…. and it’s time.

We’re well into the “dip your LE toes into the Twitter stream” modus operandi. It’s time for real leverage of a great platform. If you’re among the +/- 1,000 agencies that I follow on Twitter, about 4/5 of you tweet. But the ones who really use Twitter the way it’s intended, are just a very few.

The call to action

It’s time to kick it up a notch. Here are five ways for your law enforcement agency to get serious about Twitter. Take this advice and I promise you’ll realize the many benefits.

1. Get Verified

It’s imperative that your followers have a way to be certain that the Twitter account identified as their local police agency really is their local police agency. The first and easy way is to put links to all your social media accounts on your website homepage. Hopefully, you’re already doing that. The second not-so-easy way is to get your Twitter page verified. It’s “not-so-easy” because Twitter gets many requests so it often takes time and a little nudging of Twitter to make it happen.

Twitter started verifying accounts to counteract impersonation of celebrities in June of 2009 But apparently they realize that impersonation of police departments is pretty common as well because more and more law enforcement agencies are succeeding in getting verification. The verification form still says the process is in beta and that verification isn’t guaranteed. I’ve heard from some agencies who submit the form and when it doesn’t happen assume they’ve been rejected. But that’s not necessarily the case. Having a link to your Twitter account on your department website homepage as mentioned above also helps Twitter with the process.

Follow these steps.

  • Step one: Fill out the verification request form on Twitter here. Down on the left column, click “feefback form”. Fill in all your official agency contact info.
  • Step two: Use your own judgment on how long to wait, or not. But after a couple weeks or so, fill out a help twicket with Twitter here. Keep your twicket number handy in case you need it later (for step 3).
  • There is a step three if steps one and two don’t work. Give it a few weeks. Email me at lauri[at]lawscomm.net if you’re not verified with steps one and two.

2. Follow

Too many law enforcement agencies follow no one or just other law enforcement agencies. In a training session on the west coast recently it occurred to me that there’s a misperception in law enforcement that you’re expected to actually read the tweets of everyone you follow. That’s not true and no one does that. Power users of Twitter read tweets with third party tools like Tweetdeck or HootSuite which allow you to put tweeters into lists and read those who are important to you.

The reasons to follow Twitter accounts that are relevant to law enforcement is first and foremost

  • to counteract the perception on the part of some that law enforcement is unapproachable. Not following other tweeters only reinforces that attitude and that’s harmful to your image and that of law enforcement everywhere;
  • You’ll get more followers if they can see that you might follow in return. It’s simply a part of Twitter culture;
  • Not following anyone says to the rest of the Twitterverse “we don’t really know what we’re doing here on Twitter”;

My best recommendation is follow:

  • your citizens
  • other law enforcement agencies
  • @lawscomm 😉
  • Other social media experts who provide useful information like @mashable @socialmedia2day and many others.

For more Twitter accounts you might find interesting, check out the lists on my Twitter page. I have lists of law enforcement agencies worldwide, individual cops, law enforcement media, vendors, etc. Poke through them and you’ll find some tweeters that interest you.

3. Engage

This is not only how the fun begins but it’s essential in order to realize the potential relationship-building opportunities. At the very least, monitor your “at replies” or “@ replies”. That is, anytime someone tweets something to you or mentions you in a tweet that is not necessarily directed to you. This is one simple way to see what people are saying about your agency. And, if they’re tweeting to you, answer them. You’ll find people will ask questions for clarification on something you may have tweeted. It’s a golden opportunity to repeat your message and generate good will. The bottom line is, talk to people.

Building relationships online (not solely on Twitter) is key when something happens and you need the support of your community. You have to “build your nest” before you need it. Waiting until there’s a crisis to get started is the wrong time. There are countless examples every day where a law enforcement agency could have better leveraged social media during an event, whether it is a missing child, riots or large public gatherings. Don’t wait until it happens. Engage and build your audience now. It will be there for you when the time comes.

4. Learn the fine art of the hashtag.

There have been many examples of law enforcement following hashtags to monitor gang activity or the like. But few agencies seem to understand how to use a hashtag to affect the outcome of a situation. Let’s say there’s a big sporting event in your town and your agency wants to communicate traffic control concerns. Run a few simple Twitter searches until you find the hashtag being used by others to discuss the event. The hashtag is the word, or letter combination preceded by the # sign that you will likely see in many tweets relating to the event. As you tweet messages about that event, include that hashtag in your tweets as well. That puts your messages into the stream that people are following for that event. That means, followers of that event can’t help but see your messages as well.

Anytime something happens and you want to be sure the key people are reading your tweets, using the hashtag puts your tweets into that stream and even the people who AREN’T FOLLOWING YOU will see them. Rioters, anarchists, other troublemakers aren’t likely to follow you. But you can reach them and possibly affect the outcome of the situation by inserting your tweets into the conversation.

5. Manage your Profile.

Click “settings”, then click “profile”. Three things to check in here.

  • Location: make sure you include your state and country.
  • Web: when listing your department website, take out the “www”. It just takes up space. The link will still work without the w’s and more of your web address will be visible.
  • Bio: You get 160 characters in your bio. Consider including the name(s) of the persons managing the account. You might also include a statement reminding people to use 911 report crime/emergencies.

Take the time to follow these steps. Let me know how you get on and leave a comment or question below.