings and verify all the listings. In doing this it is essential that you consistently enter the firm's “NAP” which stands for “Name, Address, and Phone Number.” For example, if you have a toll-free number and a local number for your firm and you include both of them in your Google+ Local listing, you should include both of them for all your other listings. Google uses this information to rank search results, particularly for local review sites.
Check in places a business firm might not think of:
- Google maps, Bing and Yahoo maps.
- Google+ Local and Yahoo Local.
- Insider Pages
Aren't these consumer review sites? Yes, and you should register so that you know when there is a new review. Also, register or claim your profile with legal directoris Avvo and Justia.
Marketing good reviews
At this point an attorney can set up Google Alerts for each directory to find out about new reviews, or iInstead use review tracking software to do it for you. Birdeye, which I mentioned earlier, or similar monitoring software has a function that sends an alert for each new review. It also sorts reviews by publisher and date.
Assuming it's a rave, the next step is to put the review on your website and send the link out to the firm's Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ accounts. (Your firm does have these social media sites set up...right?) Birdeye does this with one click.
Hootsuite software also works great to create a single social media message for each social medium, to insert a graphic and to post it simultaneously. I use Hootsuite to manage all the social media accounts of several organizations.
The Shouse Law Firm in California celebrates online reviews with gusto. They assemble positive reviews online at https://goo.gl/HMI6FC including links to Google, Yelp, Facebook, Avvo, and a Birdeye mini site. Their Facebook page is similarly brimming with positive reviews at https://goo.gl/bt7DnB and a cheery request to “Leave Us Feedback.”
A clever feature of Birdeye is that it automatically creates the mini-site where only positive reviews are displayed. The Shouse law firm's mini-site at https://goo.gl/TVMip4 scrolls on with screen after screen of 5-star reviews. The mini-site tends to rank high in Google searches too. For example, see the constellation of 5-star reviews on the mini-site of Sackstein, Sackstein & Lee in Garden City, NY, at https://goo.gl/Pi8s1a
Getting new positive reviews
The tricky part can be generating new positive reviews. Some attorneys have set up elaborate onboarding processes to identify which online review sites or social media their new clients already belong to. Other firms help clients to open memberships in review sites, warning them carefully not to post them while on the law firm premises (the review sites pay attention to the IP address where the review was posted). Still other firms distribute cards or printouts explaining how to register for a review site.
Birdeye circumvents the problem by enabling attorneys to send a text or email to a client asking “did you think your service was above average? (or a similar question).
- For those who choose “Yes,” icons are displayed for Google, Yelp, Facebook or whichever site the firm wants a review. The firm doesn't have to explain the setup to post a review, because the software guides them through the process.
- For those who choose “No,” a message appears saying, “We apologize your experience was not great. How can we improve? Please tell us about your experience.” This information is not posted online, but instead is sent to the attorney, providing an opportunity to make the client feel better.
“You must reinforce your website on third party websites that you don't control. When your clients experiences are consistent across your website and review sites it reinforces a positive narrative in their mind and they become more likely to hire you,” says CEO Jaffe of LawLytics. He has a free webinar about online reputation management at https://www.lawlytics.com/reputation-management/.
“A law firm's online reputation is vital to success. Make sure your firm has a five-star strategy for online reviews,” says attorney and writer Brendan Conley. “Online reviews are the perfect union of our modern online world and the traditional notion that an attorney's reputation should be built on word of mouth. Internet reviews are the online manifestation of a law firm's reputation, and they should command the firm's attention.”