Posted June 24, 2009 2:11 pm by with 7 comments

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Do you know what tactics your PR team is using in social media?

UK furniture giant Habitat clearly doesn’t and it just cost them a huge reputation blackeye in the Twitter community.

Digital Tip spotted Habitat’s official Twitter account apparently spamming Twitter by placing popular “trending topic” hashtags alongside its own (poorly crafted) tweets.

They even tweeted hashtags used by those protesting the Iranian election, so you can imagine the backlash they’d receive, right?

Well, apparently Habitat was blissfully unaware of the whole scandal. In an open apology letter to the Twitter community, “Claire” from Habitat’s Head Office alluded to the fact the hashtag use had not been approved:

The top ten trending topics were pasted into hashtags without checking with us and apparently without verifying what all of the tags referred to. This was absolutely not authorised by Habitat.

Er, yes it was. Unless someone hacked into your Twitter account, you did authorize the use of those hashtags. Whether it was explicit or not, that doesn’t matter. If an employee or outside PR firm had your permission to run the account, then you gave them permission to add hashtags. I’m sorry, but unless you show me a document that explicitly outlines the prevention of this tactic, the buck stops with “Head Office.”

I don’t like to post online reputation management examples just for the sake of it–I’d just add to the noise. So, what can you take away from this?

As I warn my clients, you can’t just jump into social media without taking ownership of the voice. Where’s the transparency in that? Whether you hand the responsibility to an intern or a PR firm, you need to be fully aware of what’s being said and assume full responsibility. If you’re so hands-off that you have no clue what’s being posted on your behalf, it would be better that you just shutdown that social networking profile right this minute.

Your stakeholders want to hear your voice at the other end of the social networking “line.” If you’re faking it, then you’ll get called out. In this case, it appears Habitat has learned that lesson the hard way.

(Hat-tip @Ed)

  • Great find Andy. This speaks volumes about old-school marketing crashing into social media concepts. There was a time when a marketing or PR firm had to get approval on every word that went into every ad, broadcast or promotional item. With the advent of social media and turning the responsibility over to people who don’t fully disclose or educate on the implications or ramifications, companies are essentially setting themselves up for massive problems. Reputation management online is still in its infancy in this regard.

    I think a big part of this is that companies are flocking to social media with a blind eye due to the fact that they feel helpless in the face of new media in general, and like an innocent child, are blindly trusting anyone who claims to be an expert.

    Alan Bleiweiss’s last blog post..My Search Engine Journal Debut

  • alexis

    Team is singular. Your team IS. Not your team ARE. Fail.

  • @alexis – thank you for the lesson!

  • Even if you were to believe Habitat, still how can you run a Twitter account without having someone with review responsibilities in the company itself looking at a few of the Twitter posting as they are being created?

    Jaan Kanellis’s last blog post..Blogs to Book Deals Are Growing

  • I agree with all said above. Any post on twitter using a hashtag which does not contain content relevant to that hashtag is spam, and a company with the reputation of Habitat should have known better than to do this.

  • Thanks for sharing this. I almost wrote “I can’t believe they’d do that” but then again, I can.

    Since Facebook Pages don’t push out trackbacks, thought I’d let you know I linked to this today from the Orangejack Facebook Page today ( I’m trying to post a link a day to someone else’s great content.

    Rob Williams’s last blog post..The Crisis Reporting Gap between New and Old Media

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