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The power of social currency for law enforcement

How much thought do you put into everything you post to social media? Do you think about how it will be received? Or if maybe your followers will share it among their friends? When you tabulate your number of followers each month, do you fantasize about all of them re-sharing your message far and wide?

It all comes down to how much value or “social currency” your posts provide your followers.

People go on to social networks to catch up with their friends, but they also go there to share and consume great content. People love to find great things to share with their friends. They love to get the praise of likes, comments and retweets from their shares.

So how do you make sure it’s your content that gets shared?

Educate, Surprise or Entertain

Think of social currency as social money you are giving to your audience to spend on their friends. When you have a post that is funny, provides useful information, is a little shocking or provides critical information — it will get shared.

Let’s look at a few examples.

Promoting a Community Event

Here is something that every law enforcement agency has to do, promote a community event. Let’s take this example of a typical boring tweet and one that might provide a little more social currency.


“Prescription Drug Turn-in this Saturday at Precinct 1 from 12-2. http://link.com”

How can we make that more interesting? How can we educate and maybe even shock people a little bit. Let’s take a statistic from the press release and make that the post instead.

“One person dies every 19 minutes from prescription drug abuse. Teenagers access prescriptions from medicine cabinets. http://link.com”

That is the same link as before; but I bet more people will click the link, share it with their friends and may even learn that there is a need for such an event. There is nothing wrong with putting out both posts or even more variations of them leading up to the event. You will certainly find one that resonates with your followers.

Humanize Your Police Officers

One of my goals on social media is to humanize my police officers. The use of self-deprecating humor and embracing stereotypes are great ways to show that police officers have a sense of humor and are people too. Here are two examples of humanizing an officer on National Donut Day.

Boring, but typical post:

“It’s National #DonutDay – our favorite day of the year.”

That certainly embraces a stereotype and would actually get a few likes. But let’s solicit the agency for a picture and see what they send us back.


This awesome picture truly embraces the stereotype. It embraces it to the point where it will shock your audience. It humanizes, is funny and is very very shareable.

Police officers are silly people and if you ask them for assistance in make your social media content matter; they will often bend over backward to make you happy.

Building Your Audience

The best way to grow your audience is to provide your current followers with enough social currency to get you retweeted and shared on a consistent basis. This puts you in front of many new people that currently aren’t following you. Also the content that they are seeing from you is your best stuff because it is what your fans are choosing to share with their friends.

The challenge is to keep shareable content flowing every day. Something easy you can do is brainstorm a month’s worth of short posts. Have these posts ready and try to put out at least one a day.

Posts that work well for law enforcement agencies typically have to do with crime prevention, emergency preparedness and traffic safety.

Here are a few example posts that you can steal for your social channels. You will quickly get an idea about what kinds of content your audience likes to share and then create more posts so you can get shared far and wide with daily consistency.

Parents: Please don’t threaten to call the cops on your children as a form of discipline. You should teach your kids that the cops are the good guys; people they can go to when they need help.

On average, more than three women and one man are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day. #DomesticViolence

The leading cause of death for teenage drivers in the U.S. is now #texting and driving, not drinking and driving.

Be ready for an earthquake with this app from @RedCross. Receive alerts and notifications. Prepare your family. http://rdcrss.org/Qahc20

Don’t attract thieves to your car by leaving sat navs, loose change, clothes or CDs on display #thinksafe

Your cell phone can be a lifeline during/after an emergency. Keep an extra battery or solar-powered charger w/ you so it stays powered up!

Reminder: Kids, bullying is unacceptable! It hurts, promotes negative behavior, and has no place in our schools/community

The key that you should remember about social currency, is to think about how the posting will come across to your audience. Put yourself in their shoes. Would you click this link? Would you share it with your friends? How can you make it more interesting?

Jason Ruby (@LESMCoach) is a social media coach for law enforcement based in Portland, Oregon. He is a member of the Portland, Oregon Police Bureau (@PortlandPolice) communications unit where he comes up with fun ways to engage the public with social media.

[Infographic] Final results of #poltwt Global police tweet-a-thon

Around the world, police men, women, and departments are changing the way they interact. With the increased use of Twitter and other social media, police personnel can now communicate better with their community and other audiences across the globe.

The second global police tweet-a-thon helped raise global awareness of the communication that can exist between law enforcement and the community through advocating law enforcement’s use of the hashtag #poltwt on November 1, 2013. By monitoring the Twitter Firehose, BrightPlanet followed the conversation that was occurring during the tweet-a-thon throughout the 24 hour period. We received and analyzed over 31,000 tweets from over 12,000 individual users and departments. Because of the large percentage of tweets in the English language, the following analysis will be given in English. The results focus primarily on where, when, and from whom the tweets were sent.


To help you visualize the results and give students some real world experience, we sent the final collected data set over to a Business Intelligence class at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D. The following infographic is the analysis of that data set. If you have any questions about the dataset or would like access to it, please fill out the contact form located here.

The Global Police Tweet-a-thon is the creation of LAwS Communications. The first #poltwt tweet-a-thon was held March 22, 2013.

See also:
Highlights of #Poltwt – half way through Nov 1, 2013

Global Police Tweet-a-thon, the sequel October 2, 2013

#poltwt, the power of 1 March 27, 2013

Reflections on #poltwt March 26, 2013

Final results of #poltwt Tweet-a-Thon March 25, 2013

Missing a Trick – a UK perspective on police and social media for #poltwt March 25, 2013

Greater Manchester Police joining with forces across the globe #poltwt March 20, 2013

Global Police Tweet-a-thon December 18, 2012

PGPD Game Time

It had the ingredients for a traffic disaster: a Monday evening rush hour on the notoriously clogged Capital Beltway combined with a 7:05 pm kick-off for the Washington Redskins’ 2013 season home opener in Landover, Maryland.

But the Prince George’s County Police Department, whose headquarters borders FedEx Field, home of the Redskins’ stadium, decided to tackle the traffic challenge head-on. The department’s Media Relations Division developed a plan to inform the community about one of the most talked about topics in the Washington, DC area on any day of the year: traffic. The PGPD created “Game Time,” an information-sharing social media event. The department began tweeting on the Friday before the Monday Night Football game against the Redskins’ nearby NFC East rival the Philadelphia Eagles. Using the hashtag #GameTime, one member of the Media Relations Division coordinated with the police department’s Special Operations Division, which oversees all events at FedEx Field, to determine which information and images to tweet and when.

NFL games are major events for the PGPD with some 200 officers handling security and traffic. There is a large control room within FedEx Field where the Special Ops commanders keep a watchful eye on activities both in and around the stadium. Relying on a large bank of traffic cameras surveying the major arteries near the 90,000-person stadium, the Media Relations Division was able to see and then share traffic news in real time as the 7:05pm kickoff approached.

Various local media outlets gave advance coverage to “Game Time”, advising viewers, listeners and reader that the police department’s Twitter handle, @PGPDNews, would be tweeting traffic news during the potentially disastrous evening commute. This included the widely-followed The Washington Post’s traffic Twitter handle, @DrGridlock.

To maintain the momentum of the media coverage and to help game-goers plan, Media Relations began tweeting #GameTime news at about 3:30pm, 3 1/2 hours before the game began. In an attempt to crowd source traffic information, the PGPD solicited commuter input & specifically tried to discourage the notion of having drivers tweeting while behind the wheel:

At about 5 pm, this basic tweet prompted 12 retweets, or sharing of the police department’s message:

The Department’s message was spreading:

A parking logistics coordinator working for the Washington Redskins noted during the event it seemed to him the advance media coverage and the possibility of gridlock might be having an effect – not just on game attendees but on rush hour commuters as well. The parking lots, both he and police commanders noted, were filling up much earlier than expected.

The major roadways were far less congested than expected as kick-off neared. Drivers had planned ahead and arrived at the stadium well in advance.

A PGPD Special Operations Division helicopter flying above the stadium offered aerial images of traffic and the parking lots. Those tweets generated a lot of retweets, indicating the appetite for information included an appreciation for social media aesthetics.

In addition to the media coverage generated by the event, the PGPD advertised for “Game Time” in the days leading up to the game on Twitter, since that’s where the event would take place. However, to encourage crossover followers, the event was also advertised on the department’s Facebook page.

What ticket holders and commuters alike took away from the “Game Time” experience isn’t easily measured. Based on media coverage, the 38 new @PGPDNews followers gained that day and positive response from existing @PGPDNews followers, the department deemed the event a success.

The next similar event is planned for the week before Thanksgiving. Look for @PGPDNews to host #OperationOutlets on November 22, 2013. The grand opening for a new outlets mall in Prince George’s County is expected to draw more than 20,000 visitors and could lead to traffic tie-ups. To try and prevent that, the PGPD’s Special Operations Division’s Traffic Enforcement Unit and the Media Relations Division will again team up, returning to Twitter to once again keep citizens informed.

Julie Parker serves as the Director of the Media Relations Division for the Prince George’s County (MD) Police Department, the nation’s 28th largest law enforcement agency. The PGPD straddles Washington, D.C. and spans 500 square miles of urban, suburban, and rural populations. Prince George’s County is home to the University of Maryland at College Park, the Washington Redskins, and NASA headquarters with an approximate population of 900,000. Parker serves as principal communications advisor to the Chief of Police & other executive command staff and is responsible for key messages and media strategy, to include during crisis situations. She promotes and achieves positive news stories at an unprecedented level for this police department. Parker manages a 13-person division comprised of sworn and civilian public information officers, video production specialists, graphic designer, Crime Solvers coordinator and special projects professional. Parker is also a frequent guest lecturer at the FBI National Academy on law enforcement media relations and crisis communications. She’s a recognized leader in using social media for innovative community outreach, media relations, crisis communications, targeted branding and messaging. Parker spent 13 years reporting and anchoring in Washington, DC, most recently for ABC7 News where she won both an Emmy Award and an Edward R. Murrow Award.

Nextdoor Rollout, Two Months In

This post is a follow up to my original story, Nextdoor: Social Media For The Neighborhood.  If you’re not up to speed on Nextdoor go ahead and read that original post first.

It’s been about two months (as I write this) since my department launched Nextdoor and there’s been some progress in a number of areas to report back on.

Adoption and membership

Back at the end of August 2013 we had been recruiting founding members and putting the word out via our traditional forms of social media, specifically Twitter and Facebook.  I emphasize this because I do think we would have had a much slower adoption rate without the significant audience we already had in place on those platforms. On launch day we were approaching 600 Nextdoor members.  Today is November 3, 2013 and we now have just over 2400 members representing 37 neighborhoods for a total of 12% of households.  When looking at individual neighborhoods the numbers range from a low of 4% of households up to 43% on the high end.  The largest membership in one of our biggest neighborhoods is 210.  Every area of town is represented and every neighborhood has launched permanently.  Here’s how our map looks.

Nextdoor Neighborhoods

Nextdoor Neighborhoods

During the last two months we continued to promote Nextdoor via Twitter and Facebook.  Nextdoor also assisted us by sending out “Express emails” through a third party. This effort was good for 200-300 more sign ups.  It also irritated a few residents that didn’t appreciate the unsolicited emails but there was only the initial email and a follow up one about a week later.  The bottom line is that we have exceeded expectations on the adoption side and our efforts have been bolstered by the residents themselves inviting their neighbors and friends to join.

Feedback from residents

Lets look at some actual feedback

“I’ve only been a member a couple of days but I like being connected to the neighborhood and knowing what is going on around the town.”

“We’re really happy with this. It’s a great way to connect with people in your neighborhood.”

“I was hesitant, but actually enjoy it now. It seems to be helpful with crime alerts in certain neighborhoods. Just have to figure out which neighborhoods they are living in when they post the activity. I think long term it is very helpful”

“This is a terrific service! I enjoy the traffic updates because they tell me what part of town to avoid when I’m going out. I like all of the communications with the police dept. I like the communications with my neighborhood and adjacent neighborhoods. I hope we can avoid political bickering although opinions are important and good to see as long as it doesn’t become obsessive. Otherwise what can possible be wrong with communication?  I wish we had this system years ago. Great job! Thanks”

“I think this is an excellent tool for our community. It has been very effective in getting information out to spefic areas as well as the whole town. It brings back the feeling of neighborhoods as they used to be. Keep up the good work I really appreciate your efforts.”

There’s a lot more positive comments but for the sake of space we can end it there.  Any negative comments have been very minor and usually involve some elements of the software.

Functionality and Support for the Municipality

I’m not going to rehash too many items that were already discussed in my August 26th post regarding how the platform works but I will share some thoughts since we launched.  One particular shortcoming that is hopefully being addressed soon is the complete lack of city functions from their mobile apps.  While residents have mobile apps for iOS and Android, they don’t yet support city functions.  This means that you won’t be using an app to update your residents on the go.  Its not all lost as you can update from the browser, which is slow and clunky, but works OK.  The biggest issue with using the browser I’ve found is the tendency for the browsers to refresh if you leave it to reference another app. On more than one occasion I’ve had to go to an email to reference some information for my Nextdoor post only to find that any work I already did was gone and I had to start over.  This is incredibly frustrating when you’re out in the field.  Law Enforcement technology is increasingly mobile and the need for the mobile app to support city functionality will be important if Nextdoor wants Police Departments to consistently use its platform.  You can reply to an email notification and the reply will post to the originating thread.  This is convenient and posts fairly quickly most of the time. While using a mobile data terminal eliminates some of these limitations, there are still many agencies that don’t provide internet access on their mobile data terminals (why?).

We’ve also had residents reply to some of our posts asking what time the post was created.  Many incidents are time sensitive and Nextdoor doesn’t stamp the time on posts accurately.  Instead, its more of a general “2 hours ago” or just a date.  This is not helpful in many cases.  Its something we gave feedback on and I am told that the time stamps will be reworked in the future.

To this day I still have trouble understanding how Nextdoor orders posts.  There is no option to sort by “date created” or “last updated”.  And, if you use the mobile apps as a resident you’ll be even more confused about what determines the order of the content.

There’s also no way to edit a post once its created.  If you’ve made some typos or spelling errors you’ll need to delete and recreate the post.  I’ve also been informed that this will be enhanced soon.

Recently, Nextdoor added the ability to disable replies.  This prevents a stale topic from being commented on once it loses relevance.  They’ve also added the ability to delete an urgent alert and enhanced private messages to indicate new messages better on the website.

But, overall, Nextdoor software is easy to use, functional and is constantly improving and it seems to be doing things better than many other platforms.  I’ve had many older folks, that aren’t tech savvy, take to Nextdoor and use it.  That’s encouraging.

In the area of support, there’s nothing negative to report. Nextdoor staff is always responsive and proud of their product, and it shows.

Moving Ahead

I believe the future looks bright for Nextdoor but time will tell.  There’s certainly a lot of encouraging investment in their product.  Just recently they raised another $60 million in investment.  That’s $100 million in the last 18 months.  I have no doubt that municipal partnerships will expand and the functionality will increase as well.

We continue to see steady growth but it has slowed a bit so we are already considering a new round of publicity, though we have not settled on the strategy just yet.  Nextdoor continues to set itself apart from traditional social media by verifying the address of residents during registration, not allowing anonymity and providing a private online environment.  This provides a great audience for the police to share information.

Greg is a Police Lieutenant with the Billerica MA Police Department. An 18 year veteran, Greg manages Communications and Technology which includes social media initiatives.



Highlights of #Poltwt – half way through

The second #poltwt is well underway with over 250 agency accounts and over 75 officers accounts as registered participants. We have representatives from South Africa, Kenya, Estonia, Belgium, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Spain, New Zealand, Australia, Iceland, Canada and United States. As I write this, registrations continue to come in. All will be noted on the #poltwt Google map as well as the official Twitter list.

#Poltwt Hang Outs to Watch
A Google Hangout hosted by Chief Inspector Kerry Blakeman of the West Midlands Police featuring Amanda Coleman of Greater Manchester Police and me was held earlier today. See it here:

At 3 p.m. Eastern, Constable Scott Mills and I will host a another with international guests to discuss the tweet-a-thon and social media in general.

Our #Poltwt Supporters
Our friends at BrightPlanet will be harvesting all the tweets and giving us the numerical details during #poltwt as well as a summary when its done. We would also like to welcome PublicEye, an iPad and Android based multifunctional law enforcement tool for police officers in the field.

BrightPlanet has the fastest, most powerful tools and services available to help you turn information into intelligence.

Available on all major mobile platforms including iPhone, iPad, Android and Windows 8. Please click the logo to learn more and register for a free webinar.

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