The Munhall (Pennsylvania) News Watch posted this Pittsburgh Tribune Review article recently:
While police departments elsewhere turn to Web sites such as Twitter and Facebook, some local chiefs are sticking to automated phone messages as the best way to get fast alerts to many people at once.
“If you want something right away, a Web site isn’t fast enough,” said Ross police Sgt. William Barrett. “Manpower and media are quicker.” Pittsburgh police have used an Internet-based alert system for two years and many departments post information about crimes on municipal Web sites. But officials say phone systems remain most effective.
Ross police are installing a reverse 911 system, an automated system that can make hundreds of calls in a few minutes.
Missing from the article were examples of other agencies that had either made a total switch to Internet-based services, or were using both.
People aren’t just on the phone… or online
A key to social media is that it reaches people where they are. Lots of people are on Facebook and Twitter, and that’s why so many companies and government agencies are there, too. But as marketers point out, Internet marketing isn’t about the tools. It’s always, always about the people.
I commented to the MNW blog: “Doesn’t reverse 911 only work for landlines? I think it is advisable for agencies to use both phone and services like Nixle (which can be pushed to Twitter) – some people have only cell phones and no land lines, and others may prefer text or email alerts (say, a working parent who would want to know what’s going on in their child’s school neighborhood).”
Note that I think both services should be used. I had an eyeopening moment this week when I read in an email from the Mountain View (California) Police Department‘s PIO, Liz Wylie: “[W]e have over 1000 followers on Twitter, but over 75000 people living in this city and a HUGE number who work here (especially given Google’s headquarters is here). [Thus] Twitter is really reaching only a few people within our community and we can not dedicate vast resources to such a specialized tool that only reaches a small segment of our target population.”
Know your community
Clearly, social media tools are not the end-all be-all of community outreach, even as the media hype them. “Reaching the people where they are” doesn’t just include Web-savvy youth; it also includes their elderly grandparents, people with physical disabilities who live independently, poor people, and others whose phone or computer usage is limited—for whatever reason.
This blog post points out that it is very difficult to measure the extent to which social media tools “should” be used, and ultimately is used in conjunction with other traditional means of communication anyway.
So yes, if it will bring value to your public, and you have the resources for it, use reverse 911; it clearly works. So do Nixle, Citizen Observer, Facebook, and Twitter. Make the messages consistent—and use these multiple means to get information out to the largest group of people possible.
Image: nicholassmale via Flickr