"What if someone says something negative about me online?" This is probably the most common question lawyers ask me. The sad truth is that many lawyers have nothing to worry about. They aren't online. They have no online presence.
If your reputation is what people say about you within your community, your online presence is what everything posted about you on Google, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn or anywhere else online adds up to. Managing this material may seem overwhelming, but there is a simple place to start: LinkedIn.
Google your name, right now. What shows up? According to our research at Adrian Dayton & Associates, if you have a LinkedIn account there is a 74 percent chance that your profile will show up in the first three results. There is a 33 percent chance that your LinkedIn profile will show up in the No. 1 slotahead of your law firm's web bio.
Why does this matter? Data from BTI Consulting Group tell us that more than 70 percent of business comes through existing relationships. Your potential clients meet you through referrals, but that doesn't mean they hire you sight unseen; they use Google to do due diligence. According to the 2012 In-House Counsel New Media Engagement Survey by Greentarget, Zeughauser Group and InsideCounsel magazine, buyers of legal services trust Wikipedia and LinkedIn more than they trust your firm's website.
They trust Wikipedia because it is difficult to upload nakedly self-promoting information to that site; the administrators allow only factual information. (That's not to say you should believe everything you read on Wikipedia.) Does your firm have a Wikipedia page? Do you have a personal entry on Wikipedia? This isn't about vanity. If you have spent your career building a reputation for doing great work, you owe it to yourself to make sure your online presence clearly articulates that. Nobody cares about your online reputation as much as you do.
LinkedIn is a different story. You can write anything you like on your LinkedIn page, as long as you follow your local professional ethics rules. You control your picture, your summary, your headline everything. So why do people trust your LinkedIn page? Because it puts your experience into context. It combines what you have done with whom you know the professionals with whom you share connections and endorsements. And it does it in a very public way that gives potential buyers confidence that what they see is what they get.
You also can create videos to post on YouTube; start using Twitter; write your own law blog. It isn't about your résumé anymore; it is about your Google results. Keep doing things the way you always have done them, and you might be OK. But know that there are less experienced and less intelligent lawyers out there working like crazy to create the appearance that they are better than you. If they win business because they had a superior online presence, you will have nobody to blame but yourself.
Adrian Dayton is a non-practicing attorney that speaks to law firms and professional groups about effective use of social media for business development. Follow Adrian on Twitter @adriandayton.