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Social Media Heating Up Cold Cases

Joe Giacalone is @coldcasesquad

The explosive growth of social media has been amazing to watch. As a former law enforcement officer I used social media during investigations to try and tap into the electronic street for information. Whether it was to track the whereabouts of wanted individuals or to try and catch a tidbit of information, social media often provides what you seek when properly used. Now, that I am retired, I am exploring new ways that LEOs can use social media to help solve more cases by using the existing tools that are already out there. The focus of this article is how law enforcement can use social media to help stoke interest in cold cases. I was surprised to see how many police department websites don’t have a page dedicated to missing persons and unsolved crimes.

Social media can play a bifurcated role in help solving cold cases. First, for the victim’s family, it keeps the case relevant. There is no better way to give the case life then injecting a fresh look at things. Birthdays, incident dates and holidays can all be used to garner information. Using social media also helps bridge the gap that develops in cold cases between the family and the police. It brings good will and a renewed interest. However, before I started any social media campaign for a cold case, I would ensure two things: 1) that the case has some solvability factors and 2) that I spoke with the family and explained what is happening before going live. Family members always want to see the case closed with an arrest, however, the emotions brought out when renewing the relationship weighs heavily on them.

For LEOs, social media provides a home base for the collection and dissemination of intelligence information for people that knew the victim(s), followed the case carefully and may be able to provide further information. It can also serve as a database of eyewitnesses that now may have scattered throughout the nation or identify ones that were originally reluctantly to come forward. With the many location finders on social media, investigators can save hundreds of hours tracking down people that were involved with the case. What is better than them coming to you? In essence, the social media page acts as an online memorial and tribute to the victim. They always seem to bring about chatter and conversations which may in turn provide a viable lead. It is important that the page be monitored and investigators should respond and engage comments posted on the site.

Whenever you create a website or post, you have to think about Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO is a tricky thing for non-techies like myself, so I will encourage you to read up on it. However, there are a few simple things that you can do so that your site gets the maximum attention from search engines. Make sure you include Tags and or Labels. Tags and Labels are the words that describe what is in your post and will be picked up by search engines and each platform, Blogger, WordPress, etc. calls them different things, but they have the same goal, optimization.

When designing a cold case page or post, ensure you include the following tags and or labels so that if anyone inputs the label in a search, your post will show up in the results:

  • Victim’s name
  • Hometown
  • Location of the incident (if known)
  • Date of incident
  • Local Police Department’s name and contact info

Social media can help investigators garner new information and leads, however, it is still the mainstream media that drives the point home. Many cold cases come from the era that predated the Internet, so television news spots, newspapers and radio are still vital in investigations. That demographic cannot be ignored. Social media can be used to attract the mainstream media, which can gauge the public’s interest on a particular case and cover it, supplying law enforcement with the amount of exposure necessary to turn the heat up on cold cases.

tampapdcops

Connect with @TampaPD Cops

Great creativity by Tampa Police as they join the “Call Me Maybe” video craze. If this doesn’t get them a bit more connected with their community, I don’t know what would.

I’m going to have to send a few ConnectedCOPS ball caps to Tampa, I think.

The last time I recall a Police Department displaying this much imagination and creativity in their social media efforts was when Sgt Jay Turner of Hamilton Ontario Police created a video to commemorate the department’s 10,000th tweet.

Introducing PIOpost, the social media dashboard for public safety agencies

In a recent survey performed by Accenture, citizens were asked if they felt as though police agencies were maximizing their use of technology to communicate with the public.  The results of the survey were quite clear – three quarters of all respondents said they would like to see police forces using more digital channels to communicate, yet only 20 percent of respondents said their police forces are currently using digital channels to communicate.

At this point, it’s no longer a question of whether your agency should be using social media – you’d be hard-pressed to have read a public safety blog or magazine over the past several years that didn’t consistently sing the praises of social media.  The real question has become how to make the most of the resources you have available in order to provide citizens with timely, informative, and engaging information.  PIOpost is the answer.

PIOpost is a social media dashboard made specifically for public safety agencies – not bloated enterprise software made with businesses or corporations in mind, just the essential tools and features you need to get the job done.  How does it work?  PIOpost operates on three simple principles – Post, Inform, and Measure.

Click here for info about a free PIOpost webinar November 8th

 

 

Post – The foundation of PIOpost is in the way it captures information to be disseminated to the public.  One simple form with just three required fields can accommodate a nearly infinite number of scenarios.  Anything from sending out a quick note about a road closure, to posting a series of surveillance photos and videos from a recent string of robberies – PIOpost knows exactly how to handle and format your content. You can also save drafts, create templates for recurring notifications, integrate Google Maps and utilize numerous other features – all secured by 256 bit SSL protection.

Inform – Once PIOpost gets ahold of the content you want disseminated, watch PIOpost kick into high gear.  Videos are automatically posted to your agency’s YouTube Channel, images are organized into attractive photo galleries, and notifications are perfectly formatted to Facebook and Twitter’s specifications and posted to your agency’s respective pages.  We know not every member of the public is on social media yet though, so PIOpost also posts notifications to your agency’s existing public website, RSS feed, and instantly sends email notification to any subscribers.  All at the push of a button.

Having the ability to notify citizens through these different lines of communication is critical to keeping the public informed and engaged, but each online medium, whether it’s an email, or a 140 character tweet have their own unique limitations.  That’s why each notification sent out through PIOpost generates a custom webpage, branded to your agency’s specifications that contains all aspects of the notification – whether it’s additional text from a press release or videos, photos, and maps associated with the notification.  The link to this “expanded” view is automatically included in every post – something other social media tools like Tweetdeck and Hootsuite don’t offer.

 

Measure – No social media dashboard would be complete without the ability to measure the impact of your online efforts.  That’s why PIOpost allows you to easily monitor the total number of followers your agency has, review what notifications are getting the most views, and how citizens are getting to them.  These measurement tools will allow you to receive instant feedback on what type of information the public is responding to and give insight into how to better adjust how your agency sends out information.

PIOpost enforces an instant set of “best practices” learned only through first hand experience working within public safety.  It reinforces professionalism, consistency, and allows agencies to focus on the message they are trying to convey, rather than the technical speedbumps that inevitably come along with trying to manage a variety of online tools.

If your agency is looking to become more efficient in managing their online presence, or if your agency is new to social media, you need to check out our upcoming webinar “Introduction To PIOpost” HERE. Be sure to also visit http://piopost.com for a risk free 90 day trial and see why agencies just like yours trust PIOpost to keep citizens informed and engaged in the places they visit most online.

 

Brian Hurst

Brian Hurst has over 10 years of professional experience developing web based tools for organizations large and small, including multiple Fortune 500 companies.  Over the past three years Brian has worked within law enforcement to help agencies develop innovative public facing websites, and to establish effective and engaging uses for social media.  Brian has been awarded for his work in managing digital communication during numerous large scale events and emergencies which received national media coverage, and continues to find new and innovative ways to support public safety through the use of technology.  

Brian is the co-founder and chief application architect of PIOpost, a web based dashboard to assist public safety agencies in managing their online presence.

Solving crime with social media

I have posted regularly about the ways in which the police are increasingly using social media, not just to engage with local communities but to gather intelligence and pursue investigations.

The iPlod generation is mainly self-taught but developing a more sophisticated approach each month.

However, the UK is still playing catch up with the use of social media by law enforcement agencies in the US. A recent survey found that 80% of law enforcement personnel use social media to conduct investigations. Interestingly, 87% search warrants which use social media to establish “probable cause” are confirmed as legal when challenged in court.

As you can see below, most of this information is garnered from a very lovely infographic produced by Background Check:

If you are interested in US law enforcement use of social media, I highly recommend the ConnectedCops website and following its creator, @LawsComm on Twitter.

This article was previously posted on Russ Webster’s blog.

Using analytics to gauge your social media impact.

Image: http://latesttechworld.com

You can view the use of social media without application of proper analytics tools through the axiom of the old story: A wife and husband were driving on the interstate. The wife asks, “Where are we going?” The husband replies, “I don’t know but we are making great time.” Using social media to get your message out is only a small part of the process. In order to make social media work, you not only have to be able to decide the correct platform for sending messages, but also, how to select and use the correct analytics to determine if you are hitting the right targets. You must know how to gauge if your social media efforts are being successful in order to determine the return on your social media investment,

At Police Department A, the Major in charge of the media relations department is incredibly pleased with the results from the latest surveys showing the impact of department’s social media campaign. Crime may have spiked in one area, due to a string of robberies, but with the use of social media to get the message out, the citizens responded and their help led to the capture of the criminal. In this department, they use  analytics to gauge impacts of their social media messaging in order to help tailor the message platforms for different neighborhoods.

Now, consider the situation at Police Department B. The Chief comes into the media relations department and simply states crime is down, but social media has been a failure. The county manager is going to pull the funding for the initiative if it can’t be shown to be effective. Confused by the statement, the director of social media replies, “For the report, do you want us to combine numbers for all projects, targeted neighborhoods, heat graphs showing area coverage, individually map points or all combined?” The chief simply says, “Yes” and walks out the door.

A single law enforcement organization may well need to use several different social media platforms to get its message out to their communities. The proper platform is dependent on the base makeup of the communities who use various social media is different ways. For example, to serve and connect to the community, an organization has a number of platforms to choose from: direct emails, electronic fliers, blog posts, websites, Facebook, Twitter, or even stay with simple face to face officer to individual to get its message out. But once you find the right social media platform to get your message out, you best not think your work is done. This is the point at which many social media programs derail. You have to determine if your efforts are being successful. You must gauge how much of your target audience received the messages, and then if they acted on the message. Use targeted site analytics to determine your coverage and then the impact of your message on the individuals who make up your communities. You will see if you are making connections, and building the desired relationships, between law enforcement and the community through cyber space. Then, as necessary, you make adjustments to better use the platforms to get your message out.  Without using the correct analytic tools, you are truly operating blind.

Excellent analytical platforms exist that can help you gauge your social media impact. They have varying costs, and can be simple or complex. Before deciding which you will use, first, ask what you wish to discover and monitor, and then how to make sense of the data you will get. How do you want to see your data presented? Do you want heat maps to graphically see your coverage area, straight data numbers, “pings,” two way blog communications or some other way? The choices can be daunting and require extensive homework to choose the right one for your situation. There are over 200 analytical tools on the marked today to include:

  • Google Analytics: Shows how many people went to your website and where they stayed the longest. Are people reading what you want them to read? Did you hit or miss with your organizations website? Remember the website is your brochure to the world.
  • TwitSprout: Ranks your top tweets and number of times retweeted.
  • TweetyFeet: Basic dashboard for multiple sites and lets you know immediately when someone is using one of your tools.
  • HootSuite: Manage your activity from several social media platforms in one place.
  • Reinvigorate: Heat maps graphically show the segment you are hitting.

Even the best analytics provides only so much data; it is the human intelligence from your officers who give greatest insights and confirmations as to your level of social media success. For instance, when you are using social media to alert the community of specific crimes in an area, the commanders see will see any changes in real numbers. Then the question is, did the message make the community aware of the problem, and did they help to resolve the issue? Commanders and officers can talk to the citizens and learn if social media did influence the community in resolving the crime issue. During community meetings, commanders can discuss the social media platforms and see if the community has the ability, interest, or understanding to use them. The feedback may show social media messages being missed by a particular segment of the community, highlighting need for the police to teach the citizens how to use social media. Working with the community in this manner fosters trust in the community for law enforcement.

A street level officers can hand out flyers to citizens on where to find crime tips through the organization’s social media sites. More than anyone else in the organization, they have the ability gain feedback from individuals in the communities and bring back ideas on how platforms are working in area. They can help in the targeting of specific neighborhoods for social media training. But more importantly, they will be asking citizens if they have used the social media sites to learn information from the department to better protect themselves. The one-on-one conversations provide the meat on the bones of the analytical tool framework. The conversations help open the communication pipeline, while the analytics help gauge if the citizens are receiving the social media message.

Simply implementing a social media strategy to get your organization’s message out is only half the battle in an effective social media campaign. You must be able to see if you have been successful. From the outset, your organization must determine what it wants to measure and then choose the appropriate analytical tools. You cannot simply pick one over another without understanding the reach of each one. You might be able to get by with a simple analytic or find you require one that measures many platforms at once. The goal is not to simply go on a social media journey, but to also know when you have arrived at your destination.

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