Social media is a great marketing tool but as the New York Police Department (NYPD) learned Tuesday, things can quickly backfire if an organization has a large number of critics. The NYPD social media team asked its followers on Twitter to post pictures of themselves with police officers, but instead of being inundated with positive photos, the pics that got the most attention were of alleged police brutality.
The NYPD created its own hashtag for people to share their photos, #myNYPD, but within minutes that hashtag was taken over by people who wanted to criticize the department. Whether or not the photos that were shared actually depict police brutality can be debated, but one thing is obvious, an organization that garners as much criticism as it does praise needs to be careful on any social network.
While there were a few positive tweets with pictures of regular citizens standing next to smiling police officers, the most popular tweets were quite the opposite. Minutes after the original NYPD post went live, tweets were pouring in with the majority showing police officers arresting individuals in what could be considered an aggressive manner.
Given the nature and environment of Twitter, the social media team should have anticipated this kind outcome. The largest segment of the Twitter population are those under the age of 30 and when broken down further, teenagers have been a driving force for the social network.
Since, as some say, the NYPD has disproportionately targeted young people in the past, it is not surprising that Twitter users would respond in a negative way. According to data from the NYPD Stop and Frisk initiative -- a widely criticized program that allowed police officers to search individuals -- more than 340,000 people between the ages of 14 and 24 were stopped in 2011. Considering that the same people who have had bad interactions with the police are also the ones using Twitter, it's not hard to imagine why the NYPD's social media campaign was an epic fail.
Not The First Or Last
The hijacked NYPD Twitter campaign is far from the first example of social media marketing gone wrong. In November 2013, J.P. Morgan told its Twitter followers to post questions for its vice chairman, Jimmy Lee. Using the #AskJPM hashtag, many of the questions that were posted exemplified the anger that people still had -- and have -- toward U.S. financial institutions following the 2008 financial crisis. Well-known journalists and activists took over the hashtag and used it to voice their complaints toward the company, rather than posting benign questions.
In a similar situation, R&B singer R. Kelly told his followers to ask questions with the #AskRKelly hashtag. Once again, it took just a few moments for users to voice their criticisms. Since the musician had allegedly been in possession of child pornography, dozens of tweets poured in regarding that topic.
No matter who you are or what social network you are on, the NYPD, J.P. Morgan, and R. Kelly have all shown that social media marketing can sometimes be a dangerous tool.