Resource Center > Professionals > Online reputation management: What psychologists, counselors, and social workers need to know

Online reputation management: What psychologists, counselors, and social workers need to know

by Jennifer Bridges  @JenBridgesRD

If you are a psychologist, counselor, or social worker, then you know how important it is to gain your clients’ trust. This trust not only encourages your clients to open up to you, but it’s also what makes them choose you in the first place. 

One way to earn more trust is through online reputation management, which essentially entails gaining control of the items that appear in an online search for your name. This allows you to showcase your achievements and accolades while suppressing any articles, comments, or reviews that might unfairly paint you in a bad light.

Here are some specific ways that managing your online reputation can help you grow your practice, as well as some tips on the best ways to go about it:

How online reputation management can help you

A bad online reputation can cause significant damage to your brand and your bottom line. In contrast, an online reputation that contains glowing reviews, accurate information, authoritative articles, and healthy social media interactions can boost your business by helping you:

Build credibility

According to a study by BrightLocal, you need to have at least a 4-star rating before 57% of people will consider doing business with you. Therefore, by carefully managing your online reviews, you can gain the trust, and the patronage, of more potential clients. In fact, a Harvard University study shows that each additional 1-star increase in a business’s Yelp rating leads to a 5-9% rise in revenue.

Differentiate your services

When you consider the fact that 87% of people comparison shop for every purchase, it becomes vital to set yourself apart from your competition. Online reputation management techniques can help you establish a strong professional brand, which can encourage clients to form a personal connection with you.

“Therapy is a very intimate experience. People need to like you when they Google you. They want to feel an immediate personal connection.”—Alison Roth, a licensed psychotherapist and founder of ShrinkWrap

Establish yourself as an authority

Another aspect of constructing a strong online reputation involves establishing yourself as an authority in your field. By commenting on industry topics on social media, answering questions on public forums, and publishing articles on mental health websites, you position yourself as a trusted expert in your niche, which can lead to more clients and job opportunities.

Is online reputation negatively affecting your career? Find out with our free Reputation Report Card. Start Your Scan

Correct wrong or incomplete information

When potential clients look up your name online, will the information they find be correct? Google is not infallible. Sometimes, searches for your name will pull up incorrect or incomplete business listings or information about someone with a similar name. This can be a serious problem if your name becomes confused with that of a criminal or another mental health worker with terrible reviews.

Filling out business listings and monitoring your name online, as part of a reputation management strategy, can help you find and fix any errors or inconsistencies in the information about you or your practice.

Online reputation management tips

Whether you are an individual or a business, Google is making your first impressions for you. Therefore, you need to proactively take steps to ensure that the things people see online reflect the image you want to present. You can influence the online conversation surrounding your name by doing the following:

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Google yourself

The first step in repairing your online reputation is to find out where the damage is coming from. This means googling yourself. 

Before you start, make sure you use a different browser than you normally use so that the results won’t be influenced by your search history. Then, do a search for several variations of your name.

For example:

FirstName + LastName

FirstName + LastName + (counselor, psychologist, or social worker)

FirstName + LastName + (counselor, psychologist, or social worker) + city

You should also do a search for videos and images, as someone might have tagged you in a photo or video that you’re not aware of.

While you search, make note of the Web address of any negative content. This way, you can have a record of what you need to take down or suppress.

Remove negative content

If you find negative content in your search results, there are two ways to make it disappear: deletion and suppression. The deletion method involves asking someone to remove the content from a website, while the suppression method involves creating new content so that properties you own (like your website, social media profiles, blog posts, Psychology Today profile, and LinkedIn profile) push the negative items down in your search results, which leads to fewer people seeing it

But these methods aren’t interchangeable. Each works best for specific situations. 

For example, you are more likely to succeed with the deletion method when:

  • The negative content breaches a website’s Terms of Service.
  • You know the individual who posted the content.
  • The content meets Google’s standards for removal.
  • You can prove the content has significantly harmed you.
Is online reputation negatively affecting your career? Find out with our free Reputation Report Card. Start Your Scan

Most of the time, however, websites aren’t legally required to remove something just because you ask them to. So, if trying to get the content taken down doesn’t work, or if the person posting it seems to have a personal vendetta against you, then you should use the suppression method instead.

For step-by-step instructions on how to suppress negative content, see The definitive guide to online reputation management.

Manage bad reviews 

It can be tempting to immediately refute online criticism, but don’t do it. Instead, take the time to consider whether responding to the review will resolve the problem or just make it worse by drawing more attention to it. 

For example, if the person making the complaint is emotionally distraught, then he or she might twist what you say and use your remarks against you. This is why some mental health professionals prefer to contact upset clients by phone.

You also might want to avoid responding because acknowledging that someone was your client violates HIPAA privacy rules. One way around this is to say something nonspecific, like “Thank you for your feedback regarding my practice. I’d love to hear more of your thoughts. Please call me at xxx-xxx-xxxx to discuss this matter further.”

Another option is to let clients know that, as a rule, you don’t respond to reviews. For example, you could display a message like the following on your website: “To protect client confidentiality, I’m unable to respond to online reviews.” You could then encourage unsatisfied clients to communicate their complaints via phone or email.

Get your free
Reputation Report Card
Start Your Reputation Scan

Post social proof on your website

Having social proof, like positive client reviews and testimonials, on your website makes you more trustworthy to 83% of people. Consequently, you might be tempted to ask your clients for these items.

However, you shouldn’t do this. Asking for client reviews and testimonials violates the American Counseling Association (ACA), the American Psychological Association (APA), and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) ethics rules. Instead, you should send out anonymous online questionnaires at the end of treatment to identify patient satisfaction rates. Because there is no potential for undue influence in these surveys, you can use the data they generate to highlight your successes.

Another good way to generate social proof is by asking your colleagues and supervisors to review your practice. These individuals can attest to your professional abilities and point to any research you’ve conducted, any books or articles you’ve authored, and any other ways you’ve contributed to your field.

Use client feedback to improve your practice

The best way to avoid receiving negative reviews is to acknowledge and correct the problems your current reviewers are complaining about. As such, you to do a deep dive into your reviews and use this information to discover areas where you could be doing things better. 

Is online reputation negatively affecting your career? Find out with our free Reputation Report Card. Start Your Scan

Look for patterns. Are there any common themes running through your bad reviews? For example, do people complain a lot about how long it takes you to return phone calls? Even when couched in a personal attack, this kind of information is invaluable if you hope to avoid more unsatisfied clients.

Publish your own content

Google prioritizes content that you create over things that others post about you. This means that your content will move up in the search results for your name, which pushes down your negative results, making them less visible.

Some good ways to create content are:

  • Starting your own blog
  • Posting information about mental health on social media
  • Writing articles for mental health-related websites

“When you provide lots of good-quality Web content yourself, a negative review will get buried over time and will carry less weight as just one of many results that come up in an Internet search.”—David Ballard, director of APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence

Monitor the Web for your name

After you’ve removed or suppressed negative content and have built up a robust online presence, you need to ensure that you stay on top of any new reputation problems that arise. This means you need to constantly scan the Web for new instances of your name.

A good way to do this is to set up a Google Alert. This free tool sends you updates when it discovers new search results for your name. As such, it’s an effective way to quickly address any bad reviews and comments, as well as promote any positive statements people make about you.

For more information

Now that you have a basic understanding of how your search results can affect your practice, you might want to learn more detailed information about online reputation management. For this reason, we offer a variety of self-help articles in our Resource Center, including the following: