Using the Law to Protect Your Online Reputation

Reviews are very important these days. Eighty-five percent of consumers say that they read online reviews for local businesses to determine whether these businesses are good or not. But with more people reading and posting reviews, you need to make sure you are protecting your good reputation.

Part of reputation management is monitoring review sites and your search engine ranking. You want to make sure that when someone searches for “your name” that the positive reviews outweigh any negative ones.

We encourage our clients to be proactive and obtain favorable reviews on selective review sites. But more and more we are hearing from clients who get inaccurate, misleading, or defamatory reviews and are unable to get them corrected or removed entirely from online properties, namely Yelp, Google, and Yahoo.

The good news is that there are additional steps you can take to get illegitimate reviews removed from these sites. Many businesses and professionals have turned to legal action to combat defamatory reviews and get resolution. As an attorney, you can use your legal expertise to expedite the process and see it through completion.

We’re not talking about reviews that are a legitimate complaint or a difference of opinion. The nature of legal work puts attorneys in the crosshairs, since, at the end of many cases, one side is going to be unhappy. Additionally, attorneys deal with complex and personal issues that affect people’s lives. It is not unusual for emotions to come to a head and sometimes present themselves in the form of an unfavorable review. You may choose to respond to these reviewers personally to try to mitigate or correct the situation.

We’re talking about reviews that are not legitimate, are misleading or simply untrue, or use unnecessarily harsh or offensive language. If there is a review like this, where the facts are not true or it includes misleading information or defamation, and you’ve tried all other available methods to have the review corrected or removed, then legal recourse may be your final option.

Bringing legal action should be the last alternative after working to get the review removed through the standard process. Start by checking the review site’s community guidelines. According to the community guidelines on Avvo for example, if the reviewer was never an actual client of yours the review is removed. You can also connect with the reviewer directly and ask him or her to remove it. If the review is from somebody you are familiar with then attorneys can increase the pressure with a well written letter detailing your intentions to bring suite. If these steps do not resolve the situation, then legal action may be necessary. The key to legal action is to only go after the reviewer, not the review site.

Here are three solutions you can take:

1. File a Small Claims court action.
File an action for defamation in Small Claims court against the offending reviewer, using the review site such as Yelp or Google as a witness to confirm that the defendant is the user that posted the defamatory statements. Once the subpoena is served, Yelp or Google will notify the reviewer /defendant. Hopefully, this is all that’s needed for the user/defendant to take the review down.

2. Delete negative reviews from Google.
You can keep prospects from finding negative reviews by removing them from the Google Search Index. This involves filing a lawsuit against the original author of the report for defamation, business disparagement, false light, or any other claim that is legally appropriate. Obtain a court order declaring the offending report to be false and defamatory. Then, present the court order to Google.

3. When it comes to Yelp.
For attorneys, not engaging with Yelp in the first place is the best course of action and will save you time and headaches in the long run. Yelp is the least friendly review site for business owners and they make their position clear with answers to common questions like Can I remove my business from Yelp! and I’m considering legal action, what are my rights?.

Getting Reviews Right

Protecting your good name is an essential part of business today for attorneys in all practice areas, and gathering reviews is part of that. At the end of each engagement, ask happy clients if they would write a review of your service. Then make sure you include a page of client reviews on your own site.

You can also create online profiles on LinkedIn, Avvo and Justia and use social media such as Facebook and Twitter to share good reviews. If you make it part of how you do business, getting reviews can be a manageable and rewarding part of your marketing outreach.

The bottom line is if you get a misleading or defamatory review, go through the available options and if that fails use your legal training to have the reviewer/ defendant take the review down. To find out more about online reputation management, contact us at Bardorf Legal Marketing.