Furniture chain Habitat has been accused of taking advantage of the protests in Iran to market its spring collection on Twitter.
The furniture chain has been caught using online search topics at the start of their tweets, including ones connected to political unrest in Iran, in order to promote its Twitter feed.
@HabitatUk tweeted updates about new products on the site, but added Twitter hashtags - keywords used on Twitter to help users track posts on specific themes – on high trending but unrelated topics such as #Iran, #iPhone and #Apple.
Users of the micro-blogging site were quick to lambast the furniture chain for using "hashtag spam" - the practice of using popular topics on Twitter to pass along links to e-commerce sites or porn.
Twitter has become an important communication tool to the opposition movement in Iran, as authorities reportedly block access to email and news sites. One update from Habitat even used the name of the Iranian opposition leader, Mirhossein Mousavi. It said: "HabitatUK: #Mousavi Join the database for free to win a £1000 gift card".
The company did not issue an apology on Twitter, but deleted the offending Tweets. Despite the lack of apology on Twitter, Sky News Online has reported a Habitat spokesman as saying: “This was a mistake and it is important to us that we always listen, take on board observations and welcome constructive criticism. We will do our utmost to ensure any mistakes are never repeated.”
The Social Media Today blog, which was first to report the story and capture screenshots of the offending hashtags, said, regardless of whether deleted or not, "the damage to the brand has been done".
Habitat also received a torrent of condemnation from Twitter users, many accusing @HabitatUK of being a "spam-bot".