How NOT to use Twitter

Habitat is a pretty well respected brand here in the UK but they have made the most astounding clanger with the use of Twitter and hashtags.

Hashtags are words that you paste onto the end of your tweets to add to a larger conversation.  The way it works is that people will use Twitter Search to see what people are saying about a particular event.  If you want to join the conversation then you use an appropriate hash tag.

A popular term at the moment is Wimbledon:

“I hope Andy Murray wins today. #wimbledon”

Lately, spammers have been using hash tags to promote their services.

“Get your ring tones here: http://whatever #wimbledon”

So people searching for the latest news on Wimbledon (and there are a lot) are also getting these spammy messages as well.  It’s the equivalent of pasting the word Britney Spears all over your website to try to attract more traffic.  That was something that people used to do to game Google back in the 90s and although it’s crude, it works enough to attract people, assuming you don’t care about your brand.

Habitat, in a moment of madness, decided to use this technique to attract more traffic by using tags about Apple, iPhone and in one instance, the situation in Iran to promote a new database.

It’s a great example of how NOT to use Twitter and how making a seemingly tiny mistake can have huge consequences on your brand.  The backlash has been swift and loud.  People hated the fact that a premium brand was resorting to such low techniques.

Sensibly, Habitat have swiftly apologised and fired the person responsible (an intern).

The story will live with them though.  3 years ago, BMW were kicked out of the search results for trying to game Google and people still refer back to it today.  Habitat will now be known throughout the tech world as the company that made an amateur attempt to spam Twitter.

I remember the Chairman where I used to work once told us that any one of us could sink the company if we wanted to.  I didn’t believe him at the time but this is an example of just how it can be done (and in fact, a year or so after I left, the company got into major high-profile trouble after a junior consultant lost some restricted government data!).

So, lessons learned today?

Your brand is one of the most valuable things you have.  It takes years to build it up and you can lose it in an instance. Don’t trust it to an inexperienced intern!