One black mark can cause problems, so lay the foundation now
All around the advisory industry, compliance departments are starting to relax restrictions on financial advisers' use of online marketing strategies, especially in social media.
As a result, more and more advisers are embracing 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.
The truth is, we are all at risk for a negative online reputation, whether or not we 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. Although 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 wasn't easily repairable.
Another firm that I encountered recently told me that it had a bad review on Yelp that was showing up in search results. Because neither the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. nor the SEC allow “testimonials,” the firm isn't 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.
This may not seem fair, and it isn't.
An individual can spend years building a flawless reputation, and just one person or incident can damage that online reputation, possibly forever.
Although information can't be deleted from the Internet, there are some actions that can be taken to lessen the impact.
The first page of search results on Google generates 91.5% of all traffic for a search. That means that pushing negative search results to the second, third or fourth page can drastically lessen the chance of someone seeing the negative listing.
Firms such as Reputation.com exist to help people rebuild online reputations by burying the negative listings with positive listings. However, be prepared to spend upward of $10,000 and wait more than six months to see results.
The best strategy to combat negative online publicity is to take steps to build a positive reputation.
Here are five measures to take:
1. Optimize social-media profiles. Create profiles and actively participate on all popular social-media sites, including Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter 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 the firm's website updated with original content to help search engine rankings. Also, make sure that content is cross-linked to other pages on the 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 brightscope.com, cfp.net, feeonlynetwork.com, fpanet.org, letsmakeaplan.org and napfa.org.
5. Guest blog. Write content-rich articles for other reputable websites that will link back to the firm's website to improve search rankings.
There will be some instances where no matter what efforts are made, negative content is going to show up on the first page of search results. All advisers can do is take the time to create a positive reputation online and use listening tools such as Google Alerts to notify them 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.