The technology was new, but the public relations fumble was textbook classic.
In May, a Chicago resident living in a Horizon Group
Management property posted a complaint to her Twitter
account, which had 20 followers. She wrote to an
acquaintance: “You should come anyway. Who said
sleeping in a moldy apartment is bad for you? Horizon
Realty thinks it’s okay.”
Horizon sued the resident in July for $50,000,
claiming defamation. Legal blogger Marian Wang first
reported on the suit on the ChicagoNow Web site, but
the news quickly jumped to the Chicago Tribune, the
Chicago Sun-Times and The New York Post. Eventually
the BBC and The Washington Post ran stories.
By trying to suppress a tweet disseminated to 20
people, Horizon managed to make international headlines—drawing more attention to the mold complaint,
and earning a reputation as a bully.
Paul Gillin, author of Secrets of Social Media
Marketing,” said Horizon should have remembered when
it comes to “David and Goliath, the media almost always
sides with David.”
There’s no way to sue and keep it a secret, Gillin said,
because, as Horizon found out, an individual can publish
the information online, where it’s ripe for discovery by
mainstream media. The result? Horizon comes off in the
press as an ogre harassing a powerless resident.
Horizon should have pondered whether the company
would have sued if the resident had complained to 20
people in a bar, rather on Twitter, said Julie Szabo,
co-author of Friends With Benefits: A Social Media
The company should have taken a customer service
approach, Szabo said, not a legal one. If the apartment
wasn’t moldy, then management should have asked her
to correct her assertion. If she refused, the company
could have responded in public, preferably in a forum it
controlled, such as its Web site.
It’s important companies react appropriately, Gillin
said, because social media gives each and every person
a megaphone which they can potentially use to air their
“Never underestimate the power of the individual
these days,” he said.
buying into Facebook advertising is cheaper than pay-for-click campaigns, and more effective.
She said one of her clients spent $95 for a Facebook ad
and received 869,000 impressions, meaning the company
was served up for viewing 869,000 times on Web pages.
From that, the company received 115,000 clicks, and 40 of
those people joined the company’s fan page. The fan page
is like virtual word-of-mouth marketing.
Another advantage to these social media tools, particularly Facebook and Twitter, Guerzo said, is their ability to
capture behavioral information about users. As a result,
the audiences are much more valuable than a random
“You can target the exact people you want,” she said.
“It’s better to have 100 loyal followers than 100,000 useless
Guerzo said using social media tools will distinguish
a company from its many competitors not using them.
Small businesses have been especially slow to adopt social
According to an October 2009 Citibank/GfK Roper survey of about 500 U.S. small business owners, 76 percent
of respondents said social networking sites have not been
helpful in generating business leads for expanding their
business in the last year. Eighty-six percent of respondents
said they have not used the sites for business advice or
If more companies adopt the technology, Guerzo said,
social media users could lose their edge.
“There is an advantage to doing it,” she said, “whereas
next year there might be a disadvantage to not doing it.”
VIRTUAL CUSTOMER SATISFACTION
To reap the advantages of using social media tools,
companies must use them judiciously and have a broad
plan, Guerzo said.
“Strategy is important,” she said. “Otherwise, you get
lost in the weeds and you don’t focus on the right things.”
Guerzo said companies need to consider the content
they want distributed; their ideal customer’s description;
industry information or news sources they can rely on for
content; visual content they can use; testimonials they can
publish; and potential questions they can ask followers,