Hashtag: a new word recently introduced into our vocabulary that, according to Webster’s Dictionary, refers to “a word or phrase preceded by the symbol # that classifies or categorizes the accompanying text.” If you aren’t familiar with how to use hashtags, Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake demonstrate proper hashtag technique in this humorous video. Within this blog series we have discussed multiple social media campaigns that have done very well, but what happens when a campaign goes doesn’t exactly go according to plan? From the recent PRSA Strategist article, “NYPD Blues: When a Hashtag Becomes a Bashtag,” written by Patricia Swann, we learn of a Twitter campaign that started out with good intentions but was completely flipped upside down through the brutal voices that can come with social media.
The New York Police Department started a Twitter campaign last spring asking “its Twitter followers to share pictures with NYPD personnel for possible inclusion on its popular Facebook page.” NYPD officially kicked off its campaign on April 22 when it “posted a photo of a smiling young man arm in arm with two happy-looking uniformed police officers on a busy city street,” according to Strategist. In return, Twitter fans were asked to post and tweet their own pictures and use the hashtag #myNYPD. A lot of the following pictures that were tweeted were not of the same positive nature that NYPD had originally instigated. Pretty quickly after NYPD tweeted its first picture, Twitter followers overthrew the campaign and began showing an aggressive side of the NYPD. According to Strategist, by the end of the day, “there were nearly 102,000 critical tweets complaining of police brutality and the trampling of civil rights.” Here are some of the tweets:
@OccupyWallStNYC tweeted, “Here the #NYPD engages with its community members, changing hearts and minds one baton at a time. #myNYPD,” (Pictured upper right). Another tweet from @OccupyWallStNYC reflected that same tone, “Free massages from the #NYPD. What does YOUR police Department offer? Tweet at #MyNYPD,” (Pictured upper left). This trend started trickling down into other police departments across the country, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Albuquerque, Seattle and Denver. Soon news outlets, such as CNN and Huffington Post, were talking about this trending debacle. What was NYPD’s response to this negative and quick-spreading attention?
NYPD Police Deputy Chief, Kim Royster made a statement that night saying, “The NYPD is creating new ways to communicate effectively with the community. Twitter provides an open forum for an uncensored exchange and this is an open dialogue good for our city.” By the next day NYPD Commissioner, William Bratton, told The Wall Street Journal that the NYPD would continue to grow and develop in all aspects of social media which would include blogs, Facebook and Twitter. “The department is piloting a program in which five precinct commanders throughout the city tweet news from their neighborhoods because ‘it’s a good way to reach out to people,’” Bratton said. “Oftentimes our activities are lawful, but they look awful, and that’s the reality.” Let’s talk about this campaign.
1. Not preparing for the good, bad and the ugly: I can’t help but wonder if NYPD thought a Twitter campaign like this would produce all positive results. When planning a campaign like this, it is crucial to look at all the possible directions in which a campaign could go. Because social media is a platform where virtually anything, good or bad can be said and go viral within minutes, it’s best to prepare for that from the beginning.
2. Not listening to followers: Any organization that has more than 100,000 negative responses about them would hopefully quickly and drastically change whatever it was that was so upsetting to its followers. When asked about undesirable feedback, “police officials wouldn’t respond to questions about the negative comments…” However, a short statement was released saying that, “The NYPD is creating new ways to communicate effectively with the community,” said Kim Royster, an NYPD spokeswoman. “Twitter provides an open forum for an uncensored exchange and this is an open dialogue good for our city.” There was not much information regarding any change in police tactics which is what all the negativity was about. Listening to and acknowledging followers’ comments are critical to social media success for any organization.
3. Building on positive coverage: Although the #myNYPD Twitter campaign was probably a nightmare for the NYPD, it has earned some positive coverage outside of this campaign. For example, an officer bought a homeless man a pair of shoes on a cold winter night which caught a lot of positive attention. What any organization should keep in mind is that the public is always watching, and can capture a moment of inspiration just as easily as capturing a moment of violence. Good acts are not ignored or forgotten.
The NYPD’s desire to reach community members via social media is commendable. Twitter can be a very positive outreach strategy if handled with care. Make sure to come back next week and learn how the Human Rights Campaign used Facebook to create awareness about marriage equality and what we as PR professionals can learn from it.