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Habitat: a good response to social stupidity

Posted by Danny Whatmough on 24th June 2009

It is sure to go down as one of the social media case studies, taking pride of place alongside Dominos, Motrin and DellHell.

I am, of course, talking about middle-England’s favourite home furnishing company, Habitat, who this week was the centre of a social media scandal of epic proportions.

If you missed it, here is the quick-fire low-down:

Habitat’s marketing or PR department, having picked up some stories in the media about this great, new tool called Twitter, felt it was about time they got in on the action and so duly signed up and started tweeting.

Now, Twitter is esentially a very simple tool to use; you get some followers, start following some other people and begin transmitting a few messages.  Habitat though decided to try and run before they could walk and came across hashtags – a way of ‘tagging’ tweets to make it easy to follow particular themes or events.

Unfortunately, Habitat didn’t really understand the last bit and some bright spark, seeing that thousands of tweeters were paying attention to certain hashtags in particular – e.g. #iPhone #Apple #Mousavi – decided to tag their tweets with these in order to get their message out to a wider audience.


The long and the short of it is that it didn’t take very long for Habitat to be found out, and once they were, the floodgates opened with angry tweeters, bloggers, social media experts and, eventually, the national media quick to wade in.

And now, Habitat has responded with, quite rightly, its tail between its legs:

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 offence 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.

This is a good response; credit to Habitat for issuing it and holding their hands up. And the Twitter account (@HabitatUK) looks much better, so something to build on for the future.

But I do wonder whether much of the negative publicity this has caused could have been stopped much sooner if the apology had been swift and quick. The digital world moves very fast and, by letting it run for the best part of a week without a response, Habitat merely added fuel to the fire through their silence.

Danny Whatmough