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Field Notes from the Digital Prairie

Friday, September 10, 2010

Can a Hashtag Get You Sued?

Alternative title to this post: "How Not to Use Twitter as a Business Tool, Vol. 842"

A colleague of mine recently expressed, via his personal Twitter feed, dissatisfaction with a product that he is required to work with as part of his job. The tweet included a hashtag inferring that the product in question was, in effect, utter garbage. Since my colleague has expressed a desire not to bring further attention to the situation, I won't mention the name of the product or the company that produces it, but suffice it to say that this is a company that goes out of its way to cultivate customers in the higher ed world, sponsoring networking and social events -- and, indeed, social networks -- specifically for the higher ed web community.

Now, everyone knows that good social media tactics include monitoring the Twitterverse for mentions of your brand or product, and responding to those mentions. The companies that do it best take criticism on Twitter (Twittercism?) as an opportunity to apologize to a frustrated user and get feedback about how their product or service might be improved.

So how did this company respond?

With an email and multiple phone calls at his work number, threatening legal action if the offending tweet was not removed or retracted.

This "strategy," if you can call it that, is really nothing short of insane. The backlash that could result from such bully tactics could very quickly destroy the goodwill that this company has spent a lot of time and money trying to build in the higher ed web community. Let's hope they come to their senses.