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#myNYPD Twitter Hashtag – Photo Request Backfires – Guess Why? - Orleans Marketing Group

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#myNYPD Twitter Hashtag – Photo Request Backfires – Guess Why?

Social media is an unbelievably powerful marketing tool, but yesterday’s NYPD’s Twitter campaign is a great example of how social media can quickly backfire if you have critics and create a campaign that lacks control. The NYPD social media marketing team had all the right intentions to create some positive PR by asking its Twitter followers to post photos with their friendly, neighborhood police officers.

Instead, they got bombarded with a slew of negative tweets… photos showing police officers arresting individuals in what could be considered an aggressive manner (alleged) police brutality. Amazingly, the social media team for the NYPD created its very own hashtag and tweeted “Do you have a photo w/ a member of the NYPD? Tweet us & tag it #myNYPD. It may be featured on our Facebook. Huh… did they really do that? Are you kidding? How the social media marketing team of the NYPD didn’t hear the alarms and sirens going off in the background of this campaign is absolutely astonishing. Nonetheless, to their surprise the hashtag was immediately taken over by people with, less just say negative intentions.


Okay, there were some positive tweets with photos of citizens standing next to the friendly police officers of the NYPD. However, as you probably can imagine the most popular and most trending tweets were quite the opposite. How could they possibly not know their Twitter audience? The overwhelming demographic responsible for driving Twitter is our youth, and they are the ones that many believe are disproportionately targeted by the NYPD.

According to data from the NYPD Stop and Frisk initiative — a widely criticized program that allowed police officers to search individuals — more than 340,000 people between the ages of 14 and 24 were stopped in 2011.

Considering that the exact demographic of people who are using Twitter, it’s easy to understand why the NYPD’s social media campaign was an epic fail.

Other Examples of Epic Hashtag Fails

Last year J.P. Morgan asked its Twitter followers to post questions using the hashtag #AskJPM to its vice chairman, Jimmy Lee. Predictably, many of the questions demonstrated the anger people have toward our financial institutions following the 08′ financial calamity.

Activists and Journalists hijacked the hashtag to voice their discontent with the company.

Also, R&B singer R. Kelly asked his followers to post questions using the #AskRKelly hashtag. To his disbelief, moments later critics began using Twitter to express their anger towards the musician who allegedly had been in possession of child pornography.

No One Owns a Hashtag

The beauty of a hashtag is that no one can control it, but for an organization, company or a brand it is also its greatest danger.

A hashtag is not like a marketing, media, or political message, whose creator thinks it can be created and controlled. It’s not like the namespace in domains, on Facebook and Google+, or in trademarks, for anyone can use a hashtag without permission or payment. It’s not like a dictionary with one definition. It’s not like a word on an FCC list that prohibits or chills its use.

A hashtag is entirely open and profoundly democratic. People gather around a hashtag. They salute it, they honor it, they ignore it, and yes as the NYPD learned the hard way they disrespect it.

Did You know? The first time a hashtag was used was for a technology conference called #barcamp. The concept was the brainchild of Google designer and technologist, Chris Messina who tagged tweets relating to particular events in 2007 in order to create groups of related threads on Twitter, according to Ben Zimmer, chair of the American Dialect Society. However the first “big event” a hashtag (#SanDiegoFire) was used for was during the San Diego fires in 2007.

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