Hashtag campaigns don’t always go as planned. We’ve seen it happen before. We’ll likely see it happen again.
One of the more memorable occasions of this happened a few years ago with McDonald’s. We won’t go into the details, but if you don’t remember it you can read about it here.
This week we saw it happen again with when the New York Police Department launched a social media campaign to try and connect with it’s community. On Tuesday, the NYPD asked people to post friendly pictures of themselves with officers around the city and to tag them with the hashtag #MyNYPD. However, what happened next was the exact opposite of what the NYPD was trying to achieve.
Instead of people posting friendly pictures of the cops in their neighbourhood, people started posting pictures that featured police brutality, mostly from during the Occupy Wall Street days. And, of course, when the internet got wind of this, the whole world started talking about the #MyNYPD hashtag.
The NYPD launched their hashtag campaign on Tuesday (April 22nd). Over the course of two days we found that the hashtag got used or appeared in over 153,000 social media conversations. Between Tuesday and Wednesday we found the #MyNYPD hashtag in 456 blog posts, 1,513 online news articles, 225 forum postings and 150,922 tweets.
Since the hashtag was meant to be used to promote photos, we also checked for its use on Instagram. Here we found the #MyNYPD used to tag 1,182 photos.
It’s also interesting to note how word of the hashtag spread through the different social channels. When the hashtag debuted, it was meant to be a Twitter thing. If we look at the popularity chart below we can see that it took off on Twitter on Tuesday and kept going (although slowing down just a bit) into Wednesday.
However, when we take Twitter out of that chart so we can see the other channels we can see that both online news sites and blogs started to catch wind of the hashtag on Tuesday, but most of the coverage about it didn’t really come into play until Wednesday. This shows that Twitter is great for real-time as they happen things, while channels like blogs and online news can be a great way to recap what had already happened in real-time and in a longer format than 140 characters.
While the idea behind the #MyNYPD social campaign was to connect with citizens in New York, once it caught on, it spread much further. A look at this heat map of the United States shows that the greatest concentration of the hashtag’s use on Twitter was coming from New York, however, it was also being used across the country.
However, the hashtag and news of its use didn’t just stop with the United States. A look at our geo location map of tweets shows that the hashtag spread and was then getting used or spoken about by people around the world.
While some people did start using the #MyNYPD hashtag in a malicious way, not everyone was posting brutality pictures of their own. A closer look at the tweets that contained the hashtag actually show that it was more likely that people were spreading what a few malicious people were tweeting. A look at the types of tweets we found that contained the hashtag shows that 75% of all the tweets over the two days were actually retweets. Only 23% of the tweets with #MyNYPD were original tweets.
The last thing we looked at was who were the people spreading the hashtag the most. Not super surprising was that the top two Twitter accounts that were using the #MyNYPD hashtag the most were accounts that seem to be very anti the NYPD in general. The top two accounts that tweeted the hashtag the most were an account called @CopWatch, who tweeted with #MyNYPD 255 times in the two days we examined and @OccupyWallStNYC.
While the NYPD had nothing but good intentions when they came up with this campaign, once it got out to the public it was out of their hands. Just like everything else in social media.
So, should all companies and organizations be wary of starting hashtag campaigns? Could this happen to anyone? What do you think? Let us know in the comments.