Habitat managed a major faux pas this week when they misused the hashtags on Twitter in an attempt to jump on the trending bandwagon.

Topics that trend on Twitter are those where hashtags are used to create a ‘channel’ to allow users to easily follow all tweets on that particular topic.  For example #MJ has been trending all day, unsurprisingly. As more people use the hashtag, so the topics begins to trend. Obviously, if you tweet and include a trending hashtag, it is likely to be seen by the many followers of that particular hashtag, giving an ideal opportunity to be heard, for your link to be clicked on etc.

None of us are innocent about including a trending hashtag for our own benefit.  HOWEVER,whilst leaping on the bandwagon is fine if you notice a hashtag trending that is highly relevant to your business, abusing hashtags is more than just not cricket, it is spam. As the hashtag protocol came from within the twitter community in the early days, this self-same community – the Twitterati – responds very badly to its misuse, and particularly by big name brands who should know better.

The damage to Habitat’s reputation may at this rate equal Ratner’s, particularly when it took days for Habitat to delete the posts and publicly apologise. Apparently, it was an intern (read student in English) who decided this would be a fantastic way to use Twitter, so I guess they may be having to find some other work experience this summer.

The moral of the story is….in fact, there are multiple morals…are….

1) For any business planning to use social media as a marketing tool, learn the ropes and netiquette before you dive in – lurk before you leap.

2) Ensure that each and every person who is involved in implementing your social  media strategy has had some guidance and has some guidelines to follow that have been created by someone with some experience of social media

3) If you do cock-up, then apologise immediately, publicly.

4) Learn from the mistakes of your competitors and from history. Johnson & Johnson got it wrong with blogs, Ratner with the trad media, and if you go back further, undoubtedly there are multiple examples of corporates saying completely the wrong thing (feel free to add any in the comments!) via smoke signals, pigeon post, telegram, etc.

Yet another salutory lesson to all who intend to use social media that this is not an easy toy to play with. Be very careful or you will find yourself facing the noise of a major #fail and the damage could be long-lasting.

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