The power of good old fashioned PR and when Twitter goes bad

Have you heard the one about the Chicago tenant who is being sued by her landlord for tweeting about her mouldy apartment?

If you haven’t already you probably will soon. For those short on time I’ll recap the details for you. Amanda Bonnen has been hit with a lawsuit by Horizon Group Management after it noticed a tweet by Bonnen which said that “Who said sleeping in a mouldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it is.” Claiming that Bonnen’s tweet was clearly published “throughout the world” and therefore has arguably severely damaged its reputation, Horizon is suing Bonnen for $50,000 (£30,900) in damages.

So is this another example of the power of Twitter and a stark warning that saying the wrong thing online can get you into serious trouble? Well it probably is actually but it’s also more interesting that that.  This is clearly yet another classic case of a company not realising (or not caring) that it’s about to commit PR suicide.

Surely the point here is that by hitting Bonnen with a lawsuit Horizon is actually encouraging and creating far more publicity (for itself and its allegedly mouldy apartments) than the original tweet would have ever garnered by itself. Indeed, Bonner only had 17 ‘followers’ at the time and her Twitter account has long been deleted.

Just compare that audience with the following – at last count Google says there are 498 stories on this specific case, including articles written by the Press Association, the Wall Street Journal and even our very own Brand Republic. Add to that Horizon’s initial response of “We’re a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization” and you have to wonder if some basic media training coupled with a short presentation entitled ‘How not to destroy your reputation in one quick swoop’ might be in order.

Of course, being aware of what people are saying about your brand (rightly or wrongly) is an important issue, both online and offline. Reputation is everything. And inaccurate or malicious online posts or tweets by anyone need to be sensitively and swiftly handled. And sometimes legal action is the only recourse.

But companies also need to wise up and play people at their own game. Clearly the smart move here would have been to respond like-for-like on Twitter with an explanation of what happened in the first place, reassure people this was a unique situation or even better to publicly decree that the problem was now solved or didn’t even happen in the first place. By being heavy handed Horizon has done the worst possible thing. It has created a media maelstrom and as a betting man I’d wager that 99% of public opinion will be sympathetic to the tenant not the landlord.

Perhaps the silver lining in the long term is that we’ll all think twice before we post that next negative tweet or status update on Facebook.

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