The Mumbai Police social media team can’t avoid puns even if they can help it. As law enforcement bodies across the country resort to social media to issue effective, and in some cases, witty and hilarious message of safety and law, the Mumbai Police has taken the lead in terms of virality.
For over a year, the popular Twitter handle of the city police force, @MumbaiPolice (with a massive 4.64 million follower count), has had us in splits over their timely (and supremely punchy) memes and hashtags. If Drake’s #InMyFeelingsChallenge had you pegged, the Mumbai Police proposed an alternative #InMySafetyFeelings for you to #GetIntoTheCar. While An Uday Chopra tweet about legalising marijuana found a response with a #HoshMeinAao Rajinikanth meme, The Nun meme became the ‘Nun Parking Zone’ for their #DarkestParkingHabit drive.
This week, though, the Mumbai Police has barely caught a wink since the arduous exercise across the city for the Ganesh Chaturthi visarjan on September 23. During this time, I am told by Sunchika Pandey—a former journalist who is now the consultant for content/creative for the Mumbai Police—that some members of the social media team barely caught two hours of sleep in over 24 hours, ensuring that tweets go out till the wee hours of morning.
But Deven Bharti, Joint Commissioner (Law and Order) of Mumbai Police, who is one of the key contributors to the team (“He’s a star at understanding and creation of content,” Pandey tells me), indulges VICE despite the time crunch, on how to bring together the joys of creating memes with the need for responsibility. “Every piece of content is the result of rigorous debates and discussions within the team,” he says, “We are aware that the content on social has to be ‘catchy’ for us to ‘catch’ the attention of citizens for the best results. Making them aware for their own safety by any medium that does not trivialise the issue works for us.”
There’s a reason why the Mumbai Police’s official Twitter page is an arena where cultural references are delectable accessories to hyperlocal strategy of law enforcement. The social media team is comprised of “young male and female constables who are updated with what’s happening in the social media space,” says Bharti. “They work in three different shifts and each shift has five-six constables with two to three senior officers to guide and support. The social media team has the Commissioner of Police himself at the helm of it and he closely monitors all the content and response being posted. There is a team of consultants for content and creatives who have been assisting us to execute our campaigns and messages to citizens.”
Exhaustive as that process sounds, it’s crucial to the evolution of the police department and their increasing engagement with the latest modes of communication to stay connected with the citizens, especially to quell rumours and fake news. “Social media is not just effective in understanding, monitoring and improving the law and order situation but also for disseminating important information and alerting people in times of real emergencies versus rumours,” says Bharti. The way forward for the Mumbai Police is digital, he adds, since all the age groups they wanted to engage with have been actively using social media platforms on a daily basis. “It was a natural extension to our conventional means of keeping in touch with the citizens.”
Real-time data and virality have a temporary shelf-life, even for those who triggered it. But Bharti fondly remembers some of the team’s most favourite work. “‘If you don’t love me at my’ then ‘you don’t deserve my’ gave us a good spin on the citizens and traffic police relationship,” he says, “and there was another on ‘Ghar se nikalte hi kuch duur chalte hi’ which was just tailor-made for us to fit consequences of traffic violations.” Pandey adds, “He [Bharti] has a great eye for this material. He would just text me an image and would be like, ‘Oh this could really work for us’. That’s how that Rajinikanth tweet happened.”
There are no guidelines for the social media team here, except for one simple rule: “Anything and everything that is not offensive or abusive and is in good humour and intent and has a mass appeal,” says Bharti. They have regular meetings to discuss weekly campaigns and content. “But social media is so real time and ever evolving that there is never a dull moment in exploring,” says Bharti. “Even in our busy schedules, we don’t miss making a mental note of something interesting we come across during our daily schedules and often circulate it within the group for exploring a post possibility.”
As the men and women in khakhi in Mumbai take over the meme rule books, we cannot but wonder if the personnel themselves are armed with their own social media accounts. “As members of the police department, we have our strengths and these [content and creative] professionals have their own, and over last three years, we have learnt to complement each other’s strengths and amplify it in citizen’s interest,” concludes Bharti.