Lessons Learned from the #myNYPD Twitter Disaster


The New York Police Department’s recent, spectacular social media failure followed a now-familiar formula: organization calls for fan submissions over popular network, receives overwhelming stream of negativity.

In this case, as in the case of JP Morgan’s #AskJPM and other comparable disasters, the headlines surrounding the futile effort at community outreach quickly drowned out any coincidental good will from the public. And yet, despite it all, department commissioner Bill Bratton now claims that he will continue to attempt similar projects moving forward.

This week, we spoke to LEVICK SVP/digital communications chair Peter LaMotte to try and make sense of the resulting mess.

What was the NYPD’s primary mistake in this case?

Assuming that an open venue such as Twitter could be used as an opportunity to give positive feedback.

Twitter is a public forum for sharing information, but the platform is also where users most often go to openly express their complaints towards a brand. For the NYPD to propose that it could be used to generate overwhelmingly positive feedback was naive and misguided.


How did they not see it coming? Shouldn’t one assume that much of the feedback given to a controversial organization in an open forum will be negative?

YES. The failure of organizations is that they are following the popularity of the outlet instead of applying it to their marketing and business goals.

There are better avenues they could have used to solicit public feedback other than Twitter. They are chasing the ‘cool factor’ when this isn’t the best tool for what they are trying to accomplish.


What can other organizations (especially those that might have detractors on social media) learn from this project?

It’s essential for organizations like the NYPD to focus on learning that they are never going to be a brand that everyone is going to love and that negative public attention is all part of the game.

Commissioner Bratton claimed that the strategy behind the campaign was “send us your photos, good and bad” and insisted that he “kind of welcome[s] the attention”. What do you make of that statement?

He is trying to make the best of a negative situation. It’s unbelievable that in this day in age someone would fail to remember that the ‘Internet never forgets’ and that any photo of the NYPD would be immune to criticism. While transparency is often sought out, it doesn’t mean that using an outlet like Twitter will increase the popularity or the sentiment towards an organization, like the NYPD.

How could the NYPD have run a similar campaign without all the backlash?

If the NYPD had intended to run a campaign without attracting so much negative attention, they could have taken one of two paths:

  1. Choosing a platform that has more control over the shared content than Twitter.

  2. Choosing a platform that provides less anonymity to those creating the content.

[Ed note: on social media, this means Facebook.]


Regarding the many pictures that spread on Twitter under the hashtag, Bratton said that the NYPD is always lawful but often “looks awful”. How can the department combat this perception?

The NYPD has to have a venue to address these images and issues as they arise, while respecting the legal restrictions of what they can and cannot talk about publicly surrounding any given case.

They also need to establish a better communication plan where they have more control over the conversation and can manage interactions with the public. They should implement a more strategic approach to how they are going to communicate their investigations.

We agree.

Now here’s an interesting point to consider in case you think that the NYPD simply doesn’t understand the nuances of social: in 2012, the department released an extensive list of social media rules under former Commissioner Ray Kelly.

The difference? These guidelines concerned using social to find and identify criminals by creating fake profiles and trolling for tips. The “book” in question obviously did not include a chapter on presenting one’s best face to the public.

Now who has more ideas for the NYPD?

@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.