Social media training: Controversial post gets people talking

Who do you think of when asked which companies and organisations produce edgy and innovative social media content?

There are certain well-known brands that always seem to come up when we ask this question during our social media training, for example Paddy Power and Innocent Drinks, and obviously some offer products and services which more easily lend themselves to humour and being controversial.

What I bet you didn’t think of when answering that question was the police.

That is unless you saw the coverage generated by the Twitter and Facebook accounts of Kingston police last week.

It brought the ‘wanted’ posted into the modern age with a humorous open letter aimed at tracking down a woman it wanted to speak to in connection with a number of burglaries in the area.

The post, in the form of an open letter, said it had made several attempts to get in touch with the woman. It then added: “We have a slight suspicion that you might be blanking us #Awkward. You don’t text, you don’t call back and you haven’t accepted our friend request.”

It ended: “Look forward to seeing you soon and happy New Year.”

At the time of writing the post has had 91,000 shares, 85,000 likes and 12,000 comments on Facebook. On Twitter there have been almost 2,000 retweets and another 1,700 likes.

Unsurprisingly with figures like that the post has gone on to generate widespread mainstream media coverage. Here is a taste of some of the headlines:


Police post hilariously sarky Facebook appeal urging ‘serial burglar’ to hand herself in The Sun

‘Stop blanking us’: Kingston police write funny open letter to wanted woman urging her to ‘stop ignoring us’ Evening Standard

Police slammed for ‘unprofessional and patronising’ Facebook appeal that joke about suspected burglar ‘not accepting their friend request’ Daily Mirror    


As you can see, coverage has been mixed and it is a similar picture in the social media responses to the cheeky posts, with praises for the innovation matched by concerns about whether the woman was being treated fairly and the professionalism of the police.

Personally I see little difference, other than the humour, between publishing this post on social media and putting the image of a wanted person on say Crimewatch, for example.

But the controversy is the whole point. Without it the post would not have gained the coverage that it has. Regardless of whether people agree or disprove, every comment, like and share added to its momentum and ensured it arrived in more timelines.

Newspapers love something quirky, especially if it includes that element of ‘trouble’ which helps makes stories newsworthy. Even the stories with negative headlines still covered the post in full and included the woman’s picture, increasing the likelihood of police finding her soon, which must surely be the ultimate goal.

And it appeared to work as over the weekend it was reported a woman has been arrested and charged with burglary offences.

As someone who has had several comms roles in the public sector I would imagine this post had to go through a fairly extensive sign-off process, which makes it all the more impressive it has maintained its humour and edge.

This tongue in cheek approach is a great use of social media, right down to the hashtag ‘awkward’ which helps to engage younger users. It has taken a run-of-the mill appeal, which written the traditional way would have got little coverage, and turned it into something which has got many people talking.

My only criticism would be its use of DCI Banta McBantface in response to questions about who wrote the post – surely that joke has had its day now.

What did you think of the post? Was this appropriate police action. Let us know your thoughts in the comments box below.

Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.

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