What Good Cop Bad Cop Can Teach You About Social Media Strategy

by Shannon Paul on March 17, 2010

Two men dressed as policemen You know the drill. Just about every buddy cop movie shows the two characters performing the good cop bad cop routine. Parents have even been known to use this same strategy when seeking a confession from their children when they suspect foul play.

With good cop bad cop, one person approaches the suspect with empathy; they play nice. The other, however, pushes all the buttons, comes across as angry — possibly even a loose cannon capable of abuse, or at least capable of enacting very harsh penalties upon the suspect.

Good cop bad cop is a strategy — it outlines HOW these two people will approach a third and gives us a good sense of how to measure the desired impact in an overall and incremental way.

There is no script, per se, when two people approach a situation with a Good Cop Bad Cop strategy, but there is a very clear sense of how they will interact with this third person, aka the suspect, as well as how they will interact with one another.

This is exactly what I think is missing from most social media strategies: actual strategy.

How will you approach people? What impression would you like to have on others? What type of interaction would you like to proactively engage in? How will you react to certain key scenarios?

I know many others think this strategy stuff can be a sign of overthinking, but I disagree. I think many confuse planning with strategy alignment. If the high-level ideas of the strategy are clear, it can actually help vet tactics and inform others to realize that over-planning is unnecessary or even counter productive for your particular strategy… if it really is unnecessary :-) Bottom line: clear strategy alignment can actually increase your ability to move more quickly and take advantage of potential opportunities.

Outlining HOW we approach others and the type of conversations we would like to have actually helps save a lot of time discussing particular tactics or conversations with others in your organization over the long term. No one will ever remember every step of YOUR plan. Heck, I can even remember where I’m supposed to be in a given week much less what YOU’RE supposed to be doing and why.

Strategy not only should give you a clear sense of WHY you’re doing what you’re doing, but it should also give others reassurance that you indeed know what you’re doing even when it might seem otherwise. Anyone who thinks the purpose of every single conversation they could have online will have inherent value and purpose to every set of onlookers is sadly mistaken. To some who don’t know your strategy you may look like you’re wasting time — especially on social networks. Getting clear on your strategy and communicating it effectively will likely save you a lot of frustration.

How ‘Good Cop Bad Cop’ Adds Up to Strategy

Bad cop obviously breaks all the rules. No one would agree to the one-off tactics bad cop chooses to use during any interrogation process without understanding the strategy. Clearly, each tactic is in violation of some sort of policy.

Good cop tactics probably wouldn’t get approved either. On the surface, each of the tactics someone playing the role of “good cop” might use would look ridiculously ineffective. Think about it: Okay, so you’re going to get a confession out of this person by complimenting them and bringing them a coffee? Sounds crazy, eh?

My point here is when both good cop and bad cop tactics are aligned into a single strategy, everything starts to make sense.

However, when the tactics add up to a particular strategy, getting buy-in is much easier. I’ve noticed a lot of people are still struggling with buy-in… If you’re one of those people who are still frustrated that your company isn’t listening to conversations on Twitter. My advice to you is to start framing your tactic in terms of strategy. If everything adds up, buy-in shouldn’t be that difficult as long as you have the resources. But, be honest; does it really add up?

In case you’re in the mood for a quick laugh, here is a video of the Whose Line is it Anyway Team Riffing on the Good Cop Bad Cop Strategy:

I’m really not a fan of overthinking, but distilling your approach into something that is loaded with a lot of connotation like Good Cop Bad Cop, will help others stay on the same page with you without having to pull up your 30 page plan for reference. We all want others to recognize when we do a good job. Understanding the strategy helps them see good work as it unfolds (and saves them from having to digest a lot of antacid) — rather than waiting for the ROI report to come out at the end of the fiscal year. Besides, they have their own work to focus on.

Strategy helps us all stay on the same page without having to reference your plan on a daily basis.

I’m not saying you should use Good Cop Bad Cop as your social media strategy (although that might be interesting…), however, I am saying that we should aim to make our strategies as clear as this if we want executive buy-in AND extended support through the turbulent times that are sure to lie ahead.

Does this make sense?

Photo Credit: Genial23

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

March 17, 2010 waynebisset

And you are a GIRL! Not exactly my line of thought or planing, I am a soldier not a cop. I “created” a character, The Mexican Horse Thief, ex- mercenary alcoholic, crazy guy. Whole story about him. Then with what that “guy” learned I post some psychologically sound stuff. And my take on SMM. :}
The good cop/bad cop are the same person.
My blog is called “One Man’s Opinion” I am sure you will “get” it.


March 21, 2010 Shannon Paul

Very true. I am a girl although lots of people seem to get confused over my two-first-name name :-) I’ll look and see what you’re working on, thanks!


March 17, 2010 Lisa Petrilli


I love that there is so much focus on strategy right now in the social media sphere because it reminds executives that social media is not something to fear but rather something they can be comfortable with and embrace. After all, successful executives know strategy inside and out, so your recommendation to social media champions that they create a clear strategy to drive C-level buy-in is spot on.

I also like your comment about how a clear strategy will keep everyone on the same page as they implement various tactics and initiatives, and your insights regarding how this will lead to a better understanding of how to react and engage. I would add to this that creating a strategy that aligns with the organization’s vision, recognizes the mission that is meant to be demonstrated by employees each day, and reflects the true culture of the company will further enrich the messages and interactions that social media initiatives will foster. If done well I believe this can lead to phenomenal success.

Thanks for sharing your insights Shannon,


March 21, 2010 Shannon Paul

Thanks, Lisa — I really love that, too. I’ve learned this over time. At first, I listened to what many others in social media had to say on how to write a social media strategy… over time I learned what I was missing and I hope to help others fill in the gaps.

Thanks again for the comment!


March 17, 2010 jamiefavreau

I have to agree. So often I get focused on the tactics and not the how. How we communicate is really an important piece of the puzzle. If we understand that than it will take us to the next level.


March 21, 2010 Shannon Paul

Thanks, Jamie — always good to push back and ask, why are we here? Who are we trying to reach? What will we say when we find them? I understand that scripting dialog is impossible, but having a clear role/approach in mind is key to building the *right* kind of presence, AND keeping everyone inside the org on the same page.


March 17, 2010 mackcollier

1000 points to Shannon for the Whose Line is it Anyway clip ;)


March 21, 2010 Shannon Paul

Oh good — I needed some points!


March 18, 2010 Narciso Tovar, Big Noise Communications

Great Points Made Here, Shannon! It’ll Certainly Make Me Re-Look at My ‘Strategery’ From a Good Cop-Bad Cop Viewpoint….If Nothing Else, As a Good Reminder to Re-Think My Strategy As Having Some Real-World Value…And Not Just Something That Makes Sense in a Board Room.

Narciso Tovar
Big Noise Communications


March 21, 2010 Shannon Paul

Thanks, Narciso — although, the boardroom is still the real world, especially when they’re the gatekeepers who decide what will or will not happen outside the walls of the organization. :-)


March 18, 2010 Laura Maly

Loved this post. And, I completely agree. If the strategy is clear (and not in a 100-page dissertation) up-front, then it sets the expectations early, ensures a clear direction and keeps everyone on the same page. Perfect!


March 21, 2010 Shannon Paul

Thanks so much, Laura — I’ve been noodling on the good cop bad cop post for awhile, I try to keep this in mind every time I write a strategy for any project — no matter how big or small.


March 18, 2010 Jon Burg

This is why we are seeing to little creativity in the market. There’s no vision and little strategy. Tactics and executions with results don’t equal strategy.

Without strategy we won’t see strong creativity.

The quest for efficiency and standardization has left much of this space in the world of tactics. As tactics become commoditized (ex. what PR agencies don’t do blogger outreach?) creative and strategy will begin to grab the spotlight. But for now, social is still just a bigger box of tactics to check.

Great post!


March 21, 2010 Shannon Paul

Jon, I couldn’t agree more. Putting forth a real vision/strategy takes guts and creativity.

It takes courage for consultants/agencies to recommend a particular strategy in alignment with the org’s overall strategy and it takes guts for a company to adopt a strategy that is anything other than to copy competitors.

Strategy = differentiation in the marketplace. Period. Consultants have to be willing to make a recommendation for a REAL means of differentiating from the competition AND companies have to be willing to take a little risk and get on board.


March 28, 2010 Craig Sutton

What I really love about this post is that it says everything I feel. Something I preach over and over again about life in general is that the extreme of anything is problematic.

Life is balance and so is your market planning. What works for one customer does not work for the other, there is no one strategy and plan fits all, and many preach as if they have a firm blue print.

Bottom line, you have to find a way to meet the needs of a customer.


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  • Links for March 21 2010 | Dallas Technology Strategy Consulting | Eric D. Brown March 21, 2010
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