Before mobile phones and the Internet, walkie talkies were all the rage in my house. I remember spending hours with my brother, communicating via the understood codes of “10-4” and “Roger that”, before our Mum made us put them away for dinner.
The trouble with walkie talkies, however, is that the message doesn’t always come through “loud and clear”.
Effective communication of messages is integral to the PR industry. One of the key benefits of PR professionals using social media, as highlighted in my last blog, is its ability to be harnessed to create a brand community. One of the most popular ways of doing this is by creating a brand or idea centric hashtag.
Hashtags are used to “classify messages, propagate ideas and also to promote specific topics and people”, and there are numerous sites to monitor them on. From everyday life, to global activist campaigns such as #BringBackOurGirls, hashtags have become a shorter, sharper, “cooler” way of expressing a shared experience or idea. Hashtags, however, if not thought out properly can be full of risk and create problems for organisations.
On April 22 this year, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) began a new social media campaign based around #myNYPD. Citizens were encouraged to post photos of themselves with members of the NYPD along with the #myNYPD hashtag. As a type of reward, the NYPD would then select the best images and post them on their Facebook page.
The aim for the campaign was to create a positive perception of the NYPD, however it quickly turned sour, and the positive “faces behind the NYPD” angle were replaced by much more sinister images of police brutality and violence.
As the hashtag grew, global media including Time Magazine, the BBC, and news.com.au picked up the story. It soon became clear that there was a loss of control of the situation, and an increasing amount of potentially damaging information online (see my second blog).
The #myNYPD social media campaign is just one of a number of unsuccessful PR social media campaigns highlighting the importance of planning, understanding your publics, and effectively communicating messages via a social media presence. The use of hashtags can thus be seen a bit of a risky move for a corporation.
That said, however, hashtagging and the overall use of social media by businesses has enabled many success stories. Just as the walkie talkie has a few static issues, there will always be “noise” and judgment calls to make in regards to using the changing social media landscape effectively to communicate messages.
It seems that for social media, the sky is now the limit; the only question is: how far are you willing to go?
Lena Andersen – Media and Communications, Public Relations and Marketing student. Monash University.