Skip to main content

NYPD's Twitter campaign was a fiasco

By Mel Robbins
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • An NYPD social media campaign on Twitter backfired
  • Mel Robbins: You can't control a conversation on Twitter
  • She says social media is often ruled by haters, and people can be brutally honest
  • Robbins: Moral of the story is that to promote a brand, you have to know the rules

Editor's note: Mel Robbins is a CNN commentator and founder of inspire52.com, providing daily "good news" stories and viral videos. She hosts "The Mel Robbins Show" Sundays from 7-9 p.m. on WSB 95.5 in Atlanta and News 96.5 in Orlando. In 2014, she was named Outstanding News Talk Radio Host by the Gracie Awards. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Whoever is running the social media strategy for the New York Police Department needs to be fired because that person has no idea how to follow the rules of social media.

On Tuesday, the NYPD's Twitter account, @NYPDNews, asked New Yorkers to "tag themselves" in photos with New York Police officers using the hashtag #myNYPD. Before midnight, more than 70,000 tweets containing photos or stories of police brutality flooded the Twittersphere, replacing #HappyEarthDay as the trending topic by late Tuesday evening.

It was a disaster.

Mel Robbins
Mel Robbins

Instead of igniting a positive viral PR campaign, a single tweet managed to set the NYPD's reputation on fire. They should have seen this one coming. Twitter is a great tool to read breaking news, research prospective clients, connect with friends, discuss live events or gain access to your favorite celebrity. But it's a terrible place to try to control a conversation because you simply can't.

Social media disasters are becoming a regular occurrence. Remember the PR executive from media company IAC who sent out a racially offensive tweet and raised a firestorm? Or when Burger King's account got hacked and fake tweets referencing race and drugs were posted?

It's like rubbernecking an accident on the highway -- we can't help but stare and comment before we move on with our lives. And while #myNYPD will be largely forgotten by you and me, the NYPD will feel the pain for months to come.

Rule 1: Every social media platform has a very specific demographic

Facebook users are a different demographic than Twitter users, just as Pinterest users are different from Instagram users. Twitter users are the youngest demographic of all major social media outlets. If you tweet, you're speaking to 18- to 29-year-olds, not middle-aged moms on Pinterest and Facebook. And those millennials are unforgiving -- they care more about "social expression" than "social obedience," which means they'll tweet what they feel with no filter.

Rule 2: You will never control the conversation on Twitter

Tweets are like roaches; once you spot a contrarian or sarcastic reply, you know there are hundreds more right behind it, and there's no way to exterminate them. If you need to control the conversation, use Facebook. On Facebook, you can delete individual comments that do not contribute to your overall social goal. On Twitter, the users are in control.

Rule 3: Social media is often ruled by the haters

Social media is a love-hate world, and among your followers you'll have just as many fans as foes. Even Starbucks, one of the most dominant brands in the United States, is probably publicly hated more than it's praised.

The NYPD has a well-organized social media savvy hater: Occupy Wall Street NYC. And they jumped all over #myNYPD using the Occupy Wall Street NYC Twitter account. In fact, they are credited with making the photos of the police brutality start to trend nationally.

Rule 4: If you ask people on social media what they think ... they'll tell you

People on social media are ruthlessly honest, way more so than they would be in person. Ask their opinion about your brand and you'll get an instantaneous barometer (the good, the bad and the atrocious). Forget the user-generated PR campaign. It's better to monitor your reputation on Twitter using reputation management software and reply directly to people who tweet bad things about you.

Rule 5: The odds are not in your favor to get good news

Despite the overwhelming success of viral positive news websites like Upworthy or Inspire52 (disclaimer: I'm the founder), most content that gets shared online is negative, funny or sarcastic. And, unless you request that people tell you their positive experiences, research shows that humans are more likely to remember negative experiences. But obviously, there are exceptions, like NYPD's Twitter fiasco.

What's the moral of this story? If you want to use social media to promote a brand, either use the rules to pick the right platform and own the conversation or social media will own you.

NYPD should have solicited feel-good user generated photos through a contest on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest and then published them on Facebook where they could delete the negative and sarcastic responses.

Now that you know the rules, answer this question: What do you think will happen if you invite the youngest and most urban demographic on Twitter (and Occupy Wall Street NYC who happens to follow you) to post photos of cops in New York City?

Unfortunately, common sense, safe driving and social media rules are a lot like deodorant, the people who need it the most don't use it.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 0857 GMT (1657 HKT)
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2151 GMT (0551 HKT)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0134 GMT (0934 HKT)
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT