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Social Media Quick Tip: Tweet Often

During a recent recruiting initiative, Bellevue (Neb.) PD used Twitter constantly to relay important information

It’s called a Twitter stream. Think of it like a stream of water—sometimes a voracious river—and it never stops flowing. Most of your followers see it that way. Some people hang on your department’s every word, and will check your page and read every tweet. But that’s not the norm.

I’ve seen it said that a tweet’s life is anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. If you have an important topic to tweet about, in order to maximize chances of it getting read by the most followers, consider sending it out two or three times a day every day leading up to the event. You’ll have to write each Tweet differently or Twitter may not send it, but that forces you to be more creative.

For four weeks leading up to a recent recruiting initiative, the Bellevue (Neb.) PD tweeted information about testing and deadlines. The department tweeted a couple times the first week and more frequently as the deadline grew closer, with two or three tweets a day the final week. The department also put information on its Facebook page once a week. The combined strategy generated a great deal of conversation and awareness in both venues.

You can use Twitter management tools or social media dashboards, such as Tweetdeck or HootSuite, to write all the tweets at once and pre-schedule them to go out.

This Social Media Quicktip was previously published on LawOfficer.com.

Social Sheriffs

From Left: Stan Hilkey (Mesa County), Kevin Rambosk (Collier County), Joe Arpaio (Maricopa County)

“I don’t actually do the twitting; I’m a carona kinda guy”. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio wasn’t talking about cigars, or beer, for that matter. He was referring instead to his Smith Carona typewriter, when interviewed for this article on the risk and benefits of his sheriff department’s use of social media. But then he clarified, “I do tweet them myself, I just don’t use the machine. I say ‘I am going to San Francisco tomorrow’ and my Captain puts it into the machine.”

Whether he dictates his tweets, or the Captain liberates a few without him is immaterial at some level. As a recent Maricopa CSO news release pointed out, he’s got a combination of 110,000 connections if his Facebook fans and Twitter followers are put together. A statistic that surprised Sheriff Joe so much he dictated a tweet about it, leaving at least this writer to wonder if he dictated instructions to include the link to the press release too:

Both the Twitter and Facebook profiles are in the Sheriff’s name. The Maricopa CSO has no agency presence in social media yet. The PIO office has plans to expand as an agency as well, but for right now they see social media as a way to personalize their boss; widely recognized as one of the most colorful, as well as controversial, top cops around. Maricopa CSO PIO Lisa Allen explained, “everybody knows him as the toughest sheriff in America and a great law enforcement guy. What not everyone knows though is that he’s a really great guy and a regular guy. So it’s our mission to humanize him a little bit more.”

The “toughest Sheriff in America” readily admits he doesn’t understand the precise ins and outs of the technology that we’ve come to refer to as social media. But, as with many law enforcement executives who don’t necessarily push the buttons themselves, he has developed a keen understanding of a key benefit to using social media. He summed it up this way, “We arrested ten people yesterday for drug trafficking and illegal immigration. The media won’t cover that because it makes us look good.” But Sheriff Joe and his team used every avenue at their disposal to make sure word of the arrests reached his followers through social media channels.

Getting stories out that the traditional media won’t cover, or having the means to balance the scales when they do cover them but get them wrong, is one of the first benefits most law enforcement leaders realize when beginning a social media program. For many, it has become that “ah-hah” moment when it occurs to them that the benefits to using social networking tools far outweigh any risks they may fear.

The Learning Curve
Mesa County (Colorado) Sheriff Stan Hilkey was vacationing in Hawaii when the earthquake and tsunami disasters hit Japan. The local media learned of his whereabouts from his online posts and soon had him reporting in from his location. And, when one local media outlet prematurely reported the names of two homicide victims, Sheriff Hilkey was still in Hawaii but used Facebook to let them know how disappointed he was.

As many agencies learn, there’s no one-size-fits-all way of doing things in the digital world, and it is no different for the Mesa CSO. PIO Heather Benjamin said they’ve gone through a bit of a learning curve with social media, “We had a blog that was really spread out, it’s more focused now. We’ve really tied our profiles altogether, they each have their own functions.”

Part of the learning curve for Mesa has also been realizing that many of the things they worried about, haven’t become the big problems they thought they would be. They had to overcome some initial resistance from command staff but even they have come to appreciate the upside. She explained, “When we have a negative media story that we didn’t agree with, that used to really frustrate them. Now we have this outlet to clarify.” In the beginning they also worried about loss of productivity. “We thought people would get on Facebook all day and wouldn’t do their jobs. That just hasn’t been reality.” She said. The agency still struggles with getting investigators to use social media as a tool in their investigations and Benjamin points out that training is ongoing to remind deputies about things like not to post photos of themselves in uniform on their personal pages.

In Florida, The Collier CSO worried at first about having to deal with a barrage of negative comments on its Facebook page, and with Florida’s broad public records law, further concern was over how to store and document anything that was removed. PIO Karie Partington said negative comments have been nearly non-existent and anything that has been removed is saved and documented. She added that her agency uses Facebook’s archive feature regularly to store posts in case someone requests to see them.

Like Mesa, Collier CSO is fortunate to have a Sheriff who has been at the forefront of social media adoption for the agency. In the beginning Sheriff Kevin Rambosk admittedly thought social networking was just a way for friends to share information about what was going on in their lives. Then, a couple years ago, it occurred to him “the same way we share as friends – why can’t we share info as residents of a community?”

Since then, Collier CSO has created a social engagement program rivaled by few, including a modern and slick website, its own monthly TV show called On Scene, a department newspaper, CodeRed for emergency alerts, a YouTube Channel, crime mapping, and an iPhone application to push real-time crime information to citizens, a Twitter account, as well as what is probably one of the best law enforcement Facebook profiles in existence, IMHO.

The Collier CSO has installed extra pages on its Facebook profile including a Welcome page with links to its other social media profiles, a Cold Cases page, a Youth page with cyber bullying information, A Downloads page for CCSO screensavers and a Submit a Tip page. Most importantly however, is that the CCSO Facebook page is completely open to citizen input and features regular engagement between citizens and the Collier CSO.

The three Sheriff’s Offices are in different stages of social media adoption but are on the same page with acceptance of risk versus reward. They’ve learned to modify their approaches, anticipate problems and deal with any hurdles as they arrive.

The One True Risk
There is one social media risk to law enforcement that will require more aggressive, vigilante and consistent countermeasures. The one true risk is protecting officer safety online.

In fact, of the risks law enforcement agencies are dealing with in regard to social networks, officer safety online is a serious issue and not one that anyone has underestimated. It was Maricopa CSO that discovered a disk last fall containing about 30 Facebook profile photos of sworn and civilian members of Phoenix PD who are thought to have been targeted by the disk creator(s). The source of the disk and number of disks that have been distributed are unknown.

On Facebook alone, serious threats to officer safety, aren’t limited to, but include:
1. Facebook settings changing regularly. For example, it used to be that you could protect your Facebook comments with your privacy settings. With a recent change, if you post a comment to one of your friends, it automatically goes to their newsfeed and to those of all their friends. Something you say could be read by people you don’t know, even with comment settings set to “friends only”. This is just one of dozens of worry spots.
2. Geo-location based Facebook Places. Unless disabled, this feature can be used by others to check people into places where they may not be, or they may be and but didn’t want anyone to know. It can also be used to create alibis or frame someone. Without this knowledge, investigators could be duped by this.
3. Knowing who your friends are. Numerous fake Facebook profiles exist; many are those of phony law enforcement officers. These profiles are used to infiltrate pages of real officers and law enforcement sites not only to gain intelligence, but also to build credibility with others. I’ve seen law enforcement officers I know as friends of these bogus profiles. When I ask them if they know them to be real people, they’ve responded “no, but they’re on xyz site always commenting”, so they’re presumed to be real. That’s part of the ruse. Some of these people are out to cause real harm to law officers and friending them is the virtual equivalent inviting them into your home.
4. Facebook is introducing facial recognition technology. This technology is proving so accurate that childhood photos can easily be linked to current photos to i.d. a person potentially eliminating a chance of an undercover assignment, among other issues.

Other examples of serious risk to officers online include:

1. The metadata embedded in photographs. The information provided not only provides the make and model of the camera (or smartphone) that created the photograph, but may also provide name(s) of persons associated with the device.
2. Any application or device which tracks geo-location. Many law officers think that disabling geo-loco capabilities on their phones is all they need to do. But if they tweet from their smart phones or use the mobile Facebook app, geo-loco capabilities should be disabled within those applications too.

Put these last two points together and thugs can take an officer’s digital photos of his or her children and learn where they live, where they learn karate or the location of their daycare. An officer who posts photos of his kids (bad idea anyway) probably also tags them with their names. So now Joe thug has all he needs to find and lure them.

The benefits of adopting a social media plan in law enforcement agencies are becoming widely acknowledged and accepted to the point where agencies are no longer debating whether to do it but rather how to proactively plan the best process and strategy. Most of the risks are being overcome by that same proactive planning, as Sheriff Rombask points out, you have to hire good people and trust them to do the right thing, “I would say that it’s all about the expertise of your staff… They maintain the info, they verify, they look for problems they actually proactively anticipate different types of issues. It’s a fulltime job keeping up with this and making it what it is.”

Nearly all the risks of social media adoption are manageable. The one risk, which justifies significant concern, is keeping law enforcement professionals safe offline by convincing them to take serious precautions online. To borrow from what is now an old cliché, “If you don’t talk to your deputies about safe surfing, who will?

This article was previous published in the NSA’s Sheriff’s Magazine.

Social Media Handbook for Police: Part 7

Welcome to the the next installment in my series of social media tips. These are aimed primarily at a police audience, but hopefully applicable to a wider group of people too, especially those in the public sector. This series of posts will aim to identify some good practice and useful hints and tips for police officers and staff to consider when using social media.

Part 7: Basic Guides – Twitter and Flick’r

Part A Twitter

What is it?

A real-time, social networking website that allows users to send and read messages – known as tweets – of up to 140 characters. These messages can be on anything a user wants – from the pointless and inane, to breaking news about world events such as the Tsunami in Japan or the revolutions in the middle east.

Why should the police use it?

People are already using it to talk about local policing issues – just search for your force name and you can see real time public comments and opinions. What some of them are saying about your force might surprise you.

Chief Constable Richard Crompton

We can use it to engage with a wider audience – the chief constable of Lincolnshire Police has over 500 followers after just a few months, and as our neighbourhood officers and PCSOs start using it for local issues they are able to join in on conversations with people in their local area. These can be about issues the public raise, or about issues we want to raise awareness of.

It is not really any different to having a conversation in the street or at a more traditional engagement event – except it has the potential to reach a far wider audience.

Are there any pitfalls?

As with most things posted on the Internet, once posted it can be very hard to delete them, and it is very easy for others to copy comments very rapidly. If we trust our people however, and genuinely engage in a conversation with the public then there is no reason why this risk cannot be managed.

Finally Twitter is very unforgiving of organisations who use Twitter as just another conduit for press releases. At best these will be ignored, at worst they will be ridiculed. Twitter works best as an online version of a conversation – a two way conversation with other people. Those who have the most success with Twitter engage in conversations naturally, rather than try to preach to others.

Further guidance

For a more detailed guide to Twitter, check out Dave Brigg’s guide on Learning pool.

Part B Flick’r

What is it?

A photo sharing website that users can upload their pictures and videos to. These pictures range from blurry snaps to commercial grade images, and many can be reused for free without breaching copyright.

Why should the police use it?

Everyone loves pictures of police dogs (Image courtesy Metropolitan Police on Flick'r)

The public love pictures of police officers and equipment – check out GMP’s Flick’r page for an example of a force using this tool well. Each picture can be grouped into themes (so community engagement, dogs etc) and can have a caption as well (e.g. local police officers carrying out free security checks on garden sheds). The opportunities that allowing access to your image library can bring are only limited by the number and quality of images you have.

Also bear in mind that if you search for royalty free images (under Advanced Search tick the ‘Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content’ box), then there are lots of pictures on pretty much any subject you might want to liven up your presentations etc.

Are there any pitfalls?

People will take images uploaded and use them, even if you reserve copyright. It is important if you are uploading old images that you may have already, that you ensure you hold the copyright for these.

The basic free service allows for a limited number of photos to be uploaded – pay a small fee (currently $24.95 for a year) for the professional service if the limit (about 2 videos and 300MB worth of photos each calendar month) is a problem.

Other users can comment on your photos – this can easily be switched off under You -> Privacy and Permission.

Further guidance

For a more detailed guide to Flick’r, check out CNet’s guide.

This post was previously published on Partrdigej’s blog.

Previous posts from the Social Media Handbook Series:

Part 1: What Social Media networks should I use?

Part 2: How do I get followers / friends ???

Part 3: Policies / Strategies / Guidance??

Part 4: Ten things to have on your page to drive up interest??

Part 5: What to do when things go wrong

Part 6: We don’t do that here

Justin Partridge

Justin Partridge is a senior manager for Lincolnshire Police in England. He also works on Local Policing and Partnerships for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).

Justin Partridge has worked in the public sector since leaving university, and for the police since 2003. After being one of only three non-sworn staff selected for the prestigious Police Strategic Command Course (for those who aspire to the most senior posts in UK policing), he started working on the national Local Policing and Partnerships area with chief officers from across the UK, and with partners from the Home Office, NPIA, APA and elsewhere.

Justin is passionate about making a difference to people, and see social media and new technologies having a major role in this – especially in policing and the wider public sector. He blogs on a variety of issues, predominantly around police and technology, and can be found on Twitter talking about much the same.

Help for Law Officers Affected by Tornadoes

A group of unidentified emergency personnel move a body recovered among the devastation in Smithville, Mississippi after a tornado destroyed much of the small town on Wednesday, April 27, 2011. AP Photo | The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, C. Todd Sherman

We’ve all heard the stories of terrible destruction and lives lost in the tornado-ravaged southern states. While our hearts are heavy for all of those affected, efforts are being made to help those who help others. Travis Yates is a Captain at Tulsa, Oklahoma PD and also runs Ten Four Ministries. Yates told me “multiple” law enforcement officers have experienced devastating losses of property and yet are tending to the needs of others before those of their own families. “So often we obviously think of the families and the people who have lost lives.. but what we don’t’ often think about are the first responders who are tending to those people. They’re also victims. They don’t have time to tend to their own families. They don’t have time to take it all in.”

Three towns: “What do you have to police with?”

Yates’ organization has a facility in the area from which he distributes ballistic vests to law enforcement officers. So he learned of local damage first-hand. Even though his organization is small, he’s taking on a big project to help law enforcement officers and their families affected by the tornadoes in three small communities nearby including Phil Cambell and Hackleburg in Alabama and Smithville in Mississippi.

Yates said the police department facilities in all three towns have been destroyed as well as the emergency equipment of first responder agencies. “With the massive destruction we’re hearing about in these towns, and to these police departments, you can image, what would you have left to police with?”

In Hackleburg, where the entire town was demolished the Police Chief also lost the roof to his house. “..and he hasn’t been able to deal with his own issues,” said Yates. Hackleburg is a town of approximately 1,500. Eighteen people died.

Immediate need: How can we help law officers in the affected areas?

One law enforcement officer died in the tornadoes. Louisiana Police Lieutenant Wade Sharp was camping with his nine-year-old daughter when a falling tree killed him after he threw himself on top of her in order to protect her.

Yates is offering an opportunity to donate money that will go directly to law enforcement personnel affected in those three towns. He has identified dozens of officers who would benefit. Realizing that there are many organizations accepting donations for people in need, Yates said “If people want to be sure that their donation ends up in the hands of a first responder, we’re going to make sure that that happens. There will be no bureaucracy. We’re going to hand it right to them in the form of gift cards.”

The long haul

Over the next few weeks, when the attention from traditional media fades, he hopes efforts from the rest of us in social media will keep the situation on people’s mind. Yates’ group will also be coordinating efforts for volunteers to step in to offer relief to local law enforcement where permitted to do so. “One thing I don’t want to do is go down there and get in the way. In the next few weeks there’s going to be a lot of tension in these areas. This is going to be a long term recovery.,.. we hope to be able to provide them with officers to go down there and help, if not certified officers to help do the policing, then maybe they need a porch rebuilt.”

To make a tax deductible donation that will go directly to first responders, please click this link. If anyone knows of a first responder who needs help, please contact Yates via email at info@tenfourministries.org.

Social Media Quick Tip: Should You Tie Your Facebook & Twitter Accounts Together?

Remember: They are two totally different animals

Although widgets exist to auto-post everything from one to the other, should you do it?

The short answer is this: If everything you tweet is on Facebook (FB) and everything you post on FB is on Twitter, you might annoy some followers and lose them.

Generally, turning everything you post on Facebook into a tweet is harmless as tweets are short-lived and read “on the fly”. But remember the following:

  • Don’t let it be a replacement for actually using Twitter for what it’s for. Send other content-rich information in separate tweets.
  • When you’re writing a post to Facebook, remember it’s going out on Twitter too. Sometimes, a FB post, when read as a tweet, can be nonsensical.

On the flipside, sending all your tweets to FB is a bad idea. All it does is fill up your FB page and pushes the meatier content down. Post about the same events and issues, but refrain from letting one do the other.

You should always use Twitter to drive traffic back to your FB page, blog or YouTube channel. But do it with separate, carefully written tweets.


This Social Media QuickTip was first published on LawOfficer.com.

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