What Twitter is Absolutely No Good For

29 07 2009

Moldy Fruit for a Moldy Apartment

Moldy Fruit for a Moldy Apartment

An article in today’s Ars Technica gives some details about a lawsuit that property management company Horizon Group Management is filing against former Twitter user Amanda Bonnen who tweeted to a friend that her apartment was moldy:

You should just come anyway. Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it’s okay.”

Now, it’s secret that companies are monitoring every mention of themselves on Twitter (Horizon would have to have done — Amanda had only 20 followers according to the article). UPS, a few airlines and, in my own space, companies like Avid Technologies not only have their own presence but are monitoring the temper of their clients.

And here’s where Horizon went so flamingly absolutely out-of-control wrong.

The coolest thing about Twitter, for companies like these, is the direct access to their customers at an exceedingly low cost per contact point. If the management company had simply responded to her tweet with a considerate “what we can do together to solve this” they have scored tons of Twitter brownie points, not just for her 20 followers (assuming they read it) but to all of Horizon’s followers and anyone of their’s who read retweets.

This means that Horizon’s job is to get lots of followers and then to use the tool in an intelligent way. Which is absolutely not what they’ve done.

I have no idea what the actual situation is here.  Perhaps Amanda’s building is completely spotless except for her space, and that would say bad things about her. But it’s not the actual battle here that is important, it’s the perception of the company’s personality. In the old days, they used to call it “Corporate Presence.” An awareness of that is what would have kept Amazon from looking like a Nazi-like company for pulling copies of 1984 and Animal Farm from the Kindle last week. Outbound communication is crucially important in a viral world that we live in.

So, while Twitter is fantastically good for people and companies who have messages to broadcast (such as Amanda, in this case) it is absolutely a disaster for people and companies who want to keep those messages secret (such as Horizon, here, or Sarah Lacy and Mark Zuckerberg at SxSW in 2008). Companies that want to succeed in 2010 will do well to pay attention to this tempest in a teapot, because it shows just what the power of social media really is.

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The further down in the article you read, the more complex this story becomes, so it’s worth a read. It’s not really Black Hats vs. White Hats the way I’ve portrayed it.  My point isn’t who is right, but what it says about Horizon’s understanding of social media.


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