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Online Reputation Management Is No Longer Optional for Financial Advisors

When threats emerge, a fast and strategic response is often needed to mitigate or eliminate the damage.

We live in an age where a financial advisor's name and reputation can be built up or shattered based on his or her online presence. Google Search and online reviews are now standard resources investors use to research and vet financial advisors. Knowing what’s at stake, building and maintaining a strong, positive online footprint must be a priority for growth-minded advisors.

Public figures are no longer the only ones who have to worry about negative publicity; anyone can fall victim to online smears, even if those complaints have little or no merit. Advisors are no exception. Regardless if online reports or complaints are misleading, inaccurate or unfair, they can still create a lingering doubt in the minds of potential clients.

Establishing an active online presence with robust positive coverage and content about your firm makes it difficult for a single, unsupported complaint to crack search engine results for yourself or your brand. Your online reputation is one of the most significant aspects of your brand, and, by understanding the threats and mounting a defense, you can position yourself to mitigate damage or reduce your chances of falling in the crosshairs of online assailants altogether.

Combating bad press

Early in my career, I represented a registered investment advisor in crisis mode. Prior to hiring the agency I previously worked for, the founder of this firm got tangled up in a lawsuit with a pair of professional athletes. Sports Illustrated got ahold of the story, and his name was subsequently dragged through the mud, severely damaging his online reputation and creating a business development nightmare to overcome. The firm came to us for help, and we succeeded in flipping the script, publishing an article to set the record straight.

Our head-on crisis response, which had an immediate positive impact, demonstrated that timing and framing are essential factors. The longer negative information stays out there uncontested, the more the public accepts it as true. Responding quickly to bad publicity and getting ahead of damaging stories allows you to frame the issue, highlighting facts that a complainant or overzealous reporting would likely gloss over.

To foster prompt and effective responses, appoint a member of your team to head up media relations, or hire an agency or consultant to fill that role. Someone needs to be accountable for monitoring your online reputation and guarding against any threats to it. When threats emerge, a fast and strategic response is often needed to mitigate or eliminate the damage.

Cleaning up search results

A few years ago, I had a client who, prior to hiring my agency, had been accused of implementing "misleading and deceptive investment strategies." A ravenous law firm issued a press release through a newswire service announcing they were investigating my client. Nothing came of their so-called investigation, but that press release stuck to the first page of search results for their firm and was hurting their advisors' abilities to attract new clients.

After about six months, they hired us to remedy the situation. I created new web pages, built out their social media presence and launched a powerful public relations and content development campaign that pushed that press release off the first page of search results. At that point, the firm’s business growth quickly bounced back.

Managing reviews and complaints

In the age of Yelp, Glassdoor and BrokerCheck, disgruntled clients and employees have the power to inflict damage on your online reputation. Bad reviews can turn off prospective clients, especially when outweighing positive reviews.

Be proactive. Have a compliant and ethical strategy in place for promptly responding to bad reviews and for preventing them in the first place. Explore getting old disclosure events on your BrokerCheck expunged. And when a complaint goes public, immediately take action to have it removed from public view. If that doesn't work, push it down so far in search results that prospective clients or other key audiences are unlikely to find it.

Today's investors are more likely to find and research financial advisors online than ever before. This has increased the ability of financial advisors to reach a broader market segment and control much of the information the public sees. The primary disadvantage is that a single review, article or press release, even if unfair or inaccurate, can quickly take on far more prominence than it deserves. In an era where digital reviews and online reputations hold so much power, protecting your online brand is among your firm's most consequential responsibilities.

Brian Hart is the founder and president of Flackable, a national, full-service public relations agency headquartered in Philadelphia. Follow Brian on Twitter at @BrianHartPR.

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