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The Social Media freight train: Get on board or get hit by it

OR: A dozen reasons commanders give to avoid social media and half-dozen ways to get them to think again

socialmediafreightOne of my police chief clients made the above freight train analogy and since then, I’ve heard other enlightened police commanders echo the sentiment. In a nutshell, social media is here to stay. It’s a revolution, a whole new way of life. Social media is changing the way we live. The time has come to realize, it is no longer a choice for law enforcement. The only question is, Do you want to be the last police commander in your region to get with the program? The time has come for law enforcement agencies to decide not IF they’ll embrace social media but HOW. It’s no longer believable to be a law enforcement leader today and claim to want to reach the citizens and increase communication without also being willing to adopt social media. If this describes you, look behind you, because you’re about to get flattened.

The only question is, Do you want to be the last police commander in your region to get with the program? The time has come for law enforcement agencies to decide not IF they’ll embrace social media but HOW.

The following are the dozen reasons I’ve heard within the last few months from law enforcement commanders when asked why they don’t feel the need to use social media in their agencies:

  1. Social media is too new to policing.
  2. We don’t know how.
  3. It’s too confusing.
  4. It’s not secure.
  5. We can’t let officers use social media, they’ll do something stupid, or embarrassing, or illegal.
  6. We have no money.
  7. We don’t have the personnel available.
  8. Why blog? We’re cops not writers.
  9. We don’t want people to know that much about what we do.
  10. What happens online is trivial, we’re serious cops.
  11. We’re afraid we might make a mistake.
  12. We don’t want our people to be non-productive by spending their time while on the job, online, they’re too busy for this nonsense.

Because I’ve been on the receiving end of all dozen reasons, my heart goes out to those among you who are fighting the good fight to get your agency on the “road to enlightenment”. If the commanders in your world are resisting, I’m sure you’re hearing much the same. But I offer these half-dozen ways to persuade the skeptical.

1. Show them some solid evidence. There’s plenty to be had! Even though it’s early in the game, there are many success stories in the form of case studies about law enforcement forays into social media. In fact, all you need to build a convincing case is depicted here on ConnectedCOPS.

Here are several from this blog that have received a significant amount of attention for your reference:

And if this isn’t enough, email me. I can send many more examples from the main stream media. Or, check my twitter feed, I tweet them nearly every day.

2. Numerical evidence is good and plentiful too. According to my latest Twitter list of Law Enforcement agencies, there are at least 439 law enforcement agencies world-wide known to be on Twitter. Additionally, according to Anderson Analytics, 36% of Americans use social media regularly. Specifically:

  • Facebook: Over 300 million members, half of whom log in each day, 78 million considered “regular” (Facebook and Anderson Analytics)
  • Twitter: There are over 23 million unique visitors each month. (Compete.com)
  • LinkedIn: Over 50 million members including executive from all Fortune 500 companies, 11 million regular users (LinkedIn and Anderson Analytics)
  • MySpace: Approximately 125 million users (Techcrunch)

There is probably zero chance that citizens where you live, no matter where in the world, don’t factor in to these stats. The message is, they ARE online. You want to reach them? You have to go there too.

3. Give the commander a wake-up call. Do a Twitter search on your department name. Do another search using a commander’s name in addition to the department name, in the same search. Test this all ahead of time to make maximum impact. Have a story at the ready that you can show in a real-time search where people are saying something about the police department. It could be a compliment or a complaint. The key is to be able to illustrate something that will come as a surprise, at least in a small way.

4. Start small. There’s probably somebody on the force who has some writing experience or a desire to write. Look first in the Community Policing, K9 and/or the School Resource Officer Units. Find 1-3 people who are passionate about the agency and connecting with citizens, and who are willing to be the testers, and set up a blog or a Facebook page or a Twitter account. Have at least a short plan to make it work and be sure somebody is giving it attention daily. Whatever you do, don’t be one of those agencies that creates an account somewhere and then does nothing with it. Whatever you decide to do, WORK IT like no tomorrow. Some revelation, either large or small is sure to result.

5. Make it hard to say no. Share with your commander how social media can and will support your initiatives in these areas:

  • Community policing – According to the COPS office at the USDOJ, community policing is a “philosophy intended to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime” and is comprised of the three components: Community Partnerships, Organizational Transformation and Problem Solving. It’s a whole separate blog article, but the way online social media tools affect engagement is in direct alignment with the goals of community policing.
  • Reputation Management – Citizens talk about their police, sometimes they even say something nice. 🙂 But, often they don’t or they spread rumor. Social media tools give police unprecedented opportunity to monitor what is being said, to participate and to potentially alter, for the better, the information being shared. Address the naysayers and the fans alike.
  • Customer Service – If an agency engages with its followers and promotes real interaction, the potential to reach new audiences is tremendous. Additionally, the opportunity to hear what your citizens are concerned about and address those concerns, is invaluable.
  • Public Relations – Social media enables you to take your message to customers directly. Stories that don’t usually make the six o’clock news can still get out there to the people who need and want to receive them. Now your agency can report the stories IT feels is important.
  • No more media filter – Who hasn’t been on the receiving end of a negative story they felt was incorrectly reported? Social media gives you the opportunity to set the record straight as appropriate.
  • Recruitment and retention – What twenty-something cop wanna-be would choose to work for a locked-down agency over the opened-minded and progressive one that lets its officers use social media tools in their work?
  • Networking – You don’t just reach citizens, you connect more with other cops who become colleagues. Our world is shrinking. The chance to increase your professional network and grow your own career is staggering. The IACP and the FBINAA and others have groups on LinkedIn to get members connected and conversing. Most cops don’t even realize what they can do with regard to career networking.
  • Crime Prevention/Solution – This is an area that’s only beginning to be developed. Aside from hard-core forensics and speaking purely of social media tools, police have already had amazing successes. From intelligence gathering, soliciting witnesses, suicide prevention, crowd control, gang prevention, finding missing persons; already some pretty incredible things have been accomplished.

6. Set the big guy up to hear the story for himself and maybe he’ll think the social media thing was his idea! Ask the person in charge to let you set up some Google Alerts in his or her email account. That way s/he will see the many discussions already happening. After reviewing the alerts delivered to his or her inbox every day, it should become clear that what’s being said online isn’t something to be ignored, nor feared. But rather, it should be viewed as a conversation with which your organization should be involved.

And then…

Once the commander(s) buys-in to the argument, the real work/fun begins. If your organization can afford it, hire a professional to help with your plan and strategy. Be sure to craft a policy to guide your staff.

I’m watching as a few (large) organizations without a single social media expert on-hand forging ahead and coming up lacking. On the flip-side, there are many so-called social media experts out there who simply have had a Twitter account and a blog and hang out the “social media expert” shingle.

So while I cringe as large agencies think their “social media” cops know how to move forward, I also understand their lack of understanding of the level of knowledge required. It is partially due to the fact that there are several people who have blogs and regularly purport to have social media expertise. Look for solid credentials including training in the form of certification or formal education and check references. Look also for those who the industry has recognized as the expert in their area by finding those who are quoted in the press and/or who regularly speak at law enforcement and social media events. Don’t fall for those to talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.

The Call to Action

Make no mistake, the time has come to no longer wonder if your PD should consider using social media. The questions now are “What are our goals?” and “Which social media tools will we use to help us achieve them?” and “How do we make it happen?” You DO need a plan and a strategy, and then a policy.

Start making some noise, and let me know if I can help.

Note: The freight train image was created by Trevor Stevens.

Who will tell the people? NOT CNN.

A month or two ago I was standing in my kitchen watching a live report on CNN about a bus that had gone off the road in the Atlanta area. It being in their backyard, CNN was all over it. I stood there wondering ‘why all the fuss?’ Of course, in the beginning it wasn’t known how serious the injuries, but even when it was determined the injuries weren’t severe, CNN kept on it, showing us live images of a bus in the ditch.

Fast forward to November 29th, four cops are shot dead in an ambush as they do paperwork in a coffeeshop in an otherwise quiet northwestern town. Where is CNN? I kept checking all the big networks and there was astonishingly little coverage of this horrific event. So I “switched channels” to Twitter. Truth is I was on Twitter all along but I all but quit paying attention to the so-called experts at the big networks.

For all the criticism given “citizen journalism” of late, as one who has followed many breaking stories over Twitter in recent months, I’ve seen very few inaccuracies given the volume of information. And taken as a whole within the enormous number of sources from which the information flows, I think consumers of news are in far better hands when the people themselves, tell the people.
Did the large organizations not give the shooting much attention because it didn’t happen in a large city? If those cops were Atlanta cops and this happened where that bus went off the road I think CNN would have had a lot more to say.
It wasn’t only citizen journalists on Twitter. The Seattle Times did a decent job with tweets from both @seattletimes and David Boardman, (@dlboardman) the paper’s executive editor. Seattle PI (@seattlepi), KING (@KING5Seattle) were tweeting and KIRO (@KIRO7Seattle) did an excellent job, when its helicopter wasn’t hampering police investigation.
But the really interesting information came from the people who live near the locations where the police were looking for suspect Maurice Clemmons. There were some false reports that an arrest had been made at a house in Renton. That turned out to not be true and was cleared up quickly.
To be honest, the news outlets may have increased their coverage of the shooting as it continued passed noon Monday. I’m not even sure. I checked in with the big networks and cable outlets sporadically. All they were covering was Tiger and the various ways his woodies were causing him problems. That and the couple who crashed the White House dinner.
What I do know is that for the more than 40 hours that Maurice Clemmons was on the run, Twitter streamed more real news as an aggregate of everyone’s tweets than any news outlet could ever pretend to do.

I simply think that the big boys and girls should pretend a little harder. Because the ones who really suffer in all this are the people who aren’t on Twitter and who don’t know, or didn’t have access to, the live coverage on KIRO or KING. They are those who trust the main media outlets to determine what’s news and make the assumption that if the main outlets didn’t cover it, it must not be important. In my Monday afternoon class at the college (The New England Institute of Art) I mentioned the shooting to my students. Their reaction was along the lines of “what shooting?”. But they know Tiger and the Mrs. had a massive argument and that Tiger may have learned some new uses for his golf clubs.
At least it’s over. Clemmons killed by a lone Seattle police officer this morning around 2:45. The officer who shot him even gave him the chance to stop and show his hands. It will be interesting to see what happens to the accomplices, three arrests as I write this, apparently more arrests are imminent. I’ll be checking Twitter for that news as well.

For more on how traditional media is being affected by social media see Mark Economou’s earlier post on ConnectedCOPS “Law Enforcement working as Journalists”.

Police and social media, why are we waiting?

Mark Payne

Mark Payne

Mark is Chief Inspector for the West Midlands Police, UK; a police officer for 15 years mainly as a detective. He is now head of Press & PR for West Midlands. CI Payne was part of the “Police Who Tweet” panel, moderated by Lauri Stevens, at the 140 Characters Conference in London on Nov 17th. Chief Inspector Payne has started his own blog, where this article was also published. He tweets as @CIPayneWMPolice and @wmpolice

Communication is the cornerstone of policing. The image of the bobby on the beat chatting to people is enshrined in British culture. It is an image of which we are rightly proud, and it is these conversations that provide us with the information upon which we depend.

The confidence agenda requires us to tell people what we are doing. Nobody is going to be confident in an organisation who they don’t hear from, and who they can’t engage with.

Why then are many police forces so reticent to engage in social media? I have spoken to people involved in policing up and down the country, and I am genuinely amazed at the real fear that there seems to be around blogs, Twitter and Facebook. We are still in the position where the majority of Forces do not have a meaningful web presence.
I have a theory that people have become a little bit seduced and scared by the technology involved in social media. In my experience though, there are no dark secrets associated to the web, IT IS JUST ANOTHER FORM OF COMMUNICATION!

If we do not engage, people will still talk about us, still say positive and negative things, the only difference is, we won’t know anything about it. We will have no opportunity to influence or participate in the conversation. What is absolutely certain is that people won’t stop using the web to express their views just because we aren’t listening to them.

The things that I hear cited as reasons not to participate are consistent:

• Officers may say something which will embarrass that force – Yes they might, but they could do that in any number of forums.

• Officers will spend all their time talking to their mates and arranging their social lives – Again, they might, but surely that is what supervisors are for, it doesn’t mean that every officer needs to be denied access. If officers or staff abuse it, stop them from using it again.

• It costs too much money/we don’t have the skills – It costs peanuts in the grand scheme, and every force has lots of people who use social media every day at home, but are then barred from doing so at work. All of the required skills exist within every police force, you just have to ask.

• Our security might be breached – Downing Street and the Intelligence services are using social media, even the CIA are on there. It’s not that difficult.

• Somebody might say some thing derogatory about us – Yes they might, but they will be saying it anyway, and this way we will know, and have a platform to respond. In my experience, negative comments are normally drowned out by the overwhelming majority, who actually quite like their police officers.

Can anybody really look five years ahead and say that their force won’t need to be using social media? A whole generation of people – our communities – are growing up (or growing older) using social media as their primary communications tool. They are not going to stop. By failing to engage with them in this area, we are allowing people to become more and more remote from their officers.

A group of early adopter forces, and the NPIA had a meeting yesterday, together with some leading lights from the web 2 world. There are some fantastic examples of work that is being carried out in this area. People have been able to engender real community spirit, and make a genuine difference by giving communities a voice. Police officers have solved real crimes, traced missing people and keep their communities up to date with what is going on. (Have a look at the Twitter account of Ed Rogerson of North Yorkshire Police, I bet his community don’t moan that they don’t know what the police are doing!) Much of the preparatory work has been done. There are policies and strategies waiting to be shared.

I would encourage forces to have a go. What is the worst that can happen? More importantly, think of the best case scenario. Improved communications, better confidence, engaged and informed communities.

Why are we waiting?

Law Enforcement working as Journalists

Mark Economou is the Public Information Manager for the Boca Raton Police Department in Boca Raton, Florida. A big part of the work he does for Boca Raton Police is managing the department’s social media presence.

When I started out in media nearly 20 years ago, the relationship with law enforcement was much different than it is today.  Mind you, twenty years ago was only 1990, but the Internet was just starting to catch on. While serving as Executive Editor at WPRI-TV in Providence, RI, we were the first station in the state to get a webpage for news.  It was as rudimentary as could be.  Some simple html code and a place to cut and paste news stories.  But still, we had a presence on this new thing called the World Wide Web.

There were no Google searches and not many web pages to browse.  When we wanted information about a story we were working, local law enforcement didn’t have a webpage to click on or Social Media to communicate through.  We had to work for our story, dig, investigate, and contact sources.  Many times we had to physically go to the police station to get a police report, or knock on doors in the neighborhood to get information from neighbors.

Now that has all changed.  The media continues to downsize, older, veteran reporters with a knack for investigating are being laid-off because they make too much money. They are being replaced with younger, less seasoned journalists who can’t take the time to “investigate” a story.  Instead they turn to the Internet as their first stop.  Law enforcement public information officers have recognized this new reality and in a time of “transparency,” are starting to embrace the internet as an easy and convenient tool to post information.

Fast forward nearly 20 years and I find myself on the opposite side of the camera now.  As Public Information Manager for the Boca Raton Police Department we are diving head first into Social Media and Web 2.0.  While we consider ourselves one of the leaders in this new venture, we are not alone.  Law enforcement agencies from around the country are jumping on board, informing the public and media with platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Nixle.  From Boston, to Boca Raton, from Scottsdale to Milwaukee, police departments are tweeting out press releases, writing blogs and posting recent activity on their websites. Some, like us, are even producing video segments to upload to their websites and You Tube.

How is this changing the way the media covers stories?  While I can’t speak for every department out there, I see an interesting trend developing.  Crimes that the media used to call about or show up to before police could even secure the scene are going unnoticed by the media.  They are finding out about it from us after we post it to our website and Tweet it out.  Many media outlets follow us on Nixle and Twitter and call as soon as we put out a story.

I say story, because here in Boca Raton we have taken it one step further. We don’t just release the police report; we write our own story and post it to our website. Even more interesting, we are finding the media is just cutting and pasting our stories to their sites, both in television and print.  They might change the headline, but they put the story we wrote on their site.  While the media is asking questions on some higher profile cases, many are being posted and printed as is.  It seems like a complete 180, as law enforcement used to try and avoid the media, we now find ourselves becoming the media.

Social media and improved technology (hardware and software) have made it easier for us to help the media tell the story and/or creatively communicate information directly to the public when it won’t get picked up otherwise.  Social media will never replace traditional media.  It’s just exciting to see that we now have dynamic tools which offer another layer.

The potential to reinvent Government in the Digital Age


Nick Keane, NPIA

On Tuesday 17th November 2009, at the invitation of the Cabinet Office, I attended a seminar at 10, Downing Street. The event was opened by the Prime Minister and chaired by Liam Byrne, Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Also attending was Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Martha Lane Fox, Noel Shanahan Chief Executive of the DVLA and Brian McBride Managing Director UK of Amazon. All of whom addressed the seminar.

Participants included Andrew Stott, Director of Digital Engagement, Cabinet Office and representatives from NESTA, M & S, Microsoft, Yahoo, Channel 4, NHS Direct, Google UK and Facebook UK. Most of whom were at executive level.

The event was to discuss recent government initiatives around data Release, the Digital Divide and public services engaging online with the citizen.

The Prime Minister announced that, as part of a government drive to open up data to improve transparency the public will have more access to Ordnance Survey maps from next year. He also spoke of recent government initiatives including crime mapping.

He said the government and Ordnance Survey, Great Britain’s national mapping agency, will open up the data relating to electoral and local authority boundaries, postcode areas and mapping information.

He stated “we are determined to be the first government in the world to open up public information in a way that is far more accessible to the general public.”

In addition he spoke about the importance of public services moving “from the impersonal to the personal” and “coming from on high to interactive” (My notes).

Further details of the work can be accessed here http://blogs.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/digitalengagement/

Liam Byrne stated that this work was linked to the forthcoming white paper Smarter Britain which is due to be released in “two weeks time”, which is a continuation of the Digital Britain work referenced here


He referred to  recent research (not cited) which showed that citizen- service transaction costs were

Postal          £80

Call Centre  £20

On line        £1

Tim Berners Lee has recently been working with the government identifying data sets which can be released to the public domain. He has recently identified 1100 data sets which have been released to IT developers to repurpose and share. This work is currently being beta tested here http://groups.google.com/group/uk-government-data-developers/

(Password protected site).

Noel Shanahan spoke about the DVLA on line programme http://www.taxdisc.direct.gov.uk/EvlPortalApp/

He stressed the importance of knowing our customers, customer segmentation and understanding what services people want. And stressed (re digital engagement) “Keep it simple, keep it fast, keep it easy”

Martha Lane Fox who is the government champion for digital inclusion, spoke about her work on the digital divide and stating that there are currently 10 million people in the UK who have never used the internet, 4 million of them are disadvantaged, 39 % are over 65 and 38 % are unemployed. People who are on line are 25% more likely to get a job and 10% more likely to remain in employment. Children on line score better at school.

Her work on digital inclusion is here http://raceonline2012.org/

Brian McBride spoke about how Amazon UK works with their customers. He stated that “all the technology in the world is meaningless unless your people’s attitude and behaviour is customer focused” and that services often make the mistake of trading “short term gain against long term loyalty.” He stated that “smart use of technology is frugality” and that Amazon’s managers all spend two days in the customer call centres as part of their induction.

There then followed a discussion amongst the group about the issues being raised.

My impression of the event was that government is interested in three themes;

  1. Freeing up data
  2. The digital divide
  3. and learning from private sector companies (inc Amazon and First Direct) how to increase digital engagement without losing customer loyalty and damaging the “brand” of the public service.

In the discussion around releasing data the crime mapping project was given a positive mention and in discussing digital engagement Channel Four commissioning editor Tom Loosemore who funds digital engagement initiatives including  patientopinion.com, referenced the initial work they are funding with mypolice.org. This a citizen website that is currently being designed and built, with whom we have engaged as part of the Policing 2.0 conference http://www.mypolice.org/

All three themes have implications for the police service and the NPIA in particularly the Citizen Focus and Neighbourhood Policing Programme.

At the close of the meeting the organisers stated that they would like to keep all participants informed and engaged in the process.

I am available to discuss these issues and any matter arising.

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