Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Habitat is back on Twitter and Case Study Writers Rejoyce!

Social Media and Marketing sites are abuzz about with stories about Habitat's return to Microblogging site (and my favorite repository of my innane thoughts and links) Twitter. For any that haven't heard about the retailer's first foray into creating a Twitter brand presence, copious amounts of case studies (1, 2) have detailed its marketing fauxpas (including a few presentations both I and others have created about utilizing the social network). The short version of Habitat's tale of transgression entails the use of spamming popular hashtags (such as the Iranian election) to spread the word about signing up for the chance to win a company giftcard.

 Iranians might have been fighting for freedom, but maybe they wanted a nice Ottoman to tie the room together as well?

According to Habitat, these tweets were sent out by an "overzealous intern" (the bogeyman of all image damaging gaffes) and once the digital outrage began, they were removed. The story recieved some press outside of the advertising/marketing community, but the lasting damage seemed to be limited to condemnation from those close to digital marketing, the overall industry and social networking.

It could be argued that Habitat just engaged in what firms have been doing since the advent of the internet (be it from IRC chat up to email and beyond), finding something popular/visible and blatantly attaching their name to it for promotion. What was different about this situation however, was a confluence of social norms (Twitter/Facebook/et. al have created digital subcultures with not only behavioral standards, but noticeable retribution) and a populist zeitgeist (the Iranian elections and Twitter were proving to be one of the most popular stories of the time) that created a relatively immediate call to arms amongst users to shame the brand.

In traditional crisis response fashion, Habitat attempted to sweep their error under the rug by not acknoweldging it and deleting the offending posts from their feed. What the brand failed to realize however, is that all tweets are cached for posterity and that the conversation about it had grown beyond their presence on the network. Social media marketing "theorists" will tout the conversation size relative to brand presence as an example of why engagement was key for the brand (both before the crisis,during and after) as they could have attempted to explain their actions or atleast stemmed backlash by apologizing. Looking at Habitat's behavior so far on Twitter, one wonders what lessons might have been learned by their initial attempts at Twitter marketing and what will be applied this time through.

Thinking from Habitat's point of view, the decision to come back was a necessary one. They've created a notoriety within the network and the overall consciousness of social media (be it rather infamous or hapless). This negative represents an opportunity to create a positive interaction with consumers. Without rehashing common points of use for brands on social media, I think it would be worthwhile to list 4 points that I think Habitat will keep in mind this time around:
  1. Twitter marketing is based on consumer consent for interaction (so we probably won't see hybrid Kanye West/Habitat tweets any time soon) and by invading network conversations (be they interpersonal or network wide trending topics) you draw the ire of users, regardless of their initial interest in the product. No one looked at a habitat spam tweet and said "My god, a giftcard! sign me up!"
  2. Twitter marketing is an ongoing conversation. Users that choose to interact with the brand need not only a reason to start conversing, but to continue doing so. Transparency, personality and content are all required to grow a brand relationship that can flourish both online and offline. If a brand isn't willing to own to something as small as spamming a social network, how can I trust their product?
  3. Brand interaction on Twitter is traceable and permenant. Messages sent from a brand are cached and (if not deleted) visible on the brand's home page, leaving a lasting testiment to brand behavior. If you overheard a sales associate say something horribly off brand image in a retail location, wouldn't that impact your perception of the company? Brand pages act to a less literal degree as brand embassies or retail locations. 
  4. Injecting your blog into the conversation successfully entails not just drawing users to your page, but building a network. The conversation on Twitter isn't just 1 to 1, it can be 1 to many when done successfully through WOM passon and content transfer. Spamming hashtags may have obtained some attention for Habitat if they hadn't been called out, but it wouldn't have fostered the valuable part of marketing on Twitter, the functional network. 
Overall, Habitat represents one of the first big "black sheep" on Twitter to strike out and try again. Much like Kanye West at next year's Grammy's, people are going to wonder what their next move is more than other brands. This notoriety can be leveraged for positive gains through best practice type behavior, or they can storm the metaphorical stage (probably not trending topics again though) and re-offend. I'd wager their strategy has been thought through with more than an intern this time around. 

No comments:

Post a Comment