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#myNYPD - talk about a social media fiasco

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People who know a whole lot more about social media than I do tell us that if you are a company trying to compete, or an organization trying to build support, or enhance your reputation, you have to engage in social media. And we subscribe to that. Social media is a key part of just about every communications strategy we develop. Of course it is.

But here’s a cautionary tale, complements of the New York City Police Department. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time, and I suspect it was the result of somebody heeding the advice that you have to interact with your stakeholders, in this case the people of New York.

So to facilitate this social media interacting, somebody representing the NYPD thought it would be a really good idea to go on Twitter and invite people to jump in and share their photos of the police interacting with the public. They asked them to do this using the hashtag #myNYPD

What they got, I dare say, isn’t quite what they expected or were hoping for.  They tweeted this call for photos Tuesday morning. By Tuesday evening more than 70,000 people responded, making #myNYPD the top trending topic in the United States.

Only five, count ‘em, five, pictures were of the sort that the police department choose to retweet.

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The overwhelming response were with photos of alleged police brutality – a bloodied 84 year old who purportedly was being manhandled by the police for jaywalking, a woman being hauled by the hair with the caption “the NYPD will also help you de-tangle your hair”, and it went on and on.

The police department lost control of the #myNYPD almost immediately.

What went wrong? After all, they were trying to engage people on social media, just like we are all told we should.

According to many of the social media experts who have weighed in on this, the police department’s big mistake was choosing the wrong platform. Twitter, they note, is mainly used by young people. Young people, like the people involved in the Occupy movement. The same movement that clashed with New York City police last summer, where thousands were arrested for protesting. Young people, who especially on social media will say exactly what want to, totally unfiltered.

The experts say the NYPD should have instead, ran a contest on Facebook, inviting people to submit their photos of interaction with the police. That way, they’d have control over what photos get posted.

That makes sense but I can’t help thinking something even more basic. If you were looking for people to react publicly to your organization, in a way that reflects what they think of your organization, wouldn’t it be a good idea to have a good reputation in the first place? Especially with the very group you are targeting? I don’t know – call it common sense.

Apparently overwhelmed by this social media fiasco, the police department has not responded. But that’s the thing – they have lost control. It’s not as if they can stop it. In fact the newest development is that this whole thing is spreading to other American cities, including #myLAPD and #myMiamiPD.

No putting this genie back into the bottle. No reports of it spreading to Canada yet, but I wouldn’t bet against it.

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