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Hashtag Hijacks

New York Police Department Faces Hashtag Embarrassment

The NYPD recently tweeted requests for local New Yorkers to post photos of themselves with members of the police force, using the hashtag #myNYPD. Predictably though, the news feed promptly filled with images and videos of questionable police practice and brutality in what has become a true failure of a marketing campaign, leaving a lot to be answered for by the men in blue.

The unfortunate hashtag hijacking has inspired people around the US to tweet photos of other police departments abusing citizens. Twitter users have shown images of brutality from the LAPD and Chicago forces, whilst European countries join the growing enthusiasm in highlighting malpractice.

Occupy Wall Street tweeted ‘Free Massages from the #NYPD. What does YOUR Police Department offer?’ accompanied with an image showing officers holding a man, shouting, with his arms pinned behind his back against a car.

According to the New York Daily News over 70,000 people had taken to Twitter criticising the NYPD, with #myNYPD overtaking #HappyEarthDay as the top trending hashtag.

Hashtags, when used positively, can be a really useful way of tracking the current and popular interest of people and to see what is being talked about. Twitter has long supported clickable hashtags, with Facebook users also deploying the technique for debates, discussion and fun. Clicking on a hashtag takes users to see what other people have said about the same topic, encouraging interaction and activity. Advertisers saw a great opportunity to build brand awareness and receive feedback from their consumers. The key to a successful hashtag however, is understanding your audience and how they are going to use said hashtag.

Twitter has become a place where activists and protestors are influencing politics and power structures all over the world. The NYPD Twitter campaign was well-intentioned, but crucially not well-researched.

Using social media listening tools like Viralheat and Social Mention, which provide a sentiment analysis of mentions across various sites, would have been a good place to start. Your typical Twitter user (young urban males) may not have been the best place to find positive attitudes and responses to New York’s police department.

Stubbornly (or in the interests of free speech), the NYPD Commissioner said the campaign will continue despite the negative feedback. So far, the NYPD have retweeted only a handful of photos of people with members of the police department. It’s safe to say the campaign was a social media and public relations failure.

The lesson here is that social media can be a powerful tool - but just because you create a hashtag doesn’t mean you own it.

The NYPD’s social media fail was reminiscent of another recent Twitter debacle.  Here's some other memorable mishaps: 

#WhyImVotingUKIP – Twitter users went to town on the controversial political party recently, quipping, with reference to Farage’s claims that he was 'tired out' when he said he wouldn’t want to live next door to Romanians, that they were voting ‘because, like the leader @Nigel_Farage, I get a bit racist when I’m tired too’.

In 2012, McDonald's created the #McDstories hashtag, asking customers to share their favorite McDonald's memories. The campaign was pulled after just two hours as it descended into food-horror stories about fingernails, insects and food poisoning.

Then there was of course the infamous #susanalbumparty disaster. No more needs to be said on that.

Katie Rowley

Recent graduate and now interning as content editor, when she's not writing articles Katie can quite likely be found festival-ing, holiday-ing or reading a book (dedicated English student that she is). Follow her @KatieAtSMF.

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Hashtag Hijacks Reviewed by Anonymous on Wednesday, July 09, 2014 Rating: 5
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