The lesson of #myNYPD for government

You only need the length of the taxi ride from Singapore’s Changi airport to the city centre to appreciate that this is an uncommonly well-run place. Neat, tidy and superbly organised, even the trees lining the road into town seem to blossom year-round.

All of which rather jars with a story dominating my mobile news-stream on my return to the airport about the New York Police Department’s latest foray into social media.

An attempt to crowd-source feel-good photos for its Facebook page using the #MyNYPD hashtag, it has backfired spectacularly in a manner all too reminiscent of JP Morgan’s #AskJPM or British Gas’ #AskBG fiascos.

I visit New York infrequently and can’t recount having any encounters with its police force, let alone negative ones. Yet the NYPD clearly evokes some pretty raw emotions, something it was presumably aware of before orchestrating the campaign. They will certainly be on its mind now.

Framing conversations properly is one of many challenges facing governments and authorities in social media, yet Facebook et al also provide unparalleled opportunities to inform citizens and build their trust, the subject of a talk I gave to a roomful of government officials at a Community Engagement Conference yesterday in Singapore.

My basic premise: in an environment in which public trust with government is low in many countries and citizens are hugely empowered, public authorities must understand the broader context of their activities and work hard to find ways of involving online audiences in their communication, as opposed to approaching social media as an informational one-way street.

I had also been expressly asked to cover the pitfalls of engaging online, something the powers that be in Singapore are conscious of, perhaps to a fault. And which the NYPD now finds itself having to consider in rather more depth.

Here are my slides:


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