Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Horizon Realty grapples with the reality of social media

One of the main trending topics on Twitter today is Horizon Realty. According to Mashable, the company is suing a woman for $50,000 over a tweet that one of its Chicago apartments she rented was moldy.

Mashable's story, which references an article in the Chicago Sun-Times, says that the company did not attempt to contact the woman who posted the tweet or ask her to remove it. Instead, a Horizon Realty rep, Jeffrey Michael, said, "We're a sue first, ask question later kind of an organization."

And with that, a tweet that, at best, less than two dozen people originally saw, became a topic of discussion among thousands and thousands of people on Twitter. And you can imagine the kind of commentary it has generated about Horizon. Makes you wonder how many lawsuits the company could conceivably file, given the quote above.

Here's the thing: Whether the post was factual or not, Horizon really should have done a reach out to the customer first. By launching a lawsuit, the company has drawn attention to itself and stirred up a hornets' nest of unflattering comments. No doubt more media outlets will pick up the story, inviting or encouraging more scornful commentary. That's how a PR nightmare is born. The comment about suing first really doesn't help the company's brand either. Now, it will have to expend time, money and energy trying to rehabilitate its rep, all of which it could have avoided if it chose to handle the situation differently.

Ultimately, this is another example of why you want to very carefully consider any measures you take when dealing with customers in any forum, particularly social media. Because it only takes one comment by a company rep to fan the flames of hostility on the internet and make your company internationally infamous. That's the kind of property damage you can't easily repair.

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