Don’t stop to kick every barking dog

No, that isn’t a caveat for Michael Vick’s reinstatement.  It’s part of the Rules of the Public Policy Process taught by my former boss, Morton Blackwell.  Essentially, the phrase means that in politics, sometimes it’s wise to pick your battles – and that not every fight you could engage in will help you achieve your ultimate goal.

It isn’t a politically-themed example, but a real estate management company in Chicago is making this point very clearly.  The Horizon Group is suing a former tenant of one of their apartment buildings because she posted a snarky, critical comment on Twitter.  “Who says sleeping in a moldy apartment is bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it’s okay,” tweeted the disgruntled renter, Amanda Bonnen.

Horizon didn’t bother asking Bonnen to remove the tweet or push a retraction to the meager following of 20 users who track her Twitter account.  Instead, they filed a defamation lawsuit seeking $50,000 in damages.

“We’re a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization,” explained Horizon’s Jeffrey Michael.  That may indeed prove that Horizon is right in this case, but that isn’t a very inviting comment for a prospective renter.

Social networks like Twitter offer a chance for companies to engage their customers in a dialogue, and use the conversation – including constructive criticism – to make their business better.  In some cases – and this could very well be one – a business relationship is simply irreconcilable, and the customer will give bad reviews no matter what.  At that point, any business should gauge the situation and consider their options.  I’d bet that many Chicago-area renters will steer clear of Horizon-managed properties, given their handling of this situation – far more than would have if Horizon had simply ignored Bonnen’s original tweet, which probably would have been seem by, at most, 25-50 people and forgotten by most soon after it was read.

Perhaps instead of suing first and asking questions later, Horizon’s management should have started with a question: Which is more harmful, a random Twitter post or bad PR from taking legal action against a dissatisfied customer?

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