26 Jul 2017

‘ello, ‘ello, ‘ello. What’s goin’ on ‘ere then?

(Or how Wiltshire Police seem to have lost the social media plot).

Richard Merrin – Managing Director at Spreckley 

Here in the London bubble, what’s going on in deepest, darkest Wiltshire is not often on the radar. Yes, admittedly my cousins live there, and it happens to be a beautiful part of the country, but thanks to the local constabulary everyone is suddenly paying close attention to the County and it’s all down to social media and how not to do it. Spoiler alert: I am utterly convinced I am going to get a knock on the door later tonight over this so if you don’t hear from me in the next few weeks you know why.

Wiltshire is a rural idyll but is struggling with a rise in reported violent crime – it’s up 18.4% over the past year. Not something you would be particularly proud of, and certainly something the local police need to address. But this week in one now infamous tweet, Wiltshire Police announced to an unsuspecting world:

You can’t hide from us if your spewing abuse from behind a computer screen. Our boys & gals in blue will find you.”

Now I for one am no grammar pedant, but if you are about to send out a tweet – and you are a public body – then at least learn where to put an apostrophe. But this is not what sent the Twittersphere into meltdown this week, oh no. Here in the UK we have a long history of policing by consent and many people on social media rightly felt that this tweet – from the police itself – was akin to the Stasi of East Germany. More 1984 than 2017!

To make matters worse, Wiltshire Police appear to have very, very thin skin. Within 24 hours of nothing short of abuse, memes and great British banter, it compounded the problem issuing a statement:

We will not tolerate any form of abuse or discriminatory remarks made on any of our social media platforms. We are reviewing the posts and will consider any potential criminal offences which might have been committed. We will also ban anyone who is publishing offensive or abuse material. Hate crime will not be tolerated in any form in our communities or online.”

(Those of you sharp enough will spot the missing comma).

This was a short-sighted, antagonistic and arguably appalling use of resource. But the lesson for those working on social media platforms is clear: don’t make a schoolboy error with grammar as it opens you up to ridicule. Don’t bully your audience – who cares if you are the police, you actually have no right to use inflammatory language anymore than we do. And then when it comes back to bite you, don’t threaten or cajole; take it on the chin and listen to what is being said to you. This is as true for the police as it is for brands.

Wiltshire Police – you only have yourself to blame.

Can someone post me bail?