All around the advisory industry, compliance departments are starting to relax advisers' use of online marketing strategies, especially in social media. As a result, more and more advisers are starting to embrace online marketing as a way to attract new clients.
But even with compliance's approval, some advisers are still cautious. These advisers are concerned that having an online presence might result in negative publicity on the internet. Truth is, you are at risk for a negative online reputation whether or not you engage on the Internet. Two examples come to mind.
I encountered a firm that had an unfortunate incident with a former employee that resulted in the Securities and Exchange Commission posting a document to its website describing the incident. While the firm had a flawless record for many decades prior to this incident, the unflattering SEC report was now showing up on the first page of search results whenever the company's name was searched. Due to the high search ranking of the SEC website, combined with the firm's lack of a strong online presence, the damage was not easily repairable.
Another firm I encountered recently told me that it had a bad review on Yelp that was showing up in search results. Since neither the SEC nor the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. allow “testimonials,” the firm is not allowed to claim or manage its Yelp profile, which would be seen as using testimonials as part of its marketing practice. Unfortunately, there was nothing the firm could do on Yelp to counter the negative comment, especially as Yelp's policy is not to remove business listings for any reason.
You may think to yourself, “This isn't fair.” And you would be right. You can spend years building a flawless reputation and just one person or incident can damage your online reputation — possibly forever.
While you can't delete anything from the Internet, there are some actions you can take that at least will lessen the impact.
The first page of search results on Google generates 91.5% of all traffic for a search. That means that if you can get any negative search results to the second, third or fourth page, the chances of someone seeing the negative listing decreases drastically. Firms such as Reputation.com exist to help you rebuild your online reputation by burying the negative listings with positive listings. However, you need to be prepared to spend upward of $10,000 and wait more than six months to see the results.
The best strategy to combat negative online publicity in the future is to take steps to build a positive reputation now. Here are five measures you can take today:
1. Optimize your social-media profiles. Create profiles and actively participate on all popular social-media sites, including LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube. Social-media sites often come up on the first page of search results for a company.
2. Write press releases. Submit press releases through a reputable online distribution site such as PRWeb on a regular basis. Press releases on these sites frequently appear on the first page of search results within a few days.
3. Create original content. Keep your website updated with original content to help your search engine rankings. Also, make sure your content is cross-linking to other pages on your site.
4. Create online profiles. Develop online profiles that appear in search results such as Google Places or adviser profiles that appear on such sites as napfa.org, fpanet.org, cfp.net, feeonlynetwork.com, letsmakeaplan.org and brightscope.com.
5. Guest blog. Write content-rich articles for other reputable websites that will link back to your website to improve search rankings.
There will be some instances that no matter what you do, negative content is going to show up on the first page of search results. All you can do now is to take the time to create a positive reputation online and use listening tools such as Google Alerts to notify you in the event that negative content is published.
Kristen Luke is president and chief executive of Wealth Management Marketing Inc. and co-founder of The Mercato, an online marketplace featuring do-it-yourself tools, templates and training for financial advisers. Follow her on Twitter: @kristenluke)