How not to use Twitter – a UK case study

Twitter – it’s either all the rage, or a cause of rage among people you know, right?  Mostly people seem to either love it or hate it to the point where they rant about it for what may seem like several days.

The service is admittedly quirky – it has its own syntax and rules.  You can target a specific person by placing the @ symbol in front of their user name,  and you can identify a topic or issue by prefacing it with a hashtag (e.g. the protests and crackdowns following the Iranian elections means that #Iran is a very common hashtag term at the moment).

Identification via hashtag does more than just giving a regular reader a categorical “heads up.”  It makes a topic easier to search for.   For instance, a search for “law” might give you everything from gripes about someone’s mother-in-law to a legislative alert; however, if you search for “#law” you will get messages (“tweets”) specifically relating to law and the legal field.

Hashtags, therefore, can serve as primitive but valuable finding aids for people interested in certain issues or topics. tallmanwalking {at} gmail(.)com" target="_blank"> So, consider this case study of the UK furniture firm Habitat, who signed up for Twitter and immediately started populating their tweets about store sales with random hashtagged terms like #iPhone and #Apple.

Who thought this was a good idea?  What happens when someone who is interested in the new iPhone runs into a tweet about a furniture sale?  Do they say, “Oh – I thought I was interested in an iPhone, but perhaps I will purchase a sofa instead”?

I have to say that I think the chances of that happening are extremely low.  I would even go so far as to venture a guess that people running a search on #iPhone might feel as if they were the targets of a very inept con.  I don’t know about you, but when I am the target of an inept con, I either think that the person attempting to perpetrate it is exceedingly stupid or has such a low opinion of my intellect that they haven’t bothered to make an effort.

It’s not especially good branding strategy to either look really stupid or assume your customers are really stupid.

The original post linked above has fantastic advice about how to step back from the brink of such a PR disaster.  The best of these in my opinion is this:

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.

Very, very true.  If you are stepping up to use a medium that is expressly designed to communicate both directly and publicly with your customers, you really need to proceed with utter openness and honesty.  Otherwise, don’t bother.