Giving Netflix, Zomato and Tinder stiff competition on Twitter is the Mumbai Police’s handle. Meet the lady behind the department’s social media mojo.
With the right dose of timeliness, authority and humour, the Mumbai Police has been informing, as well as entertaining, netizens with its tweets, which many brands would love to be known for. Since 2015, Sunchika Pandey, Mumbai Police’s ‘Twitter Madam’, has been behind the now famous social media handle.
A large part of the job involves responding to queries people post online with fact-based answers from the Mumbai Police. What fascinated us at afaqs! was the unmissable wit and spunk in most of the awareness-led tweets.
Pandey runs HAT Media, a start-up that manages the social media accounts of the Mumbai, Thane and Pune Police departments. Her team comprises eight members including writers and designers but not all work on the Mumbai Police account.
In a career spanning 15 years, Pandey has worked with major news organisations, such as Zee Media, DNA and NDTV (she worked as a crime reporter with the last two), a bunch of social media and digital agencies, and a production house.
It was her stint as a crime reporter with NDTV (2005-10) that cemented her love and respect for the police department and the work it does. “I respect any public service office… believe in what they do.”
Pandey talks about an incident during her days as a crime reporter. She was once outside Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai late at night. A senior politician, who was critical, was admitted to the hospital. She decided to have a cup of ‘chai’ and so did a constable on duty. “Baaton baaton mein he said, ‘jab bhi aisa kuchh hota hai, hum do he log dikhte hai sadak pe, ek hum aur aap patrakar log…’”
“There was a kind of connectivity and it stayed with me for a while,” remarked Pandey, who hails from Ranchi, Jharkhand.
She chose to move to Mumbai to pursue a journalism course at Xavier Institute of Communications. While her plan was to move to Delhi after her course, she decided against it because of the freedom and safety ‘maximum city’ had to offer.
It was this decision to stay back in Mumbai that ultimately led to her pitching and creating Mumbai Police’s famed Twitter handle. To understand how it all began in 2015, when Mumbai Police joined Twitter, one has to go back to 2012, when Pandey finished her DNA stint and moved to the show ‘Satyamev Jayate’ (on Star Plus) as a field journalist and worked on some episodes. “The experience added to my knowledge of the challenges, work-life state, and conditions the police personnel face,” she remarked.
Pandey says that once she moved on from the show, she decided to take a break and was fortunate to get a job at a social media agency that serviced Star Plus. “I worked on the show’s (‘Satyamev Jayate’) social media content and loved it, especially the response each post received from India and even across the world. I understood the reach of social media.”
However, her inner journalist was itching to come alive once again. “I loved to create content, I had an itch to return to the police department,” said Pandey. It was also around this time that she found Bangalore Police’s Twitter account. While the account did regular work, such as being in touch with the people, informing them of what’s going on, Pandey felt that it was not doing any real-time conversations...
All this while, she was in touch with Mumbai Police officers she’d worked with earlier and thought, “Why not do the same for Mumbai Police.” When she approached senior officers at the department, it turned out that she was at the right place at the right time. “I was told they were thinking about this and it helped that they knew me.”
Mumbai Police said it understood Twitter was an evolving medium and wanted to explore it because the more people it can be in touch with at this kind of speed, the better it is. But there was a concern: the handle shouldn’t become a medium for people to just come and bash Mumbai Police for whatever is happening around them.
Around this time, Pandey was working with Trivone (a digital agency) and “we did complete research on the conversations that were taking place around the city’s police - it was neutral and more positive than negative.”
When the Mumbai Police Twitter handle went live, she revealed that they tried to clear doubts in people’s minds about police’s responsibility. They also busted a lot of myths about the department.
The launch of Mumbai Police's Twitter handle wasn't planned. It was, in fact, a surprise. “Many senior officials suggested that an element of surprise may work in their favour when it came to the handle.” During the brainstorming sessions prior to the ‘surprise launch’, senior officials asked Pandey and her team why people don’t approach the police, and they were told that it is because of fear.
It was during the course of this discussion that the idea of the police making people smile came up… “The police force is very colonial, but we’re moving to the concept of ‘police service’. So, we had to revise the image of what exactly a police force is,” revealed Pandey.
The humour of Mumbai Police
If there’s one aspect of Mumbai Police’s Twitter handle that stands out the most, it is its humour quotient. But Mumbai Police is a department of high repute and so, humour had to be used responsibly.
“We thought we could try satire, good humour and positivity,” said Pandey. The tweets originated from here. A lot of it came from the cops themselves – their internal jokes and one-liners, and that helped set the tone.
On the challenges they faced, Pandey said, “Sustaining good content is possible only if we keep ourselves updated about the incidents as they occur: traffic jams, crimes, thefts, accidents… these things are repetitive. Relatability is important and one must ensure that the conversation isn’t outdated.”
On police officers being out of date with the present world, Pandey said, “There are very young officers in the department who’ve got great suggestions. They watch shows on Netflix, etc., and know what’s happening around them. They have their favourite ‘Avengers’…”
The chronology of a tweet
We were curious to understand how it all worked. Does someone approve the tweets? “Everything is approved every day. No post goes out without approval and the policemen are very deeply involved in it,” says Pandey, adding that they (the police officers) are well-read people, and some of them write extraordinarily well and have great taste in literature.
On the department's monitoring and response team that monitors the handle day and night, every day, Pandey says, “We (HAT Media) have trained them regarding how to reply (to queries people post on social media, etc.). As per protocol, no query should go unresolved. Of course, the police won’t respond to irrelevant queries.”
The web cell has a team of eight constables on each shift to monitor and response and two officers, the joint commissioners law and order and crime and DCP operations are a part of the process and the Commissioner too.
The ‘responsibility’ factor
When you’re the team that assists the Mumbai Police on its famed Twitter handle, there is this sense of responsibility. “100 per cent. It has made each one of us (the HAT Media team) conscious and we do not even repeat the smallest mistakes we used to make earlier,” quipped Pandey.
She revealed that it is her responsibility to not do something that people can point a finger at. “When you’re working for offices like these (Mumbai Police), you’ve to work on yourself too.”
Dos and don’ts
Well, “the content has to be very ‘humble’ because we (Mumbai Police) are there, thanks to the people. They should feel comfortable talking to us and no query should be ignored.”
Pandey says that the senior officers help with the responses and everything has to be fact-based.
The ‘backbone’ of the entire process is the response management team that works 24x7. The basic guideline is – we have to comfort and help people. “For responses to queries, it’s mostly the police department’s team that works and one or two of us are in touch if they need help with drafting or some technicalities,” Pandey says.
A favourite campaign
A campaign close to Pandey’s heart is the 2016 post around drugs. “We had a discussion with the commissioner, deputy commissioner and two youngsters from my team.
It was about our ‘Hosh main aao’ campaign. The commissioner was teasing them, saying they know a lot about drugs and asked if he should be worried. The poor fellows got worried…”
“The same night, I received an SMS from Ahmed Javed (Mumbai police commissioner in 2015-16) at 11 p.m. He’d sent a line: ‘If you roll, we’ll weed you out’ and asked me what I thought about it.”
Pandey’s response, in sync with the humour we see in her work for the department on Twitter, ‘You’re hired’.
Interestingly, it was Dattatray Padsalgikar (Mumbai police commissioner from 2016-18) who used to say, “Aa gayi ‘Twitter Madam’.” That’s how Pandey got this title.