If you haven’t heard the story yet, a Chicago real estate company called Horizon Realty Group filed a lawsuit against one of its tenants on Monday. She apparently made a snarky remark on Twitter, claiming that the company “didn’t care” about mold in her apartment.
Horizon is suing her for libel, looking for $50,000 in damages to their reputation.
She only had about 20 followers, so this looked like a pretty harsh David and Goliath story. Unfortunately, Horizon’s legal and PR teams forgot what happened to Goliath.
By Tuesday afternoon, the story of Horizon’s lawsuit had hit trending topics on Twitter. Which means that a peevish remark made in front of 20 people has now found its way to hundreds of thousands.
That megaphone is a lot more powerful than you think it is
Think you just have 20 followers? Think again. Your tweets are findable both on Twitter search and Google. And it’s a routine practice for any smart company to look for its name regularly using both services.
Think the customer who just infuriated you has just 20 followers? Think again. Angry tenant Amanda Bonnen’s megaphone was tiny, but the social web can’t resist a juicy story. And the social web really can’t resist a juicy Twitter story.
It’s not about what you think is fair
Horizon Realty might be the most loveable, fair, decent and true company in the world. Right now, their name recognition has about as much appeal as Saddam Hussein. With mold.
Whether fair or not, Horizon has made a worldwide name for itself virtually instantly, connecting its brand with callous disregard for its tenants, or worse.
(Yes, there is such a thing as bad publicity. This is what it looks like.)
Do social media users read all the facts carefully before flaming? Of course they don’t. Are there dozens of inaccurate accusations about Horizon flying around Twitter at the moment?
Is that fair? No. Then again, filing a $50,000 lawsuit against a customer for a snarky remark made to a friend isn’t going to strike many as entirely reasonable either.
The Meatball Sundae has no mercy
Horizon’s Jeffrey Michael, trying to explain his position to the Sun-Times, said that Horizon has a good reputation to protect. His company says they can prove there wasn’t any mold in Bonnen’s apartment, and they couldn’t let Bonnen bad-mouth them. So they took a traditional route. (Although it would have been somewhat more traditional to ask her to remove the remark before filing the lawsuit.)
A year and a half ago, in a post about Seth Godin’s book Meatball Sundae, I wrote about my take on a nice little company called Kryptonite Locks.
Kryptonite got knocked down hard when they tried to play by old communication rules in a new communication environment. They hadn’t actually done anything wrong, but they looked clueless, unfeeling, and arrogant.
You don’t get to play by the old rules any more, and it doesn’t matter what business you’re in. You don’t get the old privilege of anonymity. You don’t get to bury your story on page 47.
There is no more page 47. Every story is somebody’s page 1.
As a matter of fact, it isn’t your story any more. It belongs to everyone, and they’ll do what they please with it.
If you want to influence the conversation, you’ve actually got to get into the conversation. Respectfully. Meaningfully. Just because that’s a social media cliché doesn’t mean you get to ignore it and hope it goes away.
The one-to-a-jillion aspect of social media means that any of us can hit the equivalent of the front page of the New York Times at any time. All that has to happen is that we find ourselves in the middle of a really interesting story.
So what’s the story about you going to be?
(And if you work for a company, be sure and warn your legal team about Twitter users. You don’t want to mess with those people… we’re crazy.)