Did you see the NYPD’s attempt at creating a warm and fuzzy vibe on social media? They created the hashtag #myNYPD and asked people to tweet pictures of themselves with police officers.

Some people did follow the directions and tweeted selfies and pics with members of the NYPD. However, a larger group of people started tweeting different kinds of pics of themselves with New York’s finest:

Tweet showing how the #myNYPD hashtag was hijacked.

How did this happen? Well, the obvious answer is NYPD’s hashtag was hijacked (people used the hashtag for a different purpose than it was originally intended). It happens more than you may think, sometimes because people troll social channels, sometimes because people use it to stage a social sit in.

But how did this really happen? And could it have been prevented? The answer should lie with NYPD’s original intent—what were they trying to accomplish? Well according to the reports, the plan was to position the NYPD in a more positive light. And without seeing the whole strategy to do this, not to mention the social strategy, at first glance this campaign sounds like a good idea. The campaign was designed to show the ‘human’ side of the police department.

However, was this the best place to start? To me it seems like a quick and easy way to get some positive coverage—that really wasn’t thought through. Crowdsourcing works really well – but the participation has to be organic. Inviting people to participate and engage with a topic that is so controversial needs to be more controlled, at least in the early stages, until potential threats can be identified and planned for.

Two key takeaways for me:
1. Was there any type of brand protection plan in place to deal with or manage a situation like this? Social media should be a critical component of your brand protection planning process, specifically a rapid response strategy. (Although I could argue a situation like this should’ve been identified and eliminated as part of issues analysis.)
2. As I like to say, when it comes to advancing your brand the best thing you can do is realize that ‘it’s never really about you’. The problem with this campaign is the NYPD made it all about themselves. A better idea may have been to have the police officers take pictures of ‘their city’ – things they see throughout their shift that make them love their city. Maybe changing the hashtag to #myNYC and encouraging people to do the same. A different method, most likely the same result.

Hijacking a hashtag isn’t anything new. Unfortunately neither is failing to think something through.