Habitat, the UK furniture store, has never been at the forefront of online technologies. Take their website, for example, it may look impressive on the first view, but you can’t order from it, nor it doesn’t showcase every product they have for sale. Primary amongst its failings, in my opinion, is the way that offerings are divided by room: living room, kitchen, bedroom, etc. Fine if you’re after, say, a bread bin, but where do I start if I want a rug, a lampshade or some shelves?

To be fair, the site does also offer a search facility, but the classification of a site is a major consideration and I’ve always thought that this fundamental failing is a sign that Habitat’s web marketing team may not be quite the best that money can buy (hey, Sir Terence Conran, with your knowledge of design, I’d have expected you to know that web design is as much about ease of use as it is about looks).

My misgivings were given another boost this week when Habitat briefly made a major error in the Twittersphere. Clearly, someone in marketing thought it was about time Habitat started reaping the benefits that a twitter stream can bring – so far, so good. Indeed, I can imagine many design and shopping aficionados – myself included – quite willingly signing up to find out when the next sale will be or when a stunning new product has come on offer.

But Twitter, though seemingly simple, can be a bewildering place for the ‘newbie’. Unfortunately, Habitat’s people had understood the concept of a ‘hashtag’ (ie, putting a keyword with a # symbol next to it; users can ‘subscribe’ to – or search on – specific hashtags so they will see every tweet thus labeled) but not quite how to use it. For example, what they could have tweeted was:

Habitat launches its new spring collection! #furniture #habitat #design

That way, anyone especially interested in furniture, design, or Habitat itself, would have got the message. Instead, they put out several messages along the lines of:

HabitatUK Our totally desirable Spring collection #iPhone

HabitatUK Our totally desirable Spring collection #poh

HabitatUK Our totally desirable Spring collection #Apple

As I type this, I can only think that the person who was ill-advisedly put in charge of the twitterstream was a young work-experience person who assured everyone that he’d heard a great way to get maximum exposure… because, of course, pushing your message in front of people who want to hear tweets about, say the election in Iran, or Madeleine McCann (two more examples of the hashtags they used before the story started spreading and the tweets were taken down), is not going to go down at all well. Indeed, some would call it spam – and many did.

You see, one of the great things about Twitter and all social media networks is also one of its biggest potential pitfalls: word spreads quickly. There’s nothing a seasoned tweeter likes more than to jump on a big brand and point out its failures, and this (small, possibly excusable – depending on whom you listen to) error caused mirth and reportage right across the blogosphere and onto the mainstream press.

A smaller misdemeanour, and one that hasn’t been as widely picked up on, is that of course if you were to actually subscribe to the Habitat twitter stream (as opposed to one of the hashtags it misused) you wouldn’t be best pleased to have the same message repeated to you multiple times, only with differing hashtags.

The moral of this story is: if you are not confident that you know how to manage your social media output, hand it over to the experts… which we modestly like to believe that we are. We can offer a full advisory service on Twitter and all other social media platforms, so do contact us if you wish to avoid the public ridicule of the Habitat kind.