You might think small business owners would realize after the 10,000th viral local news story that forcibly dictating social media etiquette of customers tends to backfire. And yet, here we are again.
City Park Apartments in Salt Lake City, Utah finds itself crushed under a flood of vindictive online retribution for demanding its tenants "friend" the company's unofficial Facebook page within five days. Clearly, the landlord was unfamiliar with the more recent term, "Like," and chose the antiquated "friend" instead. But wait, it gets worse. Anyone who does not comply could be found in breach of contract, according to a letter found on tenants' doors last week.
Another unsettling quirk: you had to let City Park Apartments post photos of you and your guests on its page, and you were not allowed to leave negative reviews on any public forum. The company's Facebook page is already "unavailable" after a torrent of negative reviews. It turns out local TV news station KSL picked the story up, and it floated its way to the AP and then every other website on the internet. And City Park Apartments' Yelp profile is "under active cleanup," which is Yelp's euphemism for "your business is currently being ground into a fine dust by unstoppable tank of internet outrage."
Before social media, you could just be a terrible landlord and everything was fine
On one hand, you'd have to be completely devoid of empathy to not see this situation as a profound misunderstanding of how businesses should interact with customers online. It's not like the culprit here is some shady Silicon Valley growth hacker run afoul, using the dark social handbook as a one-person consultancy to try and juice the Facebook presence of unsuspecting clients. No, it's most likely a manager of some sort who doesn't really understand social media and thought they could wield landlord status as a big stick. It was dumb and scummy, but it's not a mistake worth losing your business over.
Then again, the internet demands blood and it shall extract its fuel from apartment complex operations, one one-star review at a time. So it goes.