In an effort to boost public relations, the New York Police Department created a Twitter NYPD hashtag, #myNYPD. The idea was that it would be nice for people to show all of the good things the NYPD does around town.
I am sure the department thought it would get thousands of images and tweets about officers helping old ladies across the street or a young child jealously looking at a police bike or even tweets stating that officer so and so was so great to get the little kitty down from a tree or helped the food vendor get his cart up a curb.
#myNYPD is currently the #1 trending hashtag in New York. It appears that #myNYPD is a success. Or is it?
Not on your life. Rather than feel-good happy images, the department got officers pulling hair, beating people with clubs and a variety of other unbecoming police behavior. Now, this feel-good intention has actually raised alarm about the amount of police violence in the city. Granted, the reality is the NYPD certainly does much more good than bad and most of the images are in no way indicative of most of the fine NYPD officers.
But here lies the problem with putting your brand in the hands of social media. Social media is a free for all and, rather than controlling the message, you put the message in the hands of others. I am not saying that social media is bad because it can be a useful tool. But it is certainly not a medium you should use unless you can carefully craft the message and have a plan to deal with negativity.
The thing that I have observed more than anything else about social media is that it tends to be a vanity press. Meaning, the vast majority of social media is really just a bunch of current users of a brand talking about how good the brand is. In these cases, that can be a great thing – it is a way to get your customers engaged with your brand while making it more top of mind in circumstances where it wouldn’t normally.
In my view, social media should be used very cautiously with hot button topics. I say this because, as in the case of #myNYPD, it only takes a few tweets or Facebook posts for the well-intentioned effort to be hijacked by those who may have a contrary view. Unfortunately, in a case such as this, the negative voices are louder and more emotionally charged. Had this hashtag been around after 9/11, the story would almost certainly have been the exact opposite.
The context of a social media campaign should always be carefully considered. In this case, the NYPD PR staff didn’t think it through.
So good luck to #myNYPD. I hope that all of the pent-up negativity dies down soon and you can get working on repairing your image. It’s too bad, because this mess could have really been avoided.