The Campaign That Went Oops…


The @habitatuk Twitter account looks all nice and shiny today, but that isn’t how it started out for the UK retailer. Last week an account in their name started spewing messages about their Spring/Summer collection, but tagged with random keywords from Twitter’s trending topics items.

It isn’t a great mental leap to work out that the connection between the Habitat’s new furnishings collection and things like the #iranelection, #iran and #Mousavi is at best tenuous, and at worst a blatant bit of opportunism. Here’s some of the “re-printable bits” from the Twitter stream:

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First Break all the Rules

After that it started to turn very ugly. Habitat UK broke almost every rule in the Twitter book.

  • Don’t abuse hash tags to try and drive traffic. It doesn’t work. This isn’t search engine optimization. It is social media.
  • Don’t retweet the same thing over and over. People heard you the first time, and they can always see your last tweet. It makes following your Twitter stream very unattractive. How long would you stay with someone at a party if they repeated themselves over and over?
  • Don’t just jump in. Listen, learn, then join in the conversation. You’re not advertising. You’ve been invited into someone’s web browser. You are just one click away from leaving it.

On Twitter, if no-one is following you, no-one hears you – that spam goes into dead-air. It is why I rate Twitter above email. Twitter has a visible feedback mechanism – people can follow or unfollow. Spamming hash tags is a desperate way to get people who aren’t following you to read your messages. It is the Twitter equivalent of nuisance calling or public vandalism, it isn’t going to make you any friends.

Putting Things Right

Over the weekend, the error of their ways obviously came to the attention of the grown ups at Habitat. They wiped the Tweets and started over, just as if nothing had ever happened. Huge error. The legacy of their mistake is all there to be seen in Twitter search – something that any power Twitter user is aware of: When you delete tweets, they disappear from the Twitter timeline, but they remain, stubbornly, in search results. It’s one of those curiosities of the Twitter platform.

As The NextWeb and the Social Media Today posts point out, deleting the messages and making as if nothing had happened is very much the wrong approach:

Habitat would probably have come out of this a lot better if they had admitted the problem and apologised before moving on. By deleting the tweets and starting afresh they haven’t ‘cleared the air’ with those upset about their actions.

And today it got Habitat on to the front page of the Sky News – “UK Firm’s Mistweetment Of Iran Is PR Disaster

A spokesman for Habitat told Sky News Online: “This was a mistake and it is important to us that we always listen, take on board observations and welcome constructive criticism. We will do our utmost to ensure any mistakes are never repeated.”

That really isn’t much of a response. @habitatuk only had a few followers when they started spamming. Somewhat ironically the account now has about 1,000, all waiting to see what Habitat will do next.

This is the age of saying sorry, and the Habitat UK Twitter account is the perfect place to do that. Whoever was operating the account has shamed Habitat in front of tens of thousands of people (by spamming some of the most monitored hash tags on Twitter – as well as the account’s own followers).

You can’t talk your way out of a problem you behaved your way into!” — Stephen R. Covey

Mistakes in social media aren’t like mistakes with the traditional press. Putting them right requires a sustained engagement with the community. Dominos Pizza didn’t make a mistake with social media, but they had a couple of employees who did. They recognised where the harm had been done, and engaged in the relevant places to put it right. It would have been better if they had been there beforehand, but regardless, they didn’t do a bad job.

Companies like IBM are reaping the benefits of their employees using platforms like Twitter everyday – Andy Standford-Clark was on Radio Five Live this morning and will be was on the BBC news this evening with his @andy_house project. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is heading towards a million people following him on Twitter. It is possible to make a big impact, but you need to be there to add value and engage with your customers, not to shout 20% discounts at them.

Don’t leave your social media strategy in the hands of an agency that doesn’t have expertise in it. I’ve said what I’m going to say about Social Media Expertise, for now it is a very specialist area. I am seeing more and more activity from Search Engine Optimisation players edging in to social media. SEO is about engaging with machines. Social Media is about engaging with people. They are very different things.

I’ll leave you that cartoon from Jim Anning again…