How not to use Twitter: HabitatUK as a case study

Posted on June 20th 2009

Habitat is a trendy furniture store, set up by Terence Conran in the 1970s, for those who've never been to the UK its like a slightly more upmarket version of Ikea. @HabitatUK turned up on Twitter a couple of days ago, and decided to use trending topic #hashtags at the start of their tweets to get noticed. They used ones that had absolutely nothing to do with furniture, decorating, or shopping, but obviously the top hashtags for Thursday evening AEST such as #iPhone #mms #Apple and even Australia's Masterchef contestant who got voted off #Poh. I found these on Twitter Search:

HabitatUK #hashtag abuse

HabitatUK trending topic #hashtag spam

Just to really add insult to injury, HabitatUK even used an Iranian election hashtag, and threw one in for True Blood fans too, both trying to get people to signup to a database.

Hashtag abuse involving Iranian election

Hashtag abuse involving Iranian election

I've written about how easy it is to make a mess of hashtags on Twitter if you don't know what you're doing. Thanks to Twitter's immediacy and public transparency, you can be quickly picked up on spammy behaviour - and the Twitter community made their disappointment clear to @HabitatUK.

Here are some of the more polite, yet dismayed responses:

twitter-_-matt-farrugia_twitter-_-phil-waters_-habitatuk-spamming-news-o

twitter-_-roshorner_-habitatuk-shocked

twitter-_-j-jarrold_-rt-roshorner_-terrible-ma

twitter-_-raymosley_-agree-with-drewm-rosho

twitter-_-rachel-andrew_-rt-drewm-wow-habitatuk

@HabitatUKs response to all of this? They deleted their offending tweets, and replaced them a couple of hours ago with some generic product and sales oriented tweets with links to various web pages.

Thanks to the wonderful caching qualities of Twitter Search, the offensive tweets live on long enough to capture the evidence, but regardless of whether deleted or not, the damage to the brand has been done. The response tweets and the retweets will live on long after their offensive hashtag spam effort.

So what could HabitatUK have done instead?

  1. Individually @replied everyone who complained to them publicly, and apologised for the spammy behaviour
  2. Apologised in public. They could have sent out generic tweets to say sorry for not knowing what they were doing when they hijacked the trending hashtags for their marketing tweets
  3. Given Twitter followers a special offer discount voucher that could be redeemed via the web.
  4. Asked Twitter followers what kind of information/offers HabitatUK could offer, that would give value and build interest.
  5. Its ok to fail. Do it quickly and apologise publicly. People are a lot more forgiving when you admit to your mistakes rather than deny any wrongdoing.

The way the @HabitatUK page looks now, is typical of a traditional, push marketing, corporate PR approach. Admit nothing, aplogise for nothing, do not engage in conversation, advertise, advertise, advertise. You have to wonder why they're even bothering being on Twitter in the first place.

UPDATE: Habitat UK have apologised, posted here

 

Link to original post

Comments

ThemosKalafatis
Posted on June 21st 2009 at 8:28PM
This is an excellent post and may be one that should be followed up to see what happens : Both in terms of what Habitat will do about it but also how this post might affect Habitat in the *long run*. If many people link their websites to this post then users that are looking for opinions on habitat products -and not their website- may well see a large number of links that point to this negative marketing initiative and perhaps will be reminding to all of us for an awful lot of time a bad marketing example.  
RogerHarris
Posted on June 22nd 2009 at 4:42PM
Good post! I blogged on the topic of hashtag spam a couple of months ago. I am amazed that such a well-respected brand as Habitat could make such an elementary error in social media marketing. Someone didn't know what they were doing.
SethDotterer
Posted on June 22nd 2009 at 8:06PM
Marketing to a target audience by volume instead of message or demographic is always a mistake that alienates more potential customers than it garners.  Unfortunately one that increases in frequency the smaller the barrier to entry / cost of spamming.  I wrote about how annoyed I was by the faux-personalization of Direct Message on tweet here: http://www.shakethetree.com/2009/04/thanks-for-following-looking-forward... - Seth
MichaelJameiosn
Posted on October 28th 2009 at 7:34PM
It's amazing how oblivious large companies are to what's happening with twitter or the internet in general.
Posted on December 10th 2010 at 9:34AM
Any comms department should know that anything an intern does for them that is public facing represents the organisation. It shouldn't be a valid excuse to distance yourself from their actions simply by explaining they were an intern. So what? Why wasn't the boss watching them? Who briefed the intern? And why did Habitat think Twitter was such an unimportant channel of comms to its customers that it was ok for such an inexperienced (and apparently wholy unaffiliated) individual to work without being checked in this medium? 1Y0-A08 certified
Posted on July 29th 2011 at 9:54AM
Totally agree, I get so annoyed when I see people posting tweets with hash tags. One hash tag is ok, but when I see #one #two #three and even more I can't stand it, totally agree with the author.
Posted on September 21st 2011 at 5:48AM

Using of trending topic hashtags at the start of their tweets to get noticed seem to good steps toward this.

RonHeimbecher
Posted on December 19th 2011 at 5:23PM

I do hope all the spam links in these comments are tongue-in-cheek.