In April of 2014, the largest police force in the country learned that even the best-intentioned social media campaigns can go awry quickly.
The New York Police Department, in an effort to reach out to the community, took to Twitter to invite people to post photos of themselves with NYPD officers using the hashtag #myNYPD. The idea behind the tweet was to create a warm and cozy image of the NYPD as a community-friendly police force.
That is not exactly what happened.
When a Hashtag becomes a Bashtag
Within moments, the NYPD Twitter feed was barraged with news images of cops with batons arresting protestors, deploying pepper spray, and even taking down an elderly man. The only area where #myNYPD succeeded was that it received more traffic than any other hashtag that day.
This was certainly not the first time that a hashtag has been taken over and converted into something more akin to bashing, but it was one of the worst failures of a hashtag promotion. Other well-known brands have also experienced similar problems. McDonald’s learned that asking customers to post photos of their food via #McDStories campaign could lead to dire consequences and uncomfortable questions when customers posted unappealing pictures of their food. JP Morgan Chase discovered that asking Twitter followers to post career advice questions when your firm is paying billions of dollars in fines might not be the best idea.
While such responses to a social media campaign are always unfortunate, for the NYPD, the backlash could not have come at a worse time. Under the command of new Police Commissioner William Bratton, the New York Police Department has been working diligently toward re-branding in response to criticism that the department has violated citizens’ civil rights.
How can you avoid this mistake?
Think it through.
Police Commissioner Bratton put it best when he responded that the department might not have fully thought through the #myNYPD Twitter campaign. The most important step that any brand can take prior to launching a new social media campaign is to think it through from every angle and consider whether they may be inviting criticism. While there is no way to completely avoid criticism in the open and transparent world of social media, planning in advance can help you to be more prepared. Additionally, make sure you are specific about what you are requesting when you ask followers to respond. If there is one thing that marketers learned from the NYPD’s epic fail, it is that you should be careful what you ask for.
Sometimes people inside of an organization get so used to talking to each other that they think their ideas are brilliant because their coworkers do too. Its always a good idea to seek an outside opinion and to build in enough prep time to allow for a well-thought out approach to your next social media campaign.
For their part, the NYPD Twitter team has not ceased the #myNYPD campaign. Bratton has indicated that while there is regret regarding the outcome of the campaign, the department has every intention to remain active on social media.
Just Because You Create A Hashtag, Doesn’t Mean You Own It
One of my favorite responses to this whole situation came in the form of the following tweet: