Never Underestimate the Power of a Single Tweet

The social media PR campaign started innocently enough, with a single tweet, asking readers on Twitter to share of photo of the NYPD and include the branded hashtag, #myNYPD.  Viewers were told that their tweet might even find its way to the Department’s Facebook page:

Branded Hashtags Can Quickly Become “Bashtags”

The Twitter campaign quickly turned ugly, with scores of people using the NYPD’s Twitter hashtag, #myNYPD, to share stories, often with photos, that spun a very unflattering picture of New York City’s finest.

Even the staid New Yorker joined the fray, sharing a tweet and story on the subject.  It included one of the most frequently shared photos associated with the hashtag:

While there were those who did use #myNYPD to share stories and pictures expressing positive experiences with the NYPD, most took to the Twitter stream to share stories that were not a positive reflection of the many fine and brave men and women of the NYPD.

As the NYPD learned, social media is a place where PR can quickly and unexpectedly spin out of control.  The branded hashtag can quickly become a “bashtag.”

In a World that Uses Social Media to Communicate, You Can’t Back Away from Transparency or Social Media

In a candid comment to the Associated Press, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton acknowledged “the Twitter campaign may not have been fully thought through.”

To his credit, the Commissioner went on to say, “it’s not going to cause us to change any of our efforts to be very active on social media….It is what it is. It’s an open, transparent world.”

Address a Social Media Crisis Where It’s Taking Place

Having braved the world of social media transparency, it would have been a positive step for the Commissioner to send a tweet or two sharing from his own official Twitter account his promise that the Department would continue its investment in social media and transparency.  Twitter is, after all, where the firestorm began.

Instead, the Commissioner’s Twitter stream has remained silent on the entire subject, missing an opportunity to demonstrate the transparency and positive use of social media that the Commissioner talked about in his conversation with the AP.  (His Twitter account did find time to post some other standard PR pieces.)

“It is a Transparent World”

It bears repeating, though, that the Commissioner has pledged to not back away from the Department’s use of social media.  As the Commissioner observed, “It is what it is.  It is a transparent world.”

“A moment to take stock….”

Taken from the perspective of a PR campaign, the #myNYPD Twitter campaign has already joined the annals of epic Twitter PR failures.  But, it is here where one should look for the opportunity that comes with a “failed” marketing campaign – the opportunity to use the torrents of information that have flooded the social media stream to consider how to turn around a powerful discontent with a significant part of one’s community.  It is, as The New Yorker observed in its tweet, “a moment to take stock…”

A Recap of Some Lessons Learned:

  1. Do market research before launching any social media marketing campaign.
  2. Conduct brand sentiment analysis as part of your pre-launch review.  (Ask, “What are people saying/tweeting about our brand.”  Listen actively.)
  3. Consider the timing of your social media campaign.  (#QuantasLuxury during a company labor dispute?  No.  #AskJPMorgan when massive numbers are still facing foreclosures and unemployment?  No.)
  4. Be prepared for your PR spin to spin out of control.  “My story” may not be your story, or the one you are hoping I will share.
  5. Be willing to address your failed social media marketing campaign in the forum where it failed.
  6. Don’t back away from transparency or social media – you can’t afford to in a world that places a premium on both.
  7. When a social media campaign spins into a viral negative…”take stock.”

Share and Connect

Please feel free to share your thoughts on the subject.