Tag Archives: Sasha Taylor

Blue Light Camp: In the UK, Spotlight on social media after 2011 riots

BlueLightCamp social media unconferenceNearly a year ago, as I caught up on tweets following my talk at the Police Leadership Conference, a series of tweets caught my eye. They came from Sasha Taylor, Chair of the National Police Web Managers Group.

Sasha and I got into a good discussion about social media use in law enforcement, and although my work took me in a different direction last year, he stayed on my radar. Which was why I got back in touch with him a few weeks ago, when he tweeted about the upcoming Blue Light Camp: an “unconference” designed to discuss public safety best practices for social media.

The free, daylong event will take place on Sunday, April 15th from 9am to 5pm at Manchester Central exhibition centre—the day before British APCO’s annual event. It will focus in particular on social media use in times of unrest, drawing from UK experiences in 2011. Cops 2.0 talked further about it with Camp organizer Paul Coxon:

How does BlueLightCamp fill a hole in crisis-related discussions that other gov-related or police-related conferences left open?

BlueLightCamp is unique in that it is the first truly multidisciplinary emergency services unconference in the UK. Most other conferences would either be for the police authorities or the fire services or front-line healthcare or social care providers, to our knowledge no one has yet created an event that brought them all together. Sasha recognised that a lot of the conversations being had within the police and healthcare arenas cut across all Blue Light Services and there was learning that could be of benefit to all.

The other big difference about Blue Light Camp is that, aside from the sectors involved, we are not dictating who should attend and already we have an exciting mix of communicators, front-line workers, people in senior and strategic roles and even research scientists who have signed up to attend.

What about the “unconference” format do you feel will best facilitate the discussions you envision taking place?

I used to have a boss who loved going to conferences because, in his own words, it was an easy day were he didn’t have to do anything and could basically sleep. Unfortunately for a lot of people that is what conferences are about, but that’s not what an unconference is about. Unconferences will not work without everyone playing their part and for this reason they attract the type of people who want to engage around the topics.

The type of people who want to engage are the type of people that are likely to share their learning and experiences, the type of people who will lead positive change in their organisation and the wider sector, and that is what Blue Light Camp is about, creating the conversations that lead to positive change.

In addition to this, unconferences often take place out of work hours, those attending do so in their own time and at their own cost, which contributes to making them more willing to participate, network, share best practice and take away new ideas to their organisations/local networks.

Crisis management and mapping will be presented. Any other sessions you know of that are (at least roughly) planned?

The beauty of an unconference is you won’t really know the sessions that will be pitched until delegates begin pitching them, but we are hopeful to see examples of how 24-hour tweeting has worked for police service and council services, the ways in which Facebook and Twitter have been used to engage communities, metrics of SM channels, gamification are all topics discussed at other conferences.

People often discuss other areas of SM such as use of QR codes, Wikipedia, open data, blogging and general communications. We also have research fellows attending from the Disaster 2.0 project which is looking at use of social media during disasters and emergencies.

People come to unconferences to either share an idea or an experience so will lead a session for this reason; others will have barriers/questions that they would like discuss with others that have experienced the same issues or have the expertise to find a solution. Sharing at its best.

How many of your participants will also attend BAPCO, and what do you hope they will bring with them from BLC?

One of the perks of signing up with Blue Light Camp is membership of British APCO, who are our venue sponsors, we would hope as many BlueLightCamp-ers as possible will stick around for the BAPCO Annual Exhibition and Development Sessions, but more than this, we hope they will carry on the BlueLightCamp conversations with those BAPCO members who were not able to attend.

Paul, David and Sasha will also be on hand throughout the BAPCO event to continue any conversations from the BlueLightCamp event and to help with any social media surgeries to continue the sharing experiences  and best practice.

Will you make available content for people who were unable to attend BLC?

We will be making BLC content available across a number of channels before, during and after the event, from videos, blogs, podcasts, and live-tweeting. The main source of information will always be the BlueLightCamp site:  http://bluelightcamp.wordpress.com/

Participants are expected and encouraged to tweet throughout the event and people often blog about their experiences post event. Many of the new connections people make continue well beyond the closing speeches at the event.

Anything else you would like to mention? 

So far, the response  to BlueLightCamp has been very positive with 75% of the 170 tickets going within three weeks of our launch. We have a variety of brilliant sponsors that have the vision to support these events and thus making them free for the attendees. Without the sponsors unconferences would not be so easy to put on.

After a, hopefully, successful event this year planning will start again for 2013 with the aim of making this a regular calendar event for Blue Light Services.

Blue Light Camp will be open to all UK Blue Light Services and those people who work with them. Join them in Manchester on April 15; if you can’t make the event, be sure to follow along with the #BlueLightCamp hashtag on Twitter! Vendors may also want to consider sponsoring the event.

An exercise in social

Monday last week was something of a first for me. Instead of writing about public relations and social media, I talked about it – to a roomful of about 160 public information officers, media relations officers, command staff and others involved with police information dissemination.

The venue: the 2-day Advanced Strategic Communications Seminar, “Social Media and Policing in the Digital Age,” of the BCACP-hosted Police Leadership 2011 Conference. The topic: “A Survey of Official and Unofficial Law Enforcement Twitter Accounts in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States.”

The original plan was to divide the talk in half. Lead researcher and coauthor Laura Madison would present an overview of the study and its findings, and I would follow up with a short discussion on the floor about how the conference participants might put (or already were putting) this stuff to work for themselves.

Laura couldn’t make it, but thanks to her fantastic Prezi (below), I was able to deliver her half of the presentation with no trouble. If this is the first you’ve seen it, please find our study so you can follow along.


My half of the presentation involved an interactive session, in which I asked conference participants to talk about their experiences in context of what we’d studied and presented:


We didn’t have a ton of time for an in-depth discussion, but I believe it was enough for participants to think about. Some highlights:

The force of personality

One of the most important questions involved the balance between humor/personality and official business. Both I and keynote Deputy Chief Constable Gordon Scobbie (who, as social media lead for UK police, has a wealth more experience than I do) tried to explain in context of Twitter accounts like @TrafficServices and @SuptPayneWMP, but this probably could have taken an entire session in itself!

Suffice to say, feeds that read like they’re off the screens of computer aided dispatch systems are boring. To draw out the old analogy of a cocktail party, a CAD-like feed is the equivalent of some guy standing in the corner droning. He may think his information is necessary and important, but no one else will.

The bottom line is to make the information compelling, to mix official messaging with a personal view of police work. While it’s pat to say “have a conversation,” we see accounts that do this quite well – both from individual officers and from official agency accounts.

Social crime reporting

Another participant asked about crime reporting via social media. The upshot: have a policy. Whether you accept crime reports via social channels or not, you need to communicate this clearly to your fans and followers. Very few of the accounts we studied actually did this, though a few told their followers to call 911 or Crime Stoppers with incident reports and tips.

Additionally, the policy you create should be fluid enough to change. Whether your agency adds social media officers over time, enabling you and them to take social crime reports; or conversely, that social crime reports are overwhelming, your policy (and the training and communication that go with it) should adapt accordingly.

(Want to read more about social crime reporting? I wrote about it in the Winter 2011 issue of the National White Collar Crime Center’s Informant.)

The Twitter conversation

While all this was going on, naturally, there was a conversation happening on Twitter. Using the hashtag #plc2011van, conference participants talked with (and were retweeted by) others who were off-site.

One conversation that stuck out: a chat I had following the conference, with a web manager in England. Sasha Taylor chairs the National Police Web Managers Group, and he contributed some thoughts to an element of Laura’s and my presentation: when police tweeters engage in “endless self-congratulatory tweeting.”

The point I was trying to make: that it is important for an agency to tell its own story, especially if its relationship with the media has not been good… but not at its community’s expense. It’s important to listen and understand how the public – especially, as Sasha pointed out, those who have been victims or do not get service due to service priorities – view the police department, before telling the story. Otherwise, the attempts at engagement will only drive a bigger wedge between public and police.

Neither, however, should listening take precedence over engagement, as Sasha also noted. Only through engagement can a police department fully understand how it is viewed. While I don’t recommend only using Twitter for this purpose, I do think it’s a good and convenient platform for those who use it, and should be treated as such.

Have you read the study? How would you respond to the questions Laura and I posed?