A few weeks back I lauded the West Herts hospital trust for the way it engages with patients on social media sites such as Twitter.

However, this week we were given an example of the pitfalls social media can present for public institutions.

Hertfordshire Constabulary showcased the more treacherous side of online public relations when it deleted, and then apologised for, tweets linking Colombia with cocaine and Nigeria with "scam artists".

The genesis of the gaffes was a well-meaning campaign using World Cup matches to highlight various crimes and then offer prevention advice.

It all seemed reasonable in theory. 

But it was in the execution that the force came a cropper.  As the tournament progressed, it quickly became clear that whoever was authoring the campaign was struggling to make meaningful links between the various nations and the types of crime blighting Hertfordshire.

One of the more baffling offerings included a tweet pointing out some people in Bosnia and Herzegovina live in the countryside, then adding some people in Hertfordshire also live in the countryside before ending with the clarion warning that crime also happens in rural areas.

Not quite sure that told the constabulary’s 21,000 followers anything they did not already know.

Still, at least it was inoffensive.  Things got a bit more dicey PR-wise when the force decided to use a Colombia match to highlight that the country is the world’s largest producer of cocaine, adding that the constabulary generally frowns upon drug use.

It followed up that blunder with another own goal by using a Nigeria match to warn about people falling victim to West African scam artists.

Now the aim of this campaign was honourable enough. And, to be fair to the constabulary, this faux pas is more a misjudgement rather than a calculated PR broadside on the offended nations. Yet the most worrying aspect of this episode was the tweets ever got to publication.

The campaign was clearly the result of concerted effort.

Bespoke and eye-catching graphics were created for each tweet and the text was part of the image.

So you’d think the offending messages were seen by a number of people.

And yet no one at the force thought tarring whole nations with drug production and fraud would cause offence?

While we are on the topic of the World Cup, this tournament has been the most enthralling I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing. The only drawback this week has been that most of the knockout games have gone into extra time, meaning I’m currently in the throes of quite acute sleep deprivation.

I presume I’m not the only one affected by this phenomenon and that the UK’s economic data for this quarter will something of a slump in productivity.

England’s early exit also means the economy is not going to reap the full surge in spending the tournament was expected to generate. Yet that does not mean all the economic benefits are spent.

Watford Council, for example, is planning to utilise the newly-revamped and more spacious Parade to host events such as viewings of classic films on a large screen.

It’s just an idea, but surely sporting events such as the World Cup or Wimbledon finals would also be fitting for such public viewings?

Readers who submit articles must agree to our terms of use. The content is the sole responsibility of the contributor and is unmoderated. But we will react if anything that breaks the rules comes to our attention. If you wish to complain about this article, contact us here