LONDON (AdAge.com) -- U.K. furniture retailer Habitat has sparked consumer backlash and negative publicity for using the unrest in Iran to drive Twitterers to its website.
Keywords -- called hashtags -- such as "Iran" and "Mousavi" were added to Habitat's Twitter messages so that people using those search terms would be driven to view the retailer's online offers. One of the inappropriate tweets read, "HabitatUK: #MOUSAVI Join the database for free to win a £1000 gift card."
Habitat has issued a statement saying, "We would like to make a very sincere apology to any users who were offended by last week's activity on Twitter. This was absolutely not authorized by Habitat. We were shocked when we discovered what happened and are very sorry for the offense that has been caused."
So who was responsible if not Habitat? The retailer has not revealed whether an outside company was involved, and explained the problem by saying, "The top ten trending topics were pasted into hashtags without checking with us and apparently without verifying what all of the tags referred to."
Twitterers posted messages saying that Habitat should be "ashamed" to be "piggybacking" on the political situation in Iran.
The news comes as online intelligence company Hitwise reports that Twitter is providing a significant traffic boost to content websites. U.K. Twitter traffic has seen a 22-fold increase in the last 12 months and the site is now the 30th biggest source of traffic for other sites in the U.K., where 9.5% of Twitter traffic is sent to online retailers and 56% goes to other content-driven media sites.