British supermarket chain opens itself up to Twitter criticism in PR disaster

There are some simple truths when it comes to maintaining your brand across social media, and one of the most simple is this: Do not, under any circumstances, make it easy for your critics to ridicule you. Especially on a platform that you, yourself, have created and are currently promoting. We saw a reason for this earlier this year when the Yes Men and Greenpeace created the fake Shell social media fail campaign “Let’s Go,” and now we’re seeing the same thing happen – for real, this time – with a British supermarket’s attempts to be down with those kids and their Twitter hashtags.

Waitrose, a British supermarket chain that describes itself as “combining the convenience of a supermarket with the expertise and service of a specialist shop,” made its fatal error on Monday, inviting Twitter followers to complete the sentence “I shop at Waitrose because…” and tag their responses with the hashtag #WaitroseReasons. Admit it: When you read that just there, you found yourself shaking your head at the amazing opening the store’s social media team had just given those seeking a way to make fun of the chain’s pretensions, didn’t you? And, oh yes: They took that opening and made the most of it.

“I shop at Waitrose because Tesco doesn’t stock Unicorn food,” tweeted Inkognitoh, while @amoozbouche went with “I shop at Waitrose because it makes me feel important and I absolutely detest being surrounded by poor people.” Other responses included the idea that, because the food costs three times as much as at other stores, it automatically has to be of higher quality, and the sheer joy that comes from overhearing a father telling his son “Put the papaya down, Orlando.”

To be fair, Waitrose’s social media team – or, at least, the individual in charge of the Twitter account –  wasn’t entirely humorless when it came to responding to the comments. “Thanks for all the genuine and funny #waitrosereasons tweets,” the official @Waitrose account posted, “We always like to hear what you think and enjoyed reading most of them.” When it comes to awkward acknowledgments of social media faux pas, you have to admit: That’s not too bad (It’s not as if whoever was Tweeting could have said “Ha! Good one!” in response to any of the criticisms, let’s be honest).

That well-considered response may be key in turning around this situation in terms of public relations. There’s no way to pretend that this wasn’t a case of Waitrose shooting itself in the foot PR-wise, but if they can be seen to, if not exactly laugh at the joke, then at least not run away from it, then it humanizes the supermarket chain and makes it seem more humble and likeable. An unexpected case of grabbing victory from the jaws of self-inflicted defeat, perhaps…?

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