Waitrose Twitter gaffe proves that brands are still not taking the platform seriously

Upmarket supermarket chain Waitrose became the subject of ridicule on Twitter this week after a marketing stunt went awry, a move that brings into sharp focus the worrying lack of understanding that some brands still have about how to use the micro-blogging site.

Seb Joseph

The supermarket invited users to compete the tweet “I shop at Waitrose because…” on Monday (17 September), encouraging them to use the hashtag #WaitroseReasons to sign off their responses.

While some submitted genuine reasons, others pounced on the opportunity to mock the brand’s posh image. One response read: “I also shop at Waitrose because I was once in the Holloway Road brand and heard a dad say ‘Put the papaya down Orlando!” Another user scathingly quipped: “I shop at Waitrose because it makes me feel important and I absolutely detest being surrounded by poor people.”

The campaign went viral as a result, with Waitrose taking the amusing responses in good humour, tweeting: “Thanks for all the genuine and funny #WaitroseReasons tweets. We always like to hear what you think and enjoyed reading most of them.”

When any brand starts reaching out to people on Twitter you can expect some honest answers. Given the wording of the response – thanking users for the “genuine” comments and saying that it enjoyed reading “most” of them – combined with Waitrose’s slowness to react to the tweets, it shows why being prepared with a crisis plan is key to your social media strategy.

It may not have damaged the brand’s reputation as an upmarket choice but it does fly in the face of the company’s recent efforts to portray itself as an affordable option, which includes price-matching Tesco with its branded grocery products.

If Waitrose is serious about changing perceptions then perhaps a better option would have been to award the funniest responses with a prize or for its own tweets to have been far more engaging with the responses as they came flying in.

We’ve all heard about big brands that have turned to crowdsourcing on Twitter, only for the move to spectacularly backfire and unleash a wave of bad PR because all the permutations have not been covered. McDonald’s suffered a similar fate in January when Twitter users mischievously hi-jacked the restaurant’s #McDstories to tell their own horror stories about the brand. Waitrose and McDonald’s are not the only ones to fall foul of Twitter this year, but given the size and brand equity in both, there is no excuse for being caught out like this.

Not reacting quick enough or having a clear social media plan should not be an excuse any more and until this situation is remedied brands will not be able to fully maximise on the sense of immediacy so indicative to social networks.

Crowdsourcing for insight on Twitter has the potential to be one of the most effective marketing tools but until brands start seeing it less as a cheap option and more on a par with Facebook, then Waitrose’s botched effort will not be the last.

Still, the campaign should help boost the supermarket’s relatively small Twitter following (around 31,480) and Facebook fans (around 71,000) where it gets plenty of engagement.

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Tom Fishburne is founder of Marketoon Studios. Follow his work at marketoonist.com or on Twitter @tomfishburne See more of the Marketoonist here