The NYPD Effect: What to Do When Your Social Media Campaign Backfires
Almost everyone uses social media. More than 70% of Internet users are involved in at least one of the major social media networks – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram – or even all of them. [http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/social-networking-fact-sheet/]
Using social media for branding and customer engagement often is paved with good intentions, but it doesn’t always assure that everything is going to work out well.
Take, for example, what happened to the New York Police Department (NYPD) in April 2014, when it tried to establish itself as a brand and engage its customers on Twitter. [http://edition.cnn.com/2014/04/22/tech/nypd-twitter-fail/]
NYPD is one of the major police forces in the country that have been working hard to improve community involvement. Aside from setting up its own Twitter account, it also launched a campaign early this year inviting people to upload and tag a photo with an NYPD police officer with the hashtag #mynypd. [https://twitter.com/NYPDnews]
Well, it didn’t really turn out as planned, where photos of NYPD officers interacting with community members in a positive light would be uploaded and tagged, because within only a few hours after the campaign’s launch, the hashtag went viral for all the wrong reasons: people started uploading a variety of pictures showing NYPD police officers in compromising situations (e.g., depicting harassment and brutality).
Worse, other police departments got involved as Twitter users tagged their officers in photos depicting negative circumstances, too.
It turns out that the NYPD effect happens far too many times, particularly on Twitter with its millions of active users all around the globe and where trends can be monitored in real time and easily go viral.
Similar fiascos have happened to some well-known corporate entities including McDonald’s, Amy Baking Company and even celebrities like Robin Thicke. [http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2012/01/24/mcdstories-when-a-hashtag-becomes-a-bashtag/], [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/14/amys-baking-company-kitchen-nightmares_n_3274345.html], [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/music-news/10937764/Robin-Thickes-Twitter-disaster-the-best-of-AskThicke.html].
If you ever find yourself in such a situation, what should you do?
- Don’t let it run for too long. If there’s one good thing about social media failure, it’s that you can see its effect within hours. Thus, you always have the option to end it as soon as possible, which is definitely suggested.
- Avoid feeding on the trolls. Trolls are Internet users that love to ignite heated discussions and arguments with the brand and/or among its followers through posting offensive, hurtful, below-the-belt comments and inflammatory media such as photos or videos. Trolls are growing by astonishing numbers [http://www.bustle.com/articles/45430-online-trolling-statistics-reveal-almost-one-third-of-millennial-americans-admit-to-being-internet-trolls], so you need to be very careful in how you deal with them:
* Don’t respond to anything offensive. That’s what trolls want you to do. Remember that.
* Block them immediately from your social media account. This way, your other followers won’t see their remarks, and they have no other means of communicating with you unless they create a new account.
* Take legal action. If you feel that their comments are untrue and are hurting the brand, do know that you can always take an appropriate legal action, but be discreet about it.
- Take control of the situation. Apologize if you have offended users with your campaign or strategy, even if that wasn’t your intention. You can never fault other people’s feelings or perceptions about an issue. Deal with the trolls, but respond to certain serious concerns and questions. Pick one social media person to maintain consistent feedback to your followers.
- Use it to your advantage. As they say, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Tell your followers that you appreciate all feedback, whether good or bad, and that all feedback can be used to improve your product or service. Then follow through with action on that feedback so that your followers can see that you have put your words into practice. This builds trust.
Social media teaches brands a very painful and hard lesson: you can’t please everyone. There will be hundreds or even thousands who will taunt and say something bad about your brand on a daily basis. The keys to surviving any kind of social media backfire are to be objective, maintain a positive, calm mind and act upon the lessons you learn.
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