Yesterday morning I wrote an article about Horizon filing a $50,000 libel suit against Amanda Bonnen, a Twitter user with 20 followers that sent out a Tweet in May. The end of that piece said, “Just watch. The carnage is going to be ugly.”
And ugly it was. A company spokesman saying, “We’re a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization” tends to get people talking.
Within a few hours, Horizon Realty became a “trending topic” on Twitter. For those not familiar, that means that Horizon was one of the most talked about topics on Twitter, a service that has millions of users.
You can see the 1,500 most current Tweets about Horizon Realty here.
“Big deal,” you may be thinking. “So a bunch of nerds on Twitter let some company have it. Who cares?”
Horizon Realty should care. Anyone concerned with their companies reputation should care.
However, unless you’re Michael Jackson, and you’re dead, trending topics on Twitter tend to be short lived. Horizon has already fallen off the top trending topic list. In a few days, no one will be talking about them on Twitter.
But the reach of social media goes beyond Twitter.
Let’s take a peek at what else has happened with Horizon Realty in the last 24 hours.
Google “Horizon Realty Chicago” or “Horizon Realty” or any of several variations and you’ll see their (nice) website sitting in the number one position. And you’ll also see 4 to 7 other first page results that refer to Horizon’s propensity to sue first, ask questions later. If you are looking for a property management company “looking to be their client” this may just sway you to look elsewhere.
Go to Yelp, a community-based site where people leave reviews. Yesterday, on the review page for Horizon there were three reviews. Not exactly glowing, there were only three. Today there are 21 reviews, and Horizon is solidly a one star affair.
Google Blog search now shows there are 3,814 blog posts indexed about Horizon Realty. 477 about Amanda Bonnen, and 1,410 pages are indexed that contain the term “We’re a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization” (up from 56 at the time I wrote my article yesterday).
Twitter comments may be fleeting. Google never forgets.
To be fair, Jeffrey Michael, a Horizon spokesman / co-owner (and now the proud owner of 2,870 mentions on blogs) issued a press release where he said the “sue first” remark was a “tongue in cheek” comment that was “not in line with our philosophy towards property management and was taken out of context”.
That’s too little too late Mr. Michael. And let’s not blame your incredible PR gaffe on someone in the media taking a “tongue in cheek” comment out of context. You blew it, plain and simple. Your one page press release issued after the shit storm had already blown up ”a press release that really tends to blame the Twitter user” was largely ineffective in stemming the groundswell of negative press your company is receiving.
It wasn’t the original Tweet that damaged Horizon’s reputation. That was seen by a couple of dozen people, tops. And while many feel a lawsuit for a single Tweet is ludicrous, that wasn’t the main factor in tens of thousands of negative comments being made about Horizon. It was the asinine “We’re a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization” statement, and the glaring lack of timely follow up and sincere apology that crushed Horizon’s reputation.
Here’s an idea. Short of hiring a social media reputation expert (for which if there ever was a need, this is it) why aren’t you reaching out in the social media space to try to fix this? Obviously you can’t respond to every comment. But you could respond via Twitter, via blog comments, via a prominent, sincere, non-finger pointing at the other guys statement on your own web page (the press release is nowhere to be found if you go to horizonrealtygroup.com).
Go ahead, stick your head in the sand. Blame everyone else. Hope the Twitter stream dies down (it will, although there have been 87 new Tweets about Horizon in the 30 minutes it took to write this). But again, Google never forgets. And if you are a business “especially a service-based business” and you think people won’t use Google to check you out, think again.
Photo Credit: fireflythegreat on Flickr. Creative Commons License.