Page last updated at 15:11 GMT, Wednesday, 24 June 2009 16:11 UK

Habitat sorry for Iran Tweeting

Twitter page about Habitat, 24 June
Twitter users have not been impressed with the strategy

Furniture store Habitat has apologised for causing offence after accusations it exploited unrest in Iran to drive online Twitter users to its products.

Keywords - called hashtags - such as 'Iran' and 'Mousavi' were added to its messages so people searching for those subjects would see the firm's adverts.

Users of the networking site reacted angrily and the posts were removed.

The retailer has said the use of the hashtags was "not authorised", but declined to say who was responsible.

Contributors to Twitter posted messages claiming Habitat should be "ashamed" and saying it was "piggy-backing" on the political situation in Iran.

One of the controversial messages - called tweets - which appeared before being removed by Habitat, read: HabitatUK: #MOUSAVI Join the database for free to win a £1,000 gift card.

This was absolutely not authorised by Habitat - we were shocked when we discovered what happened
Habitat statement

In a statement Habitat said it had "never sought to abuse Twitter".

One online communication expert told the BBC it was hard to imagine how such a "serious misjudgement" could have happened.

Twitter is a social networking tool that has been used widely by people inside and outside Iran to share information and eyewitness accounts, link to news reports and co-ordinate protests disputing the recent election result.

Users following conversations about what was happening in Iran searched for key words and in some cases were directed to adverts for Habitat.

Habitat added: "We would like to make a very sincere apology to any users who were offended by last week's activity on Twitter.

"The top 10 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 has been caused."

The business said it was "totally against" its communications strategy, that it had removed the content and would ensure it did not happen again.

They have used a political and human situation that many people are concerned about, to market their products and services and that is not right
Alex Burmaster, Nielsen Online

When asked whether an outside firm had been responsible for the strategy their spokesman declined to give details.

Alex Burmaster, communications director at research firm Nielsen Online, said while some companies had succeeded in the art of advertising within social networking sites, Habitat had got it wrong.

"What they have done is extraordinary, that they would even risk something like that.

"This could not have led to anything other than a consumer backlash.

"The bottom line is that it was a serious misjudgement. They have used a political and human situation that many people are concerned about, to market their products and services and that is not right."

He added that marketers had to be particularly careful about the way they used social media - more so than they would be in any other form of media - because consumers were more "in control".

"Advertising in social media can be like gatecrashing a party. People who use social media are much less tolerant to have their conversations interrupted by advertisers.

"The art is in being able to tap into those conversations without alienating people."



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