Unsocial Social Media: A Recipe for Brand Destruction

UK Social Network Statistics (July 2009) posted by Clicky Media reports that on-line social networking has become very much a mainstream activity for UK Internet users of all ages.   The report states that 80% of ALL the UK’s on-line population visited a social networking site in May 2009 and the average UK Internet user spent 4.6 hours on Social Networking sites over  a one month period.

Among the UK’s most popular Social Networking sites Facebook has long ranked #1 with over 19 million active users.  Bebo followed as the second  (8.5 million visitors), then Windows Live Profile  (6.9 million visitors) and MySpace (6.5 million visitors).

Last, but certainly not least in the UK top five social networking sites is Twitter (2.7 million visitors)  which has vastly grown  in site visitors numbers by 3000% over the last 12 months according to ComScore.

In efforts to capitalize on the growing Social Media phenomenon of Twitter, one trendy UK furniture store, Habitat UK, began microblogging on twitter to spread word to consumers about upcoming sales and store promotions.

Sounds innocent enough except, Habitat decided to use trending topic #hashtags at the start of their tweets to gain exposure.  Habitat used top twitter-hash-logo-for-fluidtrend hash tags such as #iPhone, #mms and #Apple–a somewhat clever, yet very messy strategy on their part.  The spamming quickly became noticeable and the Twitter community tweeted about it for days voicing their disappointment much to the embarrassment of the HabitaDt.

Sample tweets regarding Habitat’s poor marketing strategy included:

“…Sad day when reputable brand resorts to using trend hash tags to advertise”


“…not what you expect from an otherwise classy brand…”

Habitat’s response to this backlash was to delete their offending tweets and replace them with some generic product and sales promotional tweets.

But can the reputation damage  this brand suffered be repaired so easily?

Later realizing that perhaps not enough was done on their part to clear up the messy hash tag incident, Habitat released this apology:

I know people have been waiting for a response tweet from us; we are treating this very seriously and wanted to offer a longer message. We have been reading everyone’s comments carefully and would like to make a very sincere apology to any Twitter users who were offended.

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. We were shocked when we discovered what happened and are very sorry for the offense that was caused. This is totally against our communications strategy. We never sought to abuse Twitter, have removed the content and will ensure this does not happen again.

It has been really valuable to hear how users would like us to use Twitter and we are determined to do better for the Twitter community.

I find this Habitat case study well  illustrates the power of social media and how its user-generated comments and conversation can build or destroy a brand. Ignoring a conversation in social media and not responding effectively can greatly  impact a brands bottom line.  If unsocial social media is a recipe for brand destruction, then Social Media Monitoring is surely the only cure. It would be wise of brands to be prepared for the negative impact social media sites can wield via preventive measures in “Social Media Monitoring”.


Steps to effective Social Media Monitoring include:

Start by listening to social media.  Free tools such as whostalkin.com, socialmention.com or Google alerts can help you track down buzz around your brand to get an idea of what a brands on-line social media landscape looks like and to identify brand mentions and conversations around your brand.   If the  brand is global with a huge web presence, then it may be best to use a social media agency to produce an audit or on-line landscape analysis.

Join the conversation. The key to managing and maintaining brand reputation within social media is to be part of the conversation.  Investing time in engaging with customers through social media helps brands build relationships, developing trust and show value to their customers.
If a brand discovers negative or factually incorrect buzz –they should react quickly so the information is not spread further via blogs or micro-blogging sites.    A recipient of bad service will tell at least ten people and many more  if they are a blogger or active on social networks. The earlier a brand learns of dissatisfaction the faster they can react.

Transparent Communications.  Open and honest communications can protect your brand against the perils of social media.  If something goes wrong, brands should not be defensive as it will encourage further negativity.  Instead, brands should simply explain their position, let their customers know how they plan on rectifying the situation and invite feedback.

Social Media Strategy
.   Brands can push down negative posts indexed by search engines  If  a company has a blog, they can respond with a formal blog post making sure that its title features keywords that match the negative posts or content. This will help to add positive search engine results, .Counteract anonymous and negative comments by highlighting testimonials from some of your best customers. In support of the blog post you can use your Twitter account to raise awareness of your response. Depending on the scale of the negative reaction you can respond via video or audio in the form of webcasts and podcasts. If you have an on-line community, you can host the conversation on your own website, confining the negativity to one area and allowing you to respond immediately.

With ever-increasing popularity and immediacy of social networking sites such a Twitter on the rise in the UK, brands would be wise to recognize the value of proper engagement strategies and incorporate social media monitoring in their communications plans otherwise risk becoming victim of unrepairable brand damage.


One Response to Unsocial Social Media: A Recipe for Brand Destruction

  1. mintybeth says:

    I remembered reading about Habitat before. What a mistake! Someone did not do their research at all! What I found most remarkable about the company’s response is the following statement: “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.” So this means that the company hired someone to Tweet on its behalf without checking anything going out? If that’s the case, it is a horrible marketing decision. If not, the company needs to stop pointing fingers and look closely at its own poor decisions.

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