Tackling Bad Publicity on Social Media

Oh, the threat of bad online publicity – no one is immune to it. The eponymous nature of Twitter, Yelp and numerous other sites allow people to trash you within seconds, and to the entire world. And while no professional or company wants a bad review, blog comment or post, lawyers are especially vulnerable, as their business depends on client referrals and satisfaction more than most other professions. So, what should you do if victimized by harmful social media posts?

Like most professionals – from advertising copywriters to accountants – just about every lawyer has done business with a client who expects the impossible. And what’s even more prevalent with lawsuits are clients who get unfavorable results due to their questionable behavior or incorrect facts. It’s so common for people to claim that they were cheated in their divorce settlements that it’s a punchline in jokes. What makes things trickier today is that any dissatisfied client can express their opinions and criticisms online. And some of the hostility expressed can be shocking. Given how common this type of thing is, there is an almost certain chance that someday you will have to confront an unfavorable rating or false statement about you or your practice.

Some lawyers claim their fear of negative feedback as a reason for avoiding social media altogether. That’s not going to help, though. Criticisms and ratings can be posted about your legal practice on many sites, whether you use social media or not. All you’re doing is avoiding reality. It’s wise to periodically Google search your name and firm on various sites such as www.LawyerRatingz.com, www.AVVO.com, and www.yelp.com. This is an especially good idea if yours is a consumer-oriented practice, such as personal injury, family/domestic, or criminal law, which have the highest amount of grievances and malpractice claims filed.

The Don’ts

Don’t snap back at the client or get defensive. This will only fuel the fire and may cause a dog-pile effect, with a lot more complainers chiming in, just because they can. It will probably only make you look childish and unprofessional.

When legal fees aren’t part of the equation, it might be tempting to file a libel suit against the former client posting nasty things about you. Calm down and consider the potential consequences. Most defamation lawsuits filed because of social media posts have gleaned a lot of unfavorable publicity for the claimant, but not much else.

Here are some examples:

  •  An unhappy tenant Tweeted about his moldy apartment, and so Horizon Group Management prosecuted him for $50,000. This was in 2009. Keep in mind that this tenant had a mere 20 followers on Twitter when this happened, so it’s unlikely that it could have hurt Horizon. However, Horizon’s lawsuit yielded an avalanche of bad national press, causing more damage than the Tweet itself. Even worse, the court dropped Horizon’s lawsuit the next year, deeming that the Tweet was too ambiguous to be harmful.
  • The same year, California dentist Yvonne Wong prosecuted a former patient and Yelp for a defamatory review posted on the website. So, the dentist ended up paying more than $80,000 in fees to Yelp and the patient as a result of California’s anti-SLAPP law. The court stated that the Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) statute pertained because the review mentioned mercury fillings, which was an issue of public interest.
  • Attorney John Henry Browne prosecuted Avvo.com. In addition to other claims, Browne contended that his 5.7-out-of-10 rating hurt his reputation and business. U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik ruled that the rating were views protected by the First Amendment, and dropped the case. And if you Googled Browne’s name at the time, the link about the lawsuit against Avvo for the second-rate rankings was right there on top of the first page of results. So, Browne ended up drawing even more attention to the iffy rankings.

The Right Things to Do

By far, the most effective and least expensive you can do is to ask satisfied clients to publish reviews about their good experiences with you. As the positive posts start hitting the internet, the bad reviews will start getting “buried.” Plus, you really can’t have negative reviews deleted. So, you might as well outnumber the negative with the positive. And the more, the better.

Something else that people do is to respond to the negative posts with a sincere apology, gratitude for the feedback, and an invitation to address the issue personally. Some good examples of how to handle clients on Twitter can be found here: https://blogs.constantcontact.com/negative-feedback-on-twitter/. You can also check out some ways large companies such as Adobe and Domino’s are addressing customer complaints here: https://blog.hubspot.com/service/customer-service-tweets

When a reader sees your kind and positive response, proving your attempts to understand the client’s problem and come to a resolution, it will take some of the bite out of the client’s complaint. It could even show potential clients that you are a concerned and dedicated attorney.

Lastly, swallow your pride and appreciate the negative press for what it’s worth. Those comments are letting you know how you can improve. Usually, unsatisfied clients just let everyone except you know how you could do things better.

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1 Comment

  1. Sage advice for all social media users. You cannot argue with a troll. If you get down on that level they beat you to death with experience. -MarkTwain. And a sincere apology takes the wind out of their sails, placing it in yours. Your haters are your biggest fans and there is still no such thing as bad press. As with anything, it’s what you make of it but especially on social media. Customer service must always be the first and foremost concern of any firm or individual in business. For the individual, in either case, it is a matter of one’s own dignity at the least and certainly one of personal and professional ethics which as you noted impact business dealings directly. If you make a friend of an enemy you gain the trust and trade of his friends as well. – A. Lincoln (Expanded)

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