On Friday, the last in the current series of College of Policing events around the use of Social Media was held at the Home Office in London. For those readers able to access POLKA (a secure online collaboration tool for sharing knowledge), details of all the events are available for further perusal. Friday’s event was Social Media 101, a basic user guide if you like. As with each event in the series it was organised by Nick Keane (@nickkeane) and I am sure there will be more to come. What became apparent to me was that there is a wide disparity between and even within Forces regarding knowledge, understanding and comfort levels around Social Media. I am a doer – someone who wants to change things, get things done. Sometimes a slower approach can be more effective in the long run. I have even been trying such an approach myself recently, frustrating and difficult though it is. So I recognised immediately that a long view is being taken over Social Media, essentially allowing Forces and individuals to develop in their own way and at their own pace. There is huge benefit in this, for reasons I will explain later.
The event began with a really interesting talk from @PocketSteve from @TwitterUK. His overview of Twitter underlined the power waiting to be harnessed by Police locally, nationally and internationally. There are over 10 million Twitter users in the UK and more than 200 million worldwide. The medium has grown exponentially in recent years and will continue to do so. Steve explained that 60% of users create content by tweeting and interacting. The other 40% are passive, only consuming other people’s tweets. He underlined what every Twitter users knows, but some appear to forget from time to time – it is a public platform and your tweet goes to everyone. He told us to imagine you are writing the tweet on a post it note and sticking on a public wall in your office. With your name on it. The Twitter office advice of “keep it classy” underlines their relaxed attitude to trusting their staff and of course their comfort with the medium itself. Steve said that the most successful accounts are those with an authentic voice. Corporate, impersonal accounts get cursory attention but accounts run by individuals who make typos, have little jokes or simply imbue some of their own personality get many more followers. People want personalisation. He singled out @SurreyPolice for their weather related road safety tweets this winter which they themed around the Vanilla Ice song, Ice Ice Baby. People retweeted them and two things happened. Firstly, the message was spread further and quicker than any other medium could possibly have achieved and secondly the Surrey Police twitter account gained many new followers. Importantly, Surrey Police thanked their followers for retweeting and engaged with people. I cannot emphasise strongly enough the importance of this point. More recently a #tag was used by several Police Forces at the same time to bring together a united message. #alcoholharm allowed Forces (including @NorthantsPolice @EssexPolice @lincspolice @wmerciapolice @PoliceServiceNI) to tweet related information and calls so that the public could see a wide picture not usually available to them. This is called #tag engagement and I can see many benefits nationally for Police in such ventures. #tags can be adopted by users very quickly and it can successfully spread a message and involve a wide range of people. Increasingly Twitter is being used to put out Press Releases and this method is being adopted frequently by Government. Steve explained that by using Twitter, you get the headline you want in the tweet. You are then immediately leading the conversation in the press. It is an excellent way to rebut rumours and speculation. Greater Manchester Police used Twitter in this way recently when dangerous rumours were building that the EDL were rioting in Oldham. @gmpolice were able to read the rumours and responded promptly by saying they had officers in the streets in the area concerned and that there was no disorder. This stops the rumours immediately and gives concise information for news organisations at the same time. This brought Steve neatly back to engagement. He sighted @MPSinthesky as an example of excellent engagement because of the fabulous pictures they are able to take and post. However, I would add to Steve’s point by underlining the reason for their success – they talk back. People like their content and then they thank those people for comments or answer questions. And they make the odd typo! Many Police accounts would benefit from the analytics available through Twitter which give demographics, what your followers are interested in and so on. Very useful to see if you are pitching your engagement correctly and usefully. Steve finished by saying the question he gets asked most is ‘how do I get more followers?’ His answer is simple. Interact, tell people about who you are, what you are doing and include your ‘@’ as you do your phone number and email address. It is the most easily accessible form of conversation available to us all – stick it on your business card, contact details and websites.
Next we heard from @MPSBatterseaSgt who runs an excellent Twitter account and is part of @MPSWandsworth. The Metropolitan Police had two Twitter accounts before the riots and it was a running theme throughout the event that crisis’ make Forces realise the power of Social Media. In the year or so after the riots every Borough in the Met was told to open its own Twitter account. It is clear that those with a personal touch and who engage with people are the most successful. The Met also has @MPSinthesky, @MPSonthewater and @MPSonthestreet. These accounts are incredibly successful due to the interaction and content they are able to produce. Nathan joked that coming soon is @MPSonthehoof (why not?!) and I can think of a few more we might be seeing in the near future. The relaxed names couldn’t be further from the stuffy corporate image which could so easily have been adopted and which we see elsewhere. Nathan explained that all the Met accounts can give people live information. For instance, there are always complaints about the noise of the helicopter, especially at night but the interaction on the account means more people are more understanding and even sometimes can directly see or ask why the helicopter is disturbing them. Using his own account allows Nathan to tweet about his work on Borough as a Sector Sergeant and also about his specialist areas when deployed in such roles. He is very aware of the potential reach of a tweet for a missing person, which through retweets could reach several million users. Policing has never before had such an immediate possible reach. Interestingly, Nathan does not limit himself to creating content and interacting with users. He also searches on places or events and if he comes across a conversation about Police in that area he will try to engage. An example of this from early on was the negative feelings many business owners had towards Police after the riots. There simply were not enough officers to protect these people’s livelihoods. Nathan picked up that the arrest figures being trumpeted as successes were not ‘cutting it’ with the business owners locally. He was able to reach out in a more personal way to hopefully help in building back much needed community relationships. The message I took from Nathan’s talk was ‘if you get it wrong, or others see it as wrong, say sorry and move on.’
Next was @bailey9799 from Staffordshire Police. David talked of a ‘two way street’, underlining the importance of engagement, of conversation. He talked of Staffordshire Police using Twitter during the riots. They didn’t have riots on their streets but they did have concerned members of the public so they were able to reassure and calm people quickly and effectively. This gave them a jump in followers and as they continued this engagement so the follower numbers continued to rise. David is certain that content is the key to gaining and holding the interest of the public. He advocates using stats to check demographics and then using the data to see what type of engagement works and why. The initiative #carsbehindbars is aimed at18-25 yr olds as they are the largest group who drive without insurance. He knows from using stats that this campaign is reaching the target group. David emphasised the importance of using pictures where possible and showed us a tweet about snow, showing a police vehicle in front of a huge snow drift. It got the message over much better than simply using words. (Unless of course those words can be said to ‘ice ice baby’!) David showed us how they had used their FaceBook page to give a history of Staffordshire Police with new content every day and told us that this had increased their followers. He also told us about the Force’s use of YouTube. He said it is important to keep clips to less than 60 seconds are that is how long most people watch for. He made the very good point that we should be able to give most messages in this time if we are clear and think about it first. One of the tools used on their FaceBook page to engage and educate is a drinking time machine to age people depending on how much alcohol they drink – bit of fun but with a serious underlying message. He is often asked about the comments on FaceBook and says they have a profanity filter and someone on the team checks every comment every day. He advocates that Police should accept criticism and allow people to respond. His message was very much that Social Media reaches people in ways other media just cannot do. He uses targeted ads so those using certain sites or certain tag words get tailored information from the Police. It is very cheap and very effective.
Lastly we heard from @kerryblakeman, a Chief Inspector from West Midlands Police who is by his own admission ‘passionate about SM engagement’. He told us about Google + and talked of the Peelian Principle that Police and the Public and Public are the Police. Trust and accountability are his watchwords and he believes that SM tools help Police to provide both. He then subjected us to a picture of Harry Styles (a boy from a boy band just in case you don’t know…) and talked about how young Harry engages with his fans and how this had inspired him to transfer those skills to what he was doing in Policing. He links frequently with his local Fire Service and they make little films, saying hello, showing what they are up to and so on. He streamed the local Police Station open day live so those who could not make it could still see what was going on. He explained how he had used SM to quickly dampen a big news story and potentially dangerous situation. You will probably remember the story of the soldier trying to buy a drink after practicing for his brother’s funeral but the bar owner refused to serve him because he was wearing his uniform. The news went viral and the potential for serious problems was obvious. Kerry live streamed the bar owner explaining his situation and apologising. This dampened the story before the news agencies had even turned up. Kerry uses Google + as a way of showing people what Police do day in day out. He reminded the audience that it is easy to forget what is viewed as normal in Policing is usually very interesting to the public. He has found this a good way to increase confidence in Police and to begin conversations. Kerry prefers video and live broadcasts to written words. My notes here have a little bracket in which I wrote ‘I think he is ahead of the game by a huge mile’.
I heard someone in the audience talking about a conference he had been to which was hosted by a very slick crisis management company. They were using the @MPS Wandsworth’s Twitter activity on the day of the helicopter crash in London as an example of how to ‘do it right’ under pressure. Another person was talking about being in Dubai on Police business recently and being proud to hear the officers there talking about how great @SolihullPolice are. What other medium could ever reach so far, so easily? Sitting with me in the audience was @MikePannett and I can’t write this, about the power of social media, without telling you that Mike brought ‘Bob’ from @DurhamPoliceK9 and that the use of #tags will hopefully be ably demonstrated on June 6th with #PawsUpUK. Twitter search it to find out more!
All in all I came away from #SocMed101 having learned a lot. Not about the mechanics of Social Media but about how people are using SM in their working and private lives. I found that SM can only work well if it is an extension of the person using it. That means that some accounts will be boring, some will be witty, some up and down, some a bit risqué. At the beginning of this post I told you I saw benefits to allowing the slow crawl of some towards an SM future, even in the wake of the mad dash of others. This is why. To push everyone into SM now will necessitate rules, guidelines, structures that are simply not necessary and will quash the inventiveness and speed of successful SM accounts. The future for Policing in SM is an exciting one if everyone heeds the Twitter office advice as told by @PocketSteve – keep it classy.