Whether or not Twitter made an impact on the outcomes of the Iranian protests—something we may not know for a while yet—the protests certainly made an impact on Twitter. As the election news and its aftermath unfolded in tweets and trending topics, people jumped at what looked like real chances to help: changing profile location settings, attempting to overload Iranian government websites, and even setting up proxy servers for Iranian users to maintain internet access. Some of it may have been good new-fashioned “slacktivism,” but it at least hinted at the possibility of more serious engagement with the events unfolding halfway around the world.
What didn’t show any engagement with those events, though, was Habitat UK’s tonedeaf marketing. They did nothing much out of the ordinary in terms of slightly spammy internet marketing tactics (using trending topics to get ads in front of news-seekers)—but when Twitter was exploding in outrage and concern, “nothing out of the ordinary” became the problem…what had been mildly annoying and tacky when they were appending discount furniture offerings to the #iphone hashtag suddenly looked like callously opportunistic piggybacking on the often-troubling news coming out of Iran. To Habitat’s surprise, customers revealed themselves as deeply engaged with the brand, responding with disappointment, anger, and indignation.
What does this tell us about customer engagement and social media marketing? It tells (or reminds) us that customers are engaged, even when it isn’t obvious, and that they want to use social media to engage in wider, more meaningful ways. It warns us that when we fail to realize our customers’ engagement with our brand, we risk betraying it. It cautions us to treat the growing world of social media and international engagement with respect and care; there are hopes and expectations bound up with our customers’ engagement in social media, and violating their trust will hurt a lot more than a missed opportunity to push a sale.
Mostly, it reminds us that social media always comes back to people—and, as always, those require attention and a little sensitivity.