Sunday, August 2, 2009

Stop Irrational Fear of the "Twitter Lawsuit"

In my last post, I wrote that the Twitter Lawsuit filed by Horizon Realty Group against its former tenant would make PR pros' job harder as we work to bring our clients into the world of Social Media. I want to expand on the two reasons I think that, and offer some suggestions for PR pros to deal with it.

Reason 1
Senior Management allows legal considerations to trump all others.

I've been in meetings where lawyers simply provide a laundry list of potential lawsuits rather than ways to proceed AND avoid legal action. In the face of all the potential negatives, management caves.

I bet it won't be a month before someone uses the Twitter Lawsuit as an example of why Social Media may be more trouble than it's worth.

So what can you do?

Push back and highlight that Social Media didn't bring this lawsuit; lawyers did. This isn't a Social Media lawsuit, it's a frivolous one.

Horizon's lawyers discovered the offending tweet while preparing a defense to the lawsuit filed by the former tenant. The defamation suit is a defensive tactic. Defensive tactics rarely protect your reputation.

Reason 2
Key Audiences get lost in legal disputes.

Companies build and protect their reputations with good operations and effective communications. Great messages acknowledge the concerns and feelings of key audiences (stakeholders) and, in the best cases, ease them.

Let's break this down.

The key audiences for Horizon are current and future tenants. The lawsuit reinforces two critical fears for these stakeholders. First, that the landlord will ignore their problems. Second, that they may be powerless in their own home.

The Twitter Lawsuit actually validates those fears instead of easing them, while making future tenants less likely to rent from them.

PR pros can keep the focus on the audience by pointing out that Social Media engages key audiences and is a two-way communication. If you are engaged in conversation with someone, you will be able to identify problems and hopefully resolve them long before anyone thinks about going to court.

In the event you do have to go to court (Horizon is being sued, too) you can use Social Media to reach the huge majority of key stakeholders that you won't see in court.

I know I'm just a PR guy, but fear of a lawsuit is a dumb reason not to communicate. People can sue you for any reason, even stupid ones.

A good lawyer will remind you that they are there to protect your reputation in court. A good PR pro will remind you that using Social Media can protect your reputation with the public. You know the public, right? The place where juries come from.

Bill Salvin

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