Police Social Media

Law & Order Online – Managing Police Social Media

Social media is now an integral part of modern policing. It offers a way for police officers to connect and engage with the local community.

Social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, have a crucial role in intelligence gathering, and crime prevention advice. They can also offer insight into the criminal justice system and convey important information quickly and easily.

Improving public safety

Social media has become the first port of call for concerned residents during serious incidents, such as major accidents, floods, storms, and even terror attacks.

Networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have emerged as vital communication channels, alerting the general public and offering early warning systems that can save lives.

Policing in the 21st-century

Social networks have become an essential part of the policing toolkit. With its growing impact, the National Policing Digital Strategy has set out how everyone – from a police officer on the beat to a chief constable – can leverage social media to their advantage.

However, like all popular communications tools, it can have its challenges, such as keeping up with the volume of information shared and managing reputational risk.

Here we discuss the role of social media in policing, its core principles and our recommendations for laying the foundations for social media success.

Why should police forces use social media?

Social media use is growing. It represents a huge shift in the way the general public uses and shares information. Social media platforms, such as Facebook, are widely acknowledged as vital communication channels. They encourage transparency, accountability and participation in policing and the law.

They can also help to build public trust and confidence in the police and encourage better relationships between police officers and the communities they serve.

What are the core principles of social media?

Generally speaking, social media provides the same things for police forces as it does for any brand:

  • Engagement – speaking directly with your audience
  • Authenticity – demonstrating alignment with your audience’s values
  • Authority – demonstrating expertise

Putting the principles into practice

The three fundamental principles of social media affect and influence each other. The better officers perform in each discipline; the more effective they will be together. In practice, this means better:

  1. Engagement

Social media is uniquely a two-way exchange. It allows officers to communicate with their audience directly, providing ways to gather information, get involved, talk about what is happening, and nurture better links with local citizens and organisations.

Online conversations matter more now than ever before, and police use of social media allows forces to speak to those they might otherwise miss.

  1. Authenticity

The very personal nature of social media allows you to ‘show who you really are’. This is about demonstrating your values and proving that they align with your audience. A police force must show that it cares about keeping people safe more than anything else in order to gain trust.

Greater Manchester Police ran a one-day Twitter account that tweeted all 2,141 calls they received for 24 hours. It highlighted just how much the police dealt with during a single day.

  1. Authority

The police need to show that they’re in touch with today’s challenges. This means demonstrating expertise and showing that people should turn to them when they have a problem or need to report a crime.

Officers from the metropolitan police service and the national police air service to local police stations in rural and city locations are uniquely positioned to use reported criminal conduct and evidence as content. However, this takes careful research and judgement because the content may be sensitive.

Laying the foundations for social media success

Police forces, like politicians, must be careful with their social media presence. Get it wrong, and they face complaints and critical feedback from those they are trying to assist, as well as colleagues. With this in mind, the force must first lay a strong foundation to control messaging and ensure success.

The need for better ‘digital literacy’

An inability to use digital tools effectively compromises the impact of social media presence and can reduce perceived policing authority.

For example, a New Zealand police force proudly posted a blacked-out photo of their new unmarked car, only for it to be swiftly uncovered by a tech-savvy member of the public.

It raised concerns about how well the force’s data was protected, leading people to think twice about providing information in case of a data breach by the organisation.

This stresses why it’s crucial that professionals run Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, youtube accounts and other platforms and appropriate training is provided if needed. This is outlined as part of the National Policing Digital Strategy, which aims to “develop a digitally literate workforce and leadership.”

Getting the tone of voice right

Any information posted on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks by the police needs to be relevant and useful. Untargeted, irrelevant communications can leave the public with the impression that the police should be spending their time on more useful pursuits like dealing with the law and fighting organised crime.

The challenge for police force leaders is to give people a reason to interact with them. You should do more than simply present dry data on Facebook and Twitter; you needn’t adopt a jokey, inappropriate tone.

Convey useful information in an interesting and responsible way, and you’ll get people’s attention and evoke a response.

Combining police social media and personal communications

There are advantages to centralising digital resources under the police force’s official title. It provides authority and respect and offers an obvious access point for users who want to engage with their local police force.

However, it is often valuable for individual officers to maintain their own semi-official Twitter accounts and Facebook pages (with direction on the tone of voice and content development).

The advantage of individual accounts is they can aim to incorporate much more personality than a police department. While they must still be professional, an officer can use a more casual tone of voice, allowing them to share a much wider range of content.

Examples include an officer posting on Twitter about their police work, legal matters, and personal lives and interests. Some good humour or human observations may appeal to followers who do not always want to read serious, dry tweets.

Delivering a mix of content

Providing more varied content means better and more frequent opportunities for engagement, ultimately improving the force’s performance on Facebook, Twitter accounts and other channels.

The optimal strategy for a police force’s online presence is to combine both central and personal accounts to benefit from each option’s advantages.

Importance of police social media

Social networking sites are a vital form of communication as more and more people, particularly younger citizens, use Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

There is no doubt social channels will be a crucial element in helping to build trust and confidence in policing in the years to come.

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