How Not to Handle a Social Media Infraction

The online community is bursting with a companies poor handling of what they consider to be an infraction against them by a Twitter user. The Twitter user in question had around 20 followers and they posted something about mold in their rental unit.  They referred to someone in their post as ‘Horizon’.  Jay Thompson brought the post to my attention in his blog at PhoenixRealEstateGuy.com 

Horizon Realty Group Chicago logo posted at StevenGroves.com What it looks like is that a real estate company named “Horizon Realty Group“, a company that manages about 15 properties in the Chicago area, has taken issue with the post and filed a lawsuit for $50,000 in damages from the person who made the post, Amanda Bonnen.  What did Ms. Bonnen say that was so bad that Horizon felt compelled to file a suit?  It looks like a reply to one of her followers / friends that said “You should just come anyway. Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it’s okay.”  (the account @ABonnen is now inactive BTW)abonnen_realtytweet at StevenGroves.com

Its a good thing that Horizon is savvy enough to monitor the social media world for it’s brand and mentions of it’s company.  Now we begin to explore what should you NOT do when you find a post like this.

Should they have filed the lawsuit for $50,000?  Maybe, but now that the story has made it to the mainstream media, the likely impact to the company filing the suit will likely be something much more more than the $50,000 they are seeking from Ms. Bonnen, who could not possibly be found at fault for the loss of revenue after this story has made the rounds.  I’ll say they probably should not have filed the suit.

The overwhelming penalty in revenue and social capital will not be because of the initial Twitter post made by Ms. Bonnen.  The impact will be because of two other things being talked about regarding this event. 

First is that the property management company opted to file the suit to begin with.  They might have handled it a hundred other ways, but a lawsuit is the way they decided to handle it.  They did not apparently attempt to contact Ms. Bonnen before filing the suit.  Whether or not they did attempt to contact Ms. Bonnen is now irrelevant though.  It’s the next item that really I think closed the door for Horizon and their reputation.

The second item is a comment by Jeffery Michael, who’s family has run the real estate company for about 25 years, who said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times “we’re a sue first, ask questions later kind of company”.

hmm…

My thought after reading about that comment was “… well, that’s good to know that about that real estate company – I’ll make sure I NEVER rent from them”. 

It’s a thought that I think it will be the assessment of hundreds, if not thousands of other potential renters over the next few days, weeks and years.  The impact to their revenue will be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost rentals, maybe millions of dollars. 

Chicago is a city of of over 2.8M people.  If Jeffery had held his tongue, MAYBE 20 people would have heard about it.  Now that the media has picked it up, all 2M+ Chicago residents have or will likely heard about it.  Heaven knows how many more million of people across the country and now the world will hear about it.

Now when people search for “Horizon Realty”, guess what will likely come up as the #1 result?  Probably not their well constructed site – it will be this story for the next several years to come.  It’ll be the comment that the company is a “sue first, ask questions later” kind of company.  This could be bad for revenue.

What To Do?  If I were to advise Horizon, I get them to immediately withdraw the lawsuit, apologize to Ms. Bonnen, and comp her rent for a year.  I’d make it known that legal action is a last step, not a first.  There are a few other actions I would recommend as well, but I’m sure they’re getting a big dose of social media crisis recovery consulting right now – they can contact me if they would like a few other tips.

  • http://PhoenixRealEstateGuy.com Jay Thompson

    This could be a flagship case in social media reputation mismanagement.
    Sadly, something as simple and as low tech as a phone call when Ms. Bonnen first tweeted could likely have avoided this mess.
    The “We’re a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization” statement from Horizon absolutely blew my mind.
    You know who else may need help with social media reputation management?
    All the other companies out there named “Horizon Realty”….

  • shaileshghimire

    “sue first and ask questions later” – I'd never do business with them. Clearly a company that this waaay waay highly of themselves. How about stop paying your lawyers – get a mold removal company in your rental units!

  • http://www.TheSocialMediaBible.com StevenGroves

    ooohh – great thought Jay… on it today…

    This was a really amazing story and to be quoted in the Sun-Times as a “sue 1st” company… just amazing what comes out of peoples mouths sometimes. Jeffery is probably has a bit of 'splaining to do to the rest of the family.

  • http://www.TheSocialMediaBible.com StevenGroves

    I do wonder however, about how much legal reserve they maintain and how else it might be allocated. I'm not sure, but it looks like the Good Hands Community people think I might want to make sure I'm covered – they made a tweet stating “Interested in @stevengroves Great point about lawsuit over a tweet….though it may end up getting him sued ???”

    Link to GHCommunity / Allstate Tweet – http://twitter.com/GHCommunity/statuses/2898581871

  • Pingback: StevenGroves.com – Ramblings about the Success of Strategy, Tools, and Tactics of Social Media | StevenGroves.com()

  • Robert Wilson

    I currently rent and have been in my apartment for over a year. Although I'm not a fan of my rental company, I generally won't comment about them on a social media site.

    My question is why didn't the company fix the problem to begin with? Renters have various rights that the smart tentent will take advantage of. If they are unable to resolve the problem through the rental company, then calling the health dept or local magistrate may be another option.

    Frankly the companies handling of this issue shows a very short sited attitude and I agree with you completely. Handing the issue the way they did created more issues for them.

  • Robert Wilson

    I currently rent and have been in my apartment for over a year. Although I'm not a fan of my rental company, I generally won't comment about them on a social media site.

    My question is why didn't the company fix the problem to begin with? Renters have various rights that the smart tentent will take advantage of. If they are unable to resolve the problem through the rental company, then calling the health dept or local magistrate may be another option.

    Frankly the companies handling of this issue shows a very short sited attitude and I agree with you completely. Handing the issue the way they did created more issues for them.

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