Two weeks ago, the New York Police Department launched a goodwill campaign on social media, asking people to post photos of themselves with police officers with the hashtag #myNYPD. The hashtag soon turned into what the Associated Press cleverly and appropriately termed a “bashtag.”
Members of the Occupy movement were quick to share snaps of violent interactions with police. “Here the #NYPD engages with its community members, changing hearts and minds one baton at a time,” read the caption of one post. The campaign may started locally, but it quickly went national, then global. Twitter users in Los Angeles showed police in menacing riot gear. Social media users in Greece posted photos of police brutality against protestors with the hashtag #myELAS, and users in Mexico started #MiPolicíaMexicana.
At first the response from the NYPD was typical New York attitude. NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton waved aside the Occupy photos as old news and said, “I kind of welcome the attention… We really broke the [social media] numbers.” When the backlash continued and went worldwide, a more somber response came from Deputy Chief Kim Y. Royster, who said, “The NYPD is creating new ways to communicate effectively with the community…this is an open dialogue good for our city.” Really?
THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for the NYPD, whose social media campaign has embarrassed them and their law-enforcement brethren worldwide.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Not every PR tool flatters the user. Social media can work, in the right hands and when correctly implemented. Perhaps the NYPD could use social media for, say, tips on crime. But it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out that this naïve attempt at generating positive PR image could be twisted. Royster’s key word was “effective,” and this use of social media clearly wasn’t.