Call 384 report of man holding baby over bridge – police immediately attended and it was man carrying dog that doesn’t like bridges.

Call 358 woman calls about car she abandoned at petrol station in Bury after she put the wrong fuel in yesterday.

Both of these calls were real, genuine calls to the police for assistance that were logged on Twitter as part of the 24 hour initiative on Thursday, October 14th. The Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, in the UK, wanted to show people the wide range of issues that officers and staff have to deal with every day.

There were many traditional ways we could have used to achieve this – releasing statistics about calls during 24 hours or allowing TV crews to follow officers for a day. But we wanted it to be real time and to have immediacy to people. We faced many challenges to being able to achieve the end result. Not least was the practicality of getting information from the call handling system onto Twitter ensuring we didn’t breach confidentiality, put lives at risk or assist criminals.

In the end it was a manual release of the data that was agreed as the best way forward. It allowed for data to be checked, to ensure that information wasn’t released that would cause problems for investigations and to recognise the confidentiality required. This was supported with decisions that there would be a tweet for everything regardless of the difficulties it may create. This ensured honesty to the release of the data as there was no screening taking place.

The end result was a process that demonstrated openness, accountability and transparency. It allowed people to sit alongside the call handlers for 24 hours but not in just one location, across the whole of the Greater Manchester area. An area that is home to 2.4million people and is a thriving economic and tourist centre. People could use the tweets to see inside the control room, the cells, and ride along with the police cars.

It was all relatively simple get the information from the call handlers and use corporate communications staff to condense it into 140 characters. We anticipated that we would have between 2,500 and 3,000 calls on an average day. Something we deal with day in day out. Not something however, that Twitter could cope with and we ended up in Twitter jail on a number of occasions during the 24 hours.

This was no PR stunt. It was about using the most appropriate method available, in this case Twitter, to provide public information. We already provide access to pages and pages of crime statistics on a regular basis. To tweet information was no different, it was just using a different method. All this was only possible because there was a clear social media strategy that had been agreed by senior police officers. They knew what the plans were and could see how this Twitter day would fit with the strategy.

The calls were not just the random selection of unusual events including loose horses and cows there were human tragedies including burglaries, gun crime and assaults. The Chief Constable had shown through Twitter in the 3205 tweets that appeared during the 24 hours that officers and staff had to deal with a vast range of issues.

GMP24 captured the attention across the world and became a top trending subject long after the 24-hours tweets had stopped. It demonstrated what social media could do to support the police and other agencies. The important thing now is how we take it forward. What more can we do to provide people with an opportunity to understand how law enforcers keep them safe? How can we link the social media with traditional communication and work with the media? Do we have staff with the skills to make this happen?

For Greater Manchester Police the challenge now is to ensure that we build on the success of the day and find new and innovative ways to use social media.

Amanda Coleman

Amanda has more than 10 years experience in senior communications roles within the police service and is currently responsible for the Corporate Communications function at Greater Manchester Police.

Initially, trained as a journalist Amanda worked on local newspapers throughout the North West of England before moving into public relations working for a number of public sector organisations.

She has led the communication team at Greater Manchester Police during some challenging times including the death of the former Chief Constable and numerous counter terrorism investigations. Amanda has been part of the Force’s work to improve community engagement and communication. She was also responsible for the development of the GMP Twitter Day activity in October 2010 where the Force published details of all calls received in a 24 hour period.