As British furniture retailer Habitat learned this week, there’s nothing like a misuse of Twitter for promotional purposes to bring the wrath of the social media punditocracy upon yourself. Thousands of blog posts and news articles have discussed the company’s use of hashtags related to the protests in Iran to make its promotional messages appear for Twitter users searching those tags on TwitterSearch. To the company’s credit, it apologized this week.
Frankly, something like this can happen to any company that hasn’t crafted a social media policy for employees reaching out on behalf of the brand, and trained those employees on how to engage authentically. Missteps like this cause “Twitterstorms” of outrage that often boil over into blogs and mainstream media, in this case because misleading “tag bait” amounts to the kind of spam that people have flocked to networks like Twitter to get away from.
Tag bait means including popular but irrelevant hashtags in a tweet or tags on a blog post just to attract more viewers. The key here is relevance; if I were to tag this post with mentions of Michael Jackson, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, swine flu, Iran protests and anything else that has been in the news recently just for the sake of attracting more people searching those topics to this post, that’s tag bait. If you blog or tweet, it’s important to make sure you’re using tags relevant to what you’re talking about. If you don’t, you can expect the Twitter community, in particular, to come after you.