Episode 204 – Sameer Somal – Prioritizing Your Firm’s Online Reputation

Sameer Somal is the CEO of Blue Ocean Global Technology and co-founder of Girl Power Talk. He is a frequent speaker at conferences on digital transformation, online reputation management, diversity & inclusion, relationship capital, and ethics. Fundamental to his work at Blue Ocean Global Technology, Sameer leads collaboration with an exclusive group of PR, Law, and Management Consulting agency partners. He helps clients build and transform their digital presence.

Sameer is a published writer and an Intellectual Property, Trademark, and Internet Defamation subject matter expert witness. In collaboration with the Philadelphia Bar Foundation, he authors continuing legal education (CLE) programs and is a member of the Legal Marketing Association (LMA) Education Advisory Council. Sameer serves on the national board of Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA). He is an active member of the Society of International Business Fellows (SIBF) and a CFA Institute 2022 Inspirational Leader Award recipient.

Blue Ocean Global Technology is a team of global professionals committed to learning, excellence, and helping our clients achieve optimal results. They also provide the best comprehensive reputation management services, which include search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing (SMM), and web development.

The following interview has been transcribed for our readers from rev.com. Please excuse any discrepancies in the transcription.

Chase Williams:

Today on Legal Mastermind podcast, we have Sameer Somal. He’s a speaker educator and entrepreneur. He’s also the CEO of Blue Ocean Global Technology. Welcome to the Legal Mastermind podcast.

Sameer Somal:

Thank you. Thanks, Chase. Nice to be here and happy to be a guest. Thank you.

Chase Williams:

I know you’re also involved in Girl Power Talk, and we’ll talk about that too. I want you to be able to plug these awesome companies, really powerful, and you’re doing some great things for people all over the whole world, so we definitely want to talk about that. But for our listeners that aren’t familiar with who you are, can you kind of give us a brief background of who you are and what you do?

Sameer Somal:

Absolutely. Again, my name is Sameer. First and foremost, if I meet somebody on the street, Chase, I always say I’m an educator and I’m passionate about learning and helping other people make the most informed decisions.

And I do that by authoring private briefings, continuing legal education programs. I speak at conferences, events, all across the world, which has been a privilege to be able to foster friendships and to be able to share knowledge that can help people grow their business and make more intelligent decisions, which I think is every professional and entrepreneur’s goal.

A little bit about Blue Ocean global Technology. Yes, we do specialize in building, rebuilding, monitoring, and repairing reputations. What does that mean? Your digital reputation, as aptly put by Eric Schmidt, is identity will be the most valuable commodity for citizens of the future and it will exist primarily online. And so how our company, how our individual self, is represented on the internet directly correlates to our opportunity set, and we can create opportunities and people can want to work with us and they can be engaged and they can connect.

Conversely, people can decide they don’t want to work with us, they don’t want to call, even though there’s been a referral or they can get confused if, let’s just say they looked up Sameer Somal and they found somebody who’s a fraudster, somebody who’d been running a Ponzi scheme and it wasn’t me, but they have the same name and so they assume that it’s me.

So reputation, while an intangible concept, very much impacts our life off the internet. And so Blue Ocean Global Technology specializes in that. We do a lot of strategic work for law firms directly, for PR agencies. We’re also involved in technology development, and I personally am an expert witness in court cases related to intellectual property, copyright, trademark, internet defamation, and of course all things social media and the internet. And yeah, I hope that’s helpful.

Chase Williams:

Definitely. Quite an awesome journey, and the work that you’re doing for your clients helping out firms and just being that thought leader in the community. So, I know we appreciate it.

Yeah, it’s very interesting. One of our core values is being proactive versus reactive. And that’s so important in ORM because a lot of times I’m sure people come to you, it’s like, Hey, I defended this person, this is my job to defend this person. And depending on who this person is, people all of a sudden hate that lawyer. And they’re just taking on a case, it’s part of their job and what they do. And it might be a little too late to come to a company like Blue Ocean to be like, hey, you Google my name and all people talk about are… There’s a lie on there. And then it could even hurt your reputation in terms of you getting new clients, your family Googles your name. So I guess my question, and where I’m leading with this is maybe people haven’t experienced this yet and they probably need to get in front of it, right?

Sameer Somal:

Well, I think, one, it’s probably never too late. We’ve handled situations where 78 of the first 80 links on the first eight pages are negative, and we’ve cleared them all, including things related to the New York Times. Having said that, the Dr. Benjamin Franklin aphorism, “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.” And so when you’re thinking about your digital presence, you need to insulate and protect yourself against future negative, defamatory, false content that can come out there that is out of your control, and so building a positive digital presence that is authentic to who you are.

I think one of the reasons why professionals, particularly in the legal space, are loath to put information out there is they say, look, my clients don’t want to see a flashy lawyer out there, they don’t want to see a flashy firm. And so you don’t have to be out there online in a way that isn’t authentic to you. You don’t have to post every day what you’re doing at the office and what you’re eating on Facebook, but sharing information that highlights your expertise, that can be relevant from an engagement standpoint and that genuinely is able to showcase your strengths, is actually something that can benefit you significantly.

And so yes, of course when there’s negative things out there and you run into challenges, having positive content out there that truly identifies your expertise, highlights how you’ve worked with clients, focuses on the challenges that you solve… Those can be not only instrumental in somebody learning about you, but also, if I ask a room full of CEOs or professionals about, “Hey, how many people have met somebody and kind of gone over to the corner of the room or later that night, they’ve Googled them?” And most people raise their hand, they kind of have a guilty laugh about it. Of course, I do it too.

And so when you get a referral, people are going online to say, “Hey, look, is this somebody that I should spend my time reaching out to, even though I got a great recommendation?” And if they find positive reinforcement, if they find information that fosters trust, they move forward. If they don’t, there’s a more likely chance than not that they may reconsider.

Ryan Klein:

I definitely believe in that sentiment. We do a lot of consumer surveys where we kind of ask questions. How many reviews are important? What’s the average rating that’s important? How much research do you do? And I definitely believe that there is this assumption that’s pervasive in legal that I get all my business from word of mouth and referrals and I’m good. And they just assume that they get the name, they go to the website and they get the client. But these people on average will search and look at reviews for up to 30 minutes, and people can really uncover a lot of things in 30 minutes. You can go to the 15th page of Google for all we know, seeing what’s going on with that person.

So, when you’re working with people and you’re trying to get in front of this potential search for the reputation, the reviews, what kind of content or what kind of activities, I guess, are you doing online to really fill up those pages with positive representation of an individual or a law firm?

Sameer Somal:

Yeah, well, I hope you got a lot of time, Ryan, with that open-ended question. No, I’m just kidding. So that is a challenge. First of all, there’s choice overload. I mean, there’s so many things out there to do from a content perspective. Podcasts like this one, websites, you have articles: authoring content being quoted in content, interview features. Then there’s videos. Some people are comfortable being the proverbial talking head. Some people want videos out there, but they don’t necessarily want to be in them.

And so, you have to first find the mediums that people are comfortable with, and educate them on why they should consider the ones maybe that they were a little bit reluctant to be on. But most importantly, you’ve got to find, in this case, a law firm or a lawyer’s voice, what it is that they want to be out there. So one of the things we do with clients, be it a firm or an individual, is we start with, “Hey, provide us a core group of AAA rated content that you feel good about. That is maybe by competitors, maybe by others, maybe it has the right tone that you agree with. And let’s start there.”

And so, one, you have to kind of reverse engineer what it is that you want out there about. Do you want people to know about your corporate law experience? Do you want people to know that, hey, you know what, you’ve published in different places, or you’ve been recognized for these awards? Do you want people to understand that, hey, in your free time you’re giving back to your law school and you’re mentoring law students?

So, I think that, first off, with reputation, everyone kind of has their own idea of what it should be, but I think the worst thing you can do is just overlook that, because if you don’t create your own presence out there and define it, ultimately somebody else will and the internet will. And that is, I think, one of the greatest risks that you have. People do make decisions based upon what they read about you, whether we like it or not. And so, you have to start by saying, hey, look, when somebody is out there, how do you tell them and have a core theme about yourself? And how do you tell them again and again in different mediums?

So, it doesn’t have to be so difficult where, wow, we’ve got all this content in motion on social media, on Instagram, Facebook, we’ve got different content going on YouTube, we’ve got articles that are being published. I think you need to stick to a few core themes and how you actually help people. Also, there’s this big notion of reviews and how do you curate a review presence on [inaudible 00:10:01], on Google My Business, on a number of these other platforms so that people really do see that you’ve helped people.

Many times, we’ve been approached by law firms who’ve got thousands of happy clients, but they’ve had 10 disgruntled ones. And now when somebody googles them, their Google rating shows a two and they’re like, that’s not reflective, and that’s not necessarily fair. So how do you craft a strategy and a process for making sure that people that you help actually go out there and document and put that feedback out there?

And so, I think each person and each law firm has their own idea of what matters to them and what’s important. And so you can’t necessarily take like, hey, here’s some packages and this is how we work, you really have to take a customized approach. And I would say another component to this content creation is public relations. We’ve been fortunate enough to serve a number of public relations agencies for the last 10 years. Many of those relationships are an NDA where I’m not allowed to talk about the clients we’ve served because they don’t want their clients to ever find out that we’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting. And so, we’ve learned how to pitch authors, having relationships, being able to circumvent the typical way that you approach a publication to be published.

And so that is a huge component because I can think of actually a lawyer I was referred to two months ago and they said, “Sameer, but I don’t necessarily need help because look at my website. I’ve got this really active blog, I posted.” And I explained to them, I said, “You are posting twice a week and actually your articles are really good, and I wouldn’t change the content, but Google’s not going to rank your website 10 times for the searches that you want. They’ll probably rank it once, and if you’re really, really good like Amazon, maybe they’ll rank it a couple times. But other than that, they’re only ranking your website once. And so you need to feature and proliferate your content on other domains that have a higher authority and that can help shape your narrative.”

Chase Williams:

Is it safe to say that most of the clients come to you and they’re kind of in distress mode? And I do want to bring up the Streisand effect, cause I think it’s so interesting, and for those of our listeners that aren’t familiar with it, in the early 2000s, Barbara Streisand had a picture of her house, an aerial of view of her house, leaked online or something, and nobody saw it. It was like four to six people saw the actual picture and then a lawsuit opened up to take the picture down and then it led to like 500,000 views of the house. And now they call it the Streisand effect, when you try to silence someone. And so you see that happening a lot when a client reaches out to you, they’re like, “Hey, get it off the internet, send them a cease and desist, I want to sue them.” Is that a common theme or is it more of the… Are they aware of that and they want to just get the positive out there?

Sameer Somal:

Well, it’s definitely a mixed bag because a lot of the work that we’ve done discreetly is being a plugin solution to law firms to complement and to support and integrate with their internal marketing and content teams, or external vendors, and to coordinate on strategy and also to deliver.

Yes, there are many people in distress, and there’s nothing more urgent than having what I describe as that permanent leach of bad content right on your face. And that is something that actually affects people… I mean, I can think of a number of people, in the legal industry, who we’ve worked with and collaborated with and they’ve had suicidal thoughts because they’re falsely accused of something or they had a situation where someone defamed them as a client. I can think of a number of people… I’ve worked in cases… I can think of a celebrity attorney who was in a celebrity court case, had three plaintiffs they’re representing, and the celebrity that they were suing actually started defaming this particular individual and that resulted in having to file a lawsuit.

There’s do believe that, yes, people do approach us in times of distress when there’s crisis, when there’s negativity, but I would also say more of our business is done, although it’s done under the radar, with building that presence and making sure that people are accurately representing themselves. And sometimes it has to do with growing their company, sometimes it has to do with, hey, I want to make sure that I get more referrals, so I want to have content going out there. And a lot of times it has to do with legacy. People want to make sure that, hey, I’m known as a thought leader and when people look me up, I want to feel good about how I’m represented.

Ryan Klein:

I always looked at ORM, it’s a little bit more like covert ops where you’re doing all these things in the backend that’ll eventually make their way onto the first page, and hopefully sometimes suppress the negativity that’s on the first page. And maybe something like that is maybe a last resort. But then again, I don’t know your exact strategy for ORM, like the actual outreach and aggressively or demanding to have things taken down.

Sameer Somal:

We can’t necessarily be aggressive. We do specialize in content removal. Of course, it’s idiosyncratic with respect to publications. Of course, with Section 230, they can just not respond. And yes, we have sent cease and desist. I think sometimes you have to approach it with a little bit of honey, per se, and be nice about it, and reason. We have a lot of people that approach us and ask us for help that we turn down because I want to know when somebody has negative content out there, what happened, what took place. Because ultimately I have to answer people about why we’ve taken on certain clients, be it our team or others who we’re working with or collaborating with.

And so I think that when you’re looking at content that is out there, removals oftentimes are not possible depending upon what happened and what took place and, if it’s a litigious matter, where we’re at. Having said that, we do explore removals and we have had a lot of success there.

Of course, suppressing content is a common strategy where there’s a wide dispersion of competence. I think you have to reverse engineer what you want to be out there online, and you have to thoughtfully create digital assets that are relevant and drive traffic and… Why do people have a distrust for this word “SEO”, I was just speaking at an event not long ago and I spoke about, of course, digital reputation. It was at the Federal Home and Loan Bank of Cincinnati, and I spoke to CEOs of their member banks and I said, “Doesn’t SEO feel like a dirty word?” And everybody started laughing because nobody trusts it. And a big reason is a lot of people have had experiences where they’ve paid for it, they haven’t gotten results and a lot of people don’t understand it, but SEO is a strategy used within online reputation management to garner results. And if you’re not proactively adapting to Google’s algorithm and adjusting what you’re doing and studying it, well then, the practices that worked two years ago aren’t necessarily going to work today, and your clients are going to figure that out.

And so that’s a big part of our business is staying progressive and adapting to the way that Google wants to showcase content and what factors are most important for ranking.

Ryan Klein:

Yeah, you beat me too it, that SEO. I’m sure that SEO is a big component here. And you mentioned something interesting earlier about how people will focus on their website to be representative of their name or their law firm, but Google, the way it works, it’s not going to display the first 10 results as your firm. One thing Google does is it understands the user experience to give you diversity in search results. So, you can look at the name of your firm or yourself as a keyword.

If you type in a typical vanity keyword, searching for a lawyer, you’re going to get websites, but you get directories. So, it’s the same with someone’s name. It’s not going to just be your website. It’s going to be a variety of results. That’s why your website can’t be the first two. That’s why Yelp shows up. That’s why Better business Bureau shows up, and that’s what makes this kind of thing interesting and makes your job interesting. Knowing the diversity of the results you have to get in front of.

Sameer Somal:

Certainly is evolving and getting more challenging, of course, to get results online. And so many times people follow, and when people approach us and say, “Hey, Sameer, I’ve got two quotes for online reputation. Here they are, can you beat it?” I normally don’t even respond other than saying, “Hey, look, I think you should probably go with those quotes if that’s how you feel.” Price is what you pay, value is what you receive.

And we’ve had a lot of cases whereby people go with cheaper options. People follow those black hat SEO practices, they take all these shortcuts, they collect money for three to six months, there’s results, and then Google figures out that you’ve been doing all the things that they say you shouldn’t be doing, and then the results reverse and then it’s three, four times as hard to fix things.

So, it’s got to be a gradual process. I think that our profile speaks for itself on how we’ve been able to do that, because there’s been this migration to more people wanting to serve… We’ve just gotten more and more selective about the clients that we work with because we’re in a fortuitous position where we can choose where we want and how we want to grow our business, because we have different revenue lines.

Chase Williams:

So, Sameer, short of hiring a company, what’s the easiest way someone can dip a toe in the water with ORM and maybe have somebody on their marketing team… Like some easy tactics, I don’t want to say easy ’cause nothing is easy in this, I’m sure, but some maybe process driven tactics where someone can add this to their ongoing marketing at their firm?

Sameer Somal:

Yeah, well I think of course one is using Google Alerts to see what’s out there. Two, who are the people that you admire and respect most, that are competitors or friends? See what populates their search results, see where they’ve been published. If your best client, and you’re looking for 10 more of them, what are they going to search online? So I think there’s two things to think about with respect to your narrative online. One, when somebody knows your name or knows your firm name and they’re looking you up and how do you make sure that that is authentic and representative? And two, what are people looking for online, that is exactly the way that you help people or the challenge you solve and how do you insert yourself into that conversation?

So go and find out who’s in those conversations online and then make sure that you study that and work to say, “Hey look, we’re publishing an article.” Oftentimes people say, “Oh, Sameer, yeah, I’ve been publishing on LinkedIn.” That’s not the best place to publish. You need to publish that somewhere else, then go bring that article to LinkedIn, put in half of it, and then put a link to the original source so that your article somewhere else gets that important back link.

We’ve also had situations where people spend a lot of money transactionally on Google AdWords, on social media ads, but then they’re driving them back to a website that isn’t optimized. Or somebody learns about, hey, your law firm, but then when they Google the law firm, they’re not finding much information. So I think that the whole narrative has to be created thoughtfully. And I think that you have got to put yourself in your audience’s shoes.

What would get you to pick up the phone and make the call if you really needed help? And if you don’t feel that somebody would do that, then what do you need to do, to put it out there, to let people know that you’re credible?

Ryan Klein:

Hopefully this question isn’t too random, I don’t think it would be from your experience, but have you ever dealt with situations with a law firm that… there’s a lawyer on the team, it may not be a partner or anyone in the name of the firm, but they have someone on the team that may have done something maybe in their personal life that gets out there, and then the firm is almost looking to you to advise on business… Those kinds of employment, almost, decisions, or they try to distance themselves from the lawyer, or you just do a standard ORM campaign?

Sameer Somal:

Of course, that that’s a common one there. So it’s hey, how do you address that disgruntled employee that’s defaming? Or somebody is no longer with the law firm, but they were when this incident happened, and now when somebody Googles a law firm, they’re finding somebody who did something three years ago. And so those certainly are common issues.

I’ve been surprised that many partners and successful lawyers, the first thing they say to me when we’re referred or we have a… is, “I know you can’t change the results out there.” I’m like, “Well, I wouldn’t say that you can always change them, but you definitely can influence them, and you definitely can do things the right way to be able to showcase better and more positive information.

If you’re in that situation… I think sometimes law firms, to be perfectly candid, can be penny wise, pound foolish. The opportunity cost of losing 1, 2, 3 clients because you have negative information out there, and usually it’s a lot more than that because one or two people mention it, there’s probably 10 to 30 behind that have seen it that haven’t said anything to you about it. And so I think many times law firms are just reluctant because they’re maybe a little bit too shrewd, or they’re not educated on how important it is, or they just don’t understand the value of internet search, where they don’t address these things and they let them go on.

And I’ve seen a number of situations where we’ve outlined, addressed it, and then a law firm’s come back later, a year or two years later, and they’re like, “This is still out there. We made the decision.” And my conversation with them is always, “It would’ve been one additional client that you got from fixing that that would’ve paid for all of this, and you probably should have done it two years ago.” And I think every time they’re like, “I know. That’s why we’re back.” So, I would just encourage people to address that and do it proactively.

Chase Williams:

And Sameer, we do want to give you time to briefly plug in Girl Power Talk. I know it might be a little bit different from what we were talking about right now, but it’s such a cool thing that you’re involved in, so definitely want to hear more about it.

Sameer Somal:

Yeah, I would just say, Chase, imagine a fictional book where young people are happy and there’s intellectual freedom and they’re learning, growing and creating together, now imagine making it real.

And the world has changed. Having a background in finance as a private banker, if you dissect the S&P 500, a lot of these blue chip companies that we feel are American, they’re generating a disproportionate amount of revenue from the emerging markets. They have huge teams based there.

And so, the world has changed. It’s gone from Henry Ford and the assembly line to now the disassembly line, and countries are kind of arranged according to their comparative advantage. So recognizing these trends and the demographic dividend of countries like Indonesia, like the Philippines, like India, where there’s 500 million people under the age of 26. Like Africa, which of course is not a country, but 54 countries make up the continent, and there’s roughly 750 million people I think under the age of, I believe, 25 there in a few years. There’s a huge opportunity to upskill and accelerate the learning curve of young people in the emerging markets. And Girl Power Talk was born and predicated on that, and I’m proud to say that we have a growing legal team at Girl Power Talk, and many of our clients want to interact more with our team and have them do things on the legal end.

We work with a number of successful lawyers and law firms where we do work to compliment, or many times to supplement, their paralegal teams. Lawyers always say to find a good paralegal, that’s like winning the lottery. So we know how important it is to have people that can write intelligently, that can research, and that’s a big part of Girl Power Talk.

And now you can have access to that 24-hour work cycle, and we’re doing that strategically with our clients. At the same time, we’re building an organization that believes in doing good in this world, and you can be altruistic, you can be kind, but that doesn’t have to compromise your desire to be successful in business, as an entrepreneur, as a professional. And so that brand of Girl Power Talk, as a place that people are doing that, as a growing community, is what we are. And I probably explained more just in the last few minutes than anyone could figure out by looking us up, but it’s certainly a privilege to be creating an organization that focuses on providing conscious bias towards women, and opportunities.

And if you think about all the success society has had in the last thousand years when women were mostly relegated to the sidelines, and you think about the way that it could be and should be in the future, that’s a big reason why Girl Power Talk was created and why it’s growing.