April 25, 2014

The NYPD's Disastrous Twitter Campaign Can Serve as a Lesson to Businesses

Earlier this week, the New York Police Department attempted a Twitter campaign that went about as poorly as possible. Through its organizational account, @NYPDNews, the department asked New York City residents to tag pictures of themselves with members of force and tag the photos #myNYPD.

In a matter of hours, the NYPD feed was inundated with photos of police officers engaging in aggressive or even violent behavior with citizens. A day after the fiasco began, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton tried unconvincingly to spin the incident, saying he “kind of welcomed the attention” the campaign stirred. The entire incident, however, seemed to disprove the notion that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

The NYPD is only the latest in a long line of organizations to make a major social media faux pas. Even as social media celebrates a decade of existence, it seems some companies have yet to figure it out.

Social media is an effective and fun way to engage people, but it is not an arena where you can control a conversation entirely. It is ironic that businesses work so hard to improve brand image and recognition and then put it all at risk by using social platforms without any real strategy. Assigning social media responsibilities to a random employee who has other responsibilities and no experience with the platforms is never a good idea. There is a reason why graduate schools are starting to offer Master’s degree programs—it takes knowledge and expertise to socialize successfully.

Although attitudes have shifted at a snail’s pace, many companies are now recognizing the value of an employee dedicated exclusively to social media or a content strategy vendor that can help formulate and execute a plan. These vendors can also provide added value by creating other kinds of content—such as blogs or white papers—and tying those assets into social media.  

The Social Times reports that businesses’ social media budgets will double over the next five years, meaning companies that don’t embrace the platforms risk taking a back seat to the competition. But as the NYPD learned the hard way, simply creating company accounts or throwing money at social sites without a carefully crafted strategy can do more harm than good.

So, where does your business fall? Are you making the most of these platforms or committing serious social crimes? The NYPD won’t be there to arrest you, but businesses should embrace the laws of social media just the same.       


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