Horizon Group Management has probably by now figured out that suing a tenant over an uncomplimentary tweet was probably not the best course. If the company had been worried that a tweet about a supposedly moldy apartment would damage its reputation, it has certainly magnified that effect probably millions of times.
Forgive me if, should I move to Chicago, I choose not to rent from a company that describes itself as a "sue first and ask questions later kind of an organization" as though it is a virtue. Moldy apartment or not.
What should businesses learn from this incident?
- Before suing, ask people not involved with your company what they think of your case. Describe it from the other side's viewpoint. It's hard to believe that if the Horizon folks had asked people on the street what they thought of a $50,000 lawsuit over a tweet sent, apparently, to fewer than 20 people, they'd have been surprised by the reaction of the world at-large.
- Understand that the online world will side with the underdog. "There but for the grace of God go I," was the reaction many of my friends had to the lawsuit.
- Solving customer complaints is often, maybe almost always, less expensive in the long run than fighting.
- The appropriate use of "reputation management" is to make customers happy, not generate lawsuits. Suing over something posted online should be a last resort, not the immediate response. Try talking first and the angry customer, once heard, could become your biggest fan.
- If you can't accomplish the first four, just stay away from ego searches for your company's name on Twitter, Facebook, Google, or even Bing. You will live a much happier life by not knowing what people say about you. Trust me on this one.
My advice to Horizon is to drop the suit, pay the woman's legal fees, apologize, and hope she doesn't countersue.
For everyone else, this should be a lesson that overreacting to criticism looks bad and makes people wonder what you're hiding. Big companies don't look good suing consumers and won't win friends that way. Worse, you can make many, many enemies. Which is all this lawsuit has probably accomplished, or ever will.
(My warning to consumers can be found here).