Online Reputation Management (ORM) has become one of the latest marketing and brand buzz-concepts. This is one every professional 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 that much of what is available online does not explain where ORM fits in with other important brand concepts – thereby help readers understand why it is important, why it creates personal and organisational risk, and how to manage it. Ideally, your and your organisation’s ORM should be a strong contributor to the strength of your brands.
In this short note, I will try to address this issue in the context of how I explain the concept of ‘brand’ to clients, as outlined in my book Brand Strategy & Management for Law Firms.
Your ‘Brand’ and Your ‘Brand Offer’
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.
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 these aspects, and how other individuals experience these attributes and feel about you and your firm as a result, contributes directly to your brands.
However, keep in mind that your brand offer is generally not your brand as such. It is what you offer to market. Your brands are what others think and feel about your personal brand and your organisation’s brands.
Online Components of ‘Brand Offer’
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’. What is online about you can be a challenge because you will have authored or published some of it, while other pieces will come 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, whatever is out there is searchable and ‘findable’ and may influence what others think about you and your firm, which means that it influences 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 foundation stone of a strong brand.
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 commitments, it is worth taking care to ensure that your online presence 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 and have no control over the relevant media. This can create risk for individual professionals and their organisations, and even cause damage.
Managing Online Brand Risk
What can you do to manage this risk? For a start I suggest the following:
- Create awareness amongst professionals in your firm by having someone with expertise come in and explain the importance of ORM, where it fits into brand, the risks involved and how it can impact your or your organisation’s brand;
- Research this topic thoroughly and have a clear policy for your firm 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 then vet and report on anything it finds 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 a manual search from time to time or have a qualified person do it for you; 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 – i.e. your actual brands.
A final word of caution on a subject beyond the scope of this short article: Where firms do create a formal or informal policy prescribing what staff can or cannot publish online, one enters a complex area in that a lot of the online activities of your staff members will be through private channels they belong to. How far can one realistically regulate that and dictate to staff what they should and should not be doing? This will also differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
Edge Principal Sean Larkan is a former corporate/tax lawyer with extensive experience in conference and retreat presentation and facilitation. As an Accredited Practitioner of Human Synergistics International and a certified Master Coach, he offers Edge clients knowledge and experience in such areas as leader, group and organisational behavioural and cultural diagnostics and coaching, and serves as a critical adjunct to firms’ strategy implementation. He is the author of Brand Strategy & Management for Law Firms.