Today’s social-media object lesson: The NYPD tries for outreach and gets backlash

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By now, the list of social-media failures has grown so long that it’s difficult to keep track, but there are some standouts — like Kenneth Cole and his Egypt tweets, or failed attempts at engagement by brands like McDonald’s and JP Morgan. Now we have another shining example of the genre, thanks to the New York Police Department, which decided to reach out to some of its fans and encourage them to share photos of themselves with members of the force. The result was a blizzard of anti-police sentiment attached to the #myNYPD hashtag.

The initial photo posted by the department was friendly enough: it featured two smiling officers flanking an equally happy member of the public, with a message that asked followers to post pictures with the hashtag for use on the NYPD’s Facebook page. But what followed likely wasn’t what the force had in mind.

One of the most retweeted responses was from the Occupy Wall Street account, which said that the photo depicted how the NYPD “engages with its community members, changing hearts and minds one baton at a time.”

Other popular items showed officers pulling the hair of protesters, forcibly restraining others and apparently driving a motorcycle over a wounded man:

As digital-media veteran Dan Gillmor noted, the NYPD hashtag failure was a classic example of not understanding how social media works — and in particular, the speed with which a hashtag or other social trend can be overtaken by less-favorable elements. And now the exercise has become another example of what not to do.

The NYPD later released a statement saying that the department was trying to create new ways to communicate effectively with the community, and that it was aware that Twitter provides an “open forum for an uncensored exchange” and that the open dialogue was “good for our city.”

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Post and photo thumbnail courtesy of Pond5 / Cienpies

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