I shop at Waitrose because, darling, Harrods is just too much of a trek mid-week” was perhaps my favourite response to Waitrose’s much derided #WaitroseReasons Twitter campaign. Other tweets referring to unicorn feed, papaya and kids called Orlando also helped elevate the so-called social media faux pas into the national media. It had all started so simply, with Waitrose asking its followers on Twitter to “finish the sentence: ‘I shop at Waitrose because… ’ #WaitroseReasons”.

I wrote last month about the need for brands to communicate directly with their social media followers to both ascertain and extract their value. The mistake Waitrose made was to do this with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. If you are in effect telling Twitter “Please tell us why we are wonderful” you shouldn’t be surprised by the response.

In the following days, I read a few articles full of analysis claiming that maybe the entire Twitter campaign had been expertly planned and designed to generate acres of free press coverage. This probably says more about the need for some marketers to find complexity where none exists. While I admired Waitrose’s chutzpah in appearing to agree with this spin, the truth may well be more mundane.

The ‘finish the sentence’ mechanic has proven to be a very effective, if sometimes overused way of driving engagement and subsequent conversation on social media platforms. It requires relatively little investment in thought and time for consumers to join in.

“When you ask the public for a response, you have no control”

I suspect the usual Twitter content calendar was developed for the week, with this question included as the tweet of the day, without anyone really thinking what the potential reaction could be. This wasn’t a strategic campaign to gather feedback from Waitrose customers.

While it always pays to have someone to play devil’s advocate with social media campaigns and messages, this saga points to a larger truth. Conversation marketing is unpredictable. When you ask your customers and the wider public for a response, you have no control over what they may say.

Given the inherent humour of #WaitroseReasons it was hardly surprising the Daily Mail and others went to town on the story. However, at some point marketers and the mainstream media will need to accept that sometimes honest and open conversations between brands and consumers online will not always be glowingly positive.

The wrong conclusion to draw from Waitrose’s little mis-step would be that in today’s world brands would be better off being boring, defensive or - worst of all - silent.