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Arm yourself for reputation warfare

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In today’s fast-paced world of social ­media, here’s one new rule: Avoid any show of force that could be perceived as grossly disproportionate.

People view the world’s big guys as ­being in a better position than its little guys, and that places the onus on you to behave reasonably and justly, even when defending yourself.

Example: In 2009, a woman named Amanda Bonnen sent out a message on Twitter to her 20 or so followers that said, “Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it’s okay.”

Horizon Group Management, the Chicago apartment leasing and management company, took umbrage at the remark, and sued Bonnen for $50,000.

In return, Bonnen’s lawyers filed a class-­action suit against the firm for allegedly violating Chicago housing ordinances. Horizon fired back that Bonnen had ­“maliciously and wrongfully published the false and defamatory tweet, thereby allowing the tweet to be spread throughout the world.”

In fact, the tweet had reached only a dozen or so people. It was the lawsuits that pushed the story into Chicago Tribune headlines, and onto news aggregator sites such as Google News and Digg.

In the end, a judge threw out Horizon’s claims. All the company earned was a bad reputation.

— Adapted from “Reputation Warfare,” Leslie Gaines-Ross, Harvard Business Review.

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