Rule No. 1 of social media: Don't threaten to fine people for expressing their opinions on social media.
That's what an apartment building in Florida discovered this week with its "social media addendum" for would-be tenants. The one-page form told applicants for a unit at Windermere Cay that they would be liable for a $10,000 fine if they posted negative reviews of the building on social media sites. The addendum also told applicants that any photographs they took of the complex would become the property of the building's owner.
Yet while Americans may be prone to neglect the fine points of user agreements, they're quite good at social media, as Windermere Cay found after a tenant at the property showed the addendum to Ars Technica. Soon, the property's ham-fisted attempt to control its image on social media backfired, with the addendum spreading across Twitter and other social media sites.
The end result? Windermere Cay is now receiving a windfall of negative comments, with bystanders calling it "totalitarian" and a "bully."
Ironically, Windermere Cay appears perfectly aware of the damaging impact social media can have on a brand. The complex cited what it called a "growing trend in the commercial multifamily apartment leasing industry" for tenants to write "unjustified and defamatory reviews." The addendum notes that such postings can "cripple a business."
If Windermere Cay has been crippled, the wounds are self-inflicted. On top of the $10,000 fine for breaking the addendum, applicants are told that all their photos of the property and its apartments are owned by the building's owners. That could mean that snapshots of a tenant's birthday party held in their apartment, at least in the building owner's view, could be seen as the property of Windermere Cay.
Windermere Cay told Ars Technica that the policy was added "by a previous general partner for the community following a series of false reviews. The current general partner and property management do not support the continued use of this addendum and have voided it for all residents."
That step probably doesn't matter, given that the addendum is actually unenforceable, Santa Clara University Law Professor Eric Goldman told Ars Technica.
In the end, the addendum certainly didn't help Windermere Cay earn better reviews on Yelp, where the apartment complex earns just one out of five stars, with many objecting to the contract. While many of the reviewers don't apparently live there, several said they plan to stay away from the complex because of the attempt to control free speech.
Of course, Windermere Cay isn't the first organization to see its social media strategy backfire. Take last year's social media campaign from the New York Police Department, which asked residents to post photos of cops. The Internet responded with pictures of police wielding weapons and making arrests, rather than the warm-and-fuzzy snapshots it was undoubtedly hoping for.