PR 101: How NOT to handle an aggrieved tenant situation

complaint From the Guardian 29/07/09:

A Chicago lettings agency is suing a former tenant for at least $50,000 (£30,000) after she complained on Twitter about mould in her apartment.

Horizon Group Management filed the lawsuit against Amanda Bonnen on Monday in response to what it claimed was her "false and defamatory" message on the microblogging site.

Jeff Michael, whose family runs Horizon, told the Chicago Sun-Times: "The statements are obviously false, and it's our intention to prove that."

He said the company never had a conversation with Bonnen about the post and never asked her to take it down. "We're a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organisation," he told the paper.

Oh really? Well, unsurprisingly, that approach has gone down a storm across the cyberspatial universe.

The lawsuit has provoked a backlash against Horizon on Twitter and the wider blogosphere. Horizon Group management has become one of the most searched and discussed subjects on Twitter, with posters criticising the company for its legal action and arguing it had made a major PR blunder.

Twitter user charlesthomas wrote: "So Bravo to you, Horizon Group Management! You damaged your rep far more than @abonnen ever could."

Another poster, jvandeboom, tweeted: "What a PR failure by Horizon Group Management ... Makes me believe the mold [sic] claims even more."

Although blogs, twitter and all the other lovely web 2.0 stuff that have become firmly part of the modern vernacular these days, through which grievances are often (and sometimes foolishly) aired, the number of companies who completely fudge their responses and simply exacerbate the situation is amazing.

Without knowing the full facts, here, such as whether the mould claims are true, and if there had been any contact between the tenant and Horizon prior to the tweet in question, it’s impossible to judge the legality of the situation or how rational it might have been. Online defamation, too, is conceptually built on rather shaky ground but the legal issues in play are almost a side-issue given Horizon’s response.

The blogosphere has long been used as tool for making yourself heard and I can think of several situations where bloggers have easily and immediately got a firm’s undivided attention whereupon they were reduced to sycophantic putty in the blogger’s hands. The way Horizon Lettings handled the situation is at the opposite end of the spectrum, of course, and has simply resulted in making things far worse than they need ever have been.

And although I have rather conventional attitude towards online defamation, I’ve very little sympathy with Horizon; that “sue first, ask questions later comment” is just killing me.


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