Tag Archives: Twitter

Don’t just tweet—curate

curating content for successAt Officer.com this week, I wrote a back-to-basics column on using Twitter. The article ran long, so I didn’t get a chance to include a segment about a trend I’ve been noticing (and taking part in): the increasing importance of content curation.

Last month, the news that Twitter had acquired curation service Summify generated quite a bit of news. “Like some other services such as News.me, Summify filtered a user’s activity streams, then used an algorithm to produce a daily e-mail with links to the most-shared content in their social networks,” Bloomberg BusinessWeek explained.

In other words, Summify helped Twitter users determine what was important without their having to filter tweets manually. And with Twitter building this capability into its service, think about what curation might mean to a law enforcement Twitter account.

Remember: people share what they think their followers will benefit from. At this point, relevance is in the eye of the beholder—not the content originator. How can you help them?

First, put high quality content out there for sharing. Well-written blogs and web pages, well-edited video, carefully chosen images will get your followers’ attention. What about your agency’s police work do you want people to focus on? Communicate it clearly, and you’ll improve your chances that they’ll notice it and share it among themselves.

Second, curate content that supports what you’re doing. Sgt. John Jackson of the Houston Police Department presented me with an idea: use a curation service like Paper.li (or Scoop.it, my pick for Cops 2.0-related content) to package their various social streams for their audiences.

“Even better,” he wrote, “they could use it to bring some of their partners on board too. Crimestoppers, groups working with the mentally ill, homeless, veterans, etc.” Nonprofits, victim services advocates, community centers and others would be natural additions to a newsletter or curated stream. So would news articles highlighting a local-turned-broader issue across the nation.

This has been exactly the experience in the Hampshire (UK) Constabulary, Portsmouth City Centre Unit. Its Paper.li, The Daily Ninah — named for the unit’s police transit van, which (in a nice example of less formal engagement) got its name from the CCU’s Twitter followers — has been running for about two weeks. Unit leader Sgt. Robert Sutton says:

I chose paper.li due to the format being easy to use, it self populates, you can add content and it looks like a newspaper! It is also easy for the reader to digest and navigate through.

“Naturally I draw from local Hampshire Constabulary Twitter accounts but also from others across the county that I find are interesting and who promote useful crime prevention information/advice by thinking outside of the box.

“I also like to draw from partner agencies who we can promote (for example @actionfrauduk @Directgov @ASBACTIONLINE @HantsCrimestopp) and encourage followers/readers to explore these websites for further useful information.”

It is, along with the unit’s Twitter account, a tactic that supports a strategy: as Sutton describes, “to communicate crime prevention advice and encourage engagement with the public…. What we want is to break down the stereotypical barriers about what people think of the police, open up and explain what we do and show that we aren’t just a uniform; there is someone there for you if you need us.” Curation is just one of the ways the Portsmouth CCU is translating those words into action.

Are you curating content for your agency? What services do you use, and what kinds of articles do you include?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Manchester Library

First ever police-on-Twitter report now available!

We are thrilled to have partnered with CAPSM  at www.capsm.ca and announce the release of our first-of-its-kind research report on how police in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States are using Twitter! We hope you’ll find our discoveries as eye-opening as we did, and we think that regardless of where in the world you’re located, you’ll be able to learn from what other police are doing (and not doing) with this versatile communications tool.

It will be linked in the sidebar as well as in this post so that you can find it easily anytime you want. Meanwhile, we’d love to hear your feedback — please be sure to leave us a comment!

Survey of Official & Unofficial Law Enforcement Twitter Accounts in Canada, the United Kingdom, & the Unite…

Social bookmarking for law enforcement

Yeah, I know. “Social bookmarking” is a ridiculous term. Brings to mind a visual of tweens giggling uncontrollably in a library. Next I’ll be telling you to read reports out loud to each other around a campfire, right?

Actually, social bookmarking can be a pretty powerful branding tool. It can help law enforcement agencies and professionals alike curate important content that supports what they’re doing.

Say you’re an identity theft expert. Not only could you bookmark items from national news about ID theft; you’d also bookmark stories from local and regional media to show the problem in your area. And you might bookmark interviews and presentations from other detectives on the subject.

It does that by aggregating links to news items on a particular topic or set of topics that you want to draw attention to. That way, visitors to your site have a better context for what you provide.

How I bookmark

I didn’t really get the point of social bookmarking until I started using it for a client. That’s why his list of bookmarks is awesome, and mine is all over the place. (Until I get it cleaned up.)

I start with Google Alerts, sometimes Twitter too. Alerts pull in news items and blogs based on keywords I’ve specified, like “Internet evidence.” I go through the listed items in each email and click on the ones that seem most pertinent to my interest areas. If someone tweets an interesting-looking link, I click on it to read. Then I bookmark and “tag” (organize by keyword) the items I want.

This makes it easy for me to go back and find it again if, say, I plan to use it for a blog entry. For my client, it’s a way to build a portfolio of product reviews, news from around the world that supports his company’s mission, and media coverage.

How this works for law enforcement

PIOs can derive a lot of use from a tool like this. Day to day, bookmarking and tagging items can help support initiatives like crime mapping. Do media stories accurately reflect the statistics? Good reporters should already be referring to maps—many news sites post them—but media perspective will be different from police’s.

In an ongoing crisis, for another example, a PIO might bookmark all the news coverage—local and national. A high-profile issue such as a missing child or serial offender will result in dozens of media interviews, which may result in actionable intelligence.

Aggregating bookmarks in one place is important for the public, too. It promotes transparency, shows your agency is organized about paying attention to what’s going on in the community.

This is true even when there’s a scandal involving an officer. Just as an internal investigation must be fair and balanced, so must its presentation to the community. Bookmarking coverage, again, shows transparency, a willingness to face trouble head-on. It can be one part of promoting public trust.

Individual cops can use it, too. My introductory example was about identity theft experts, but the possibilities are limitless for investigators from all walks: gang officers, detectives assigned to domestic violence cases, school resource officers… the list goes on, and can include officers seeking to educate each other as well as the public.

Bookmarking tools

I use social bookmarking service Delicious, but the problem with that is when links become outdated. Many news sites remove their archives after just a week or so. (I’ve found TV news tends to stay up longer than print news.) Still, tags are limitless and you can make notes on your bookmarks.

Another popular service, StumbleUpon, is more about “social.” I’ve found it can be time-consuming, and recommending your own coverage can get you banned, sometimes unfairly, users believe.

Recently I was approached to blog about iCyte (no they didn’t offer me anything), free social bookmarking that doubles as a capture tool. Bookmarked pages remain intact even after the original host has deleted them, because they are saved on the iCyte server. You can have multiple projects, save some or all of a page, tag pages, make notes, and so forth.

What kind of information can your community benefit from with your bookmarking?

The cost of transparency

When transparency makes you want to hide

When transparency makes you want to hide

Those of us who applaud organizational use of social media talk a lot about “transparency.” A company or government agency that allows its employees to blog or tweet, under their own names, about their lives and jobs is said to make us trust them more. It’s humans caring about what other humans experience. What could be simpler?

Too much transparency?

In August I blogged, also with regard to transparency, about a police chief friend who “went dark” on Twitter because a citizen had complained about some tweets he’d made off hours, with regard to his life outside of law enforcement.

The other day another friend said something similar. His story went like this:

I had some citizens that were giving me info via Twitter [referring to] what they saw as a problem. I took the info and told them we were following up on it. We already were and it was drug related. When these folks didn’t see immediate reaction from LE they sort of took it out on me personally and my agency via Twitter posts. I replied with a professional, but possibly a bit stern reply….

That officer, Lt. Chris Mouser, is about as transparent as you can reasonably expect from a 17-year veteran of law enforcement. He tweets about his faith, his family, sometimes about his job as a patrol division commander. From what I can tell, he’s a good guy. Yet his human-ness was not enough for his critics.

Or was it too much?

Some people need authorities, not other people

I have wondered whether transparency is as valuable as progressive police chiefs, journalists, watchdog groups, and others tell us it is. While I think organizational transparency is absolutely valuable, personal transparency is a little more of a gray area.

Look at any log of 911 calls and you quickly see that many callers are looking for, in essence, stand-in parents. They want police to help them control their kids, take their medications, make sense of their lives.

And just as you don’t want to know about your parents’ sex life, many citizens don’t want to know that their police are anything but police. Personal details make them feel insecure, as if finding out that a cop has the same family problems they do makes him or her less able to handle their problems.

Says Mouser,

I find it much easier to speak with people on Twitter and [Facebook] when they are not from my town. When they live here they tend to turn it all into a work issue that I feel responsible for acting upon. They also expect me to talk/act a certain way…

Anticipating the haters

Social media can be a force multiplier. Cops can get the word out quickly and efficiently about problems in their communities. But when community members themselves are critical of those efforts, it’s all too easy for officers to develop “bunker mentality.” As Mouser puts it,

I just wanted to interact with people and see what was going on, and it got turned into me being on duty while on Twitter. I understand after nearly 20 years in Law Enforcement I am on duty all the time, but social media seemed to be a good outlet to interact with others without being in public. I literally avoid going out in public when I’m off as to avoid work when I’m off….

He’s not alone there. I’ve heard that said more than once by now. So rather than take up the old saw about “Take nothing personally,” law enforcement agencies should instead support their officers with policy and best practices.

Indeed, arguably Mouser’s agency needs a presence on Twitter, at the very least a policy in place for individual officers who identify themselves and their locations. How much should go into the policy? Start with questions like:

  • How do we handle tips via social sites?
  • Who will maintain the official presence?
  • What about when they’re off duty?
  • On or off duty, how much should they personally be responsible for, and how should they be responsible for it?
  • How should they handle unhappy citizens—especially if their personal and professional lives are blended in one account? (Should their lives be blended?) Can they block or unfriend abusive citizens?

Some citizens will never be satisfied, either because they didn’t like police to begin with, or because they’re just disagreeable people. But just as training officers prepare recruits to deal with them on the street, all officers need preparation to deal with them in the far less cut-and-dried online world too.

What else would you add to the list of policy questions?

Image: D.C.Atty via Flickr

“Hands On” Demo for Social Media

Social media is not just the latest "shiny object" for law enforcement

Social media is not just the latest "shiny object" for law enforcement

Regular readers might remember Sgt. Tom Le Veque from my interview with him in August, which detailed how he carefully researched his community before setting up a social media presence on behalf of the Arcadia (CA) Police Officers’ Association.

Recently, Sgt. Le Veque attended a 140 Characters Conference in Los Angeles. There, three police chiefs talked about Twitter, social media, and communication. Sgt. Le Veque wrote up his takeaways in a good overview of how law enforcement agencies are using social media as 2009 draws to a close:

A communication evolution

Several vendors set up shop in one of our department training rooms last week, peddling the newest models of body armor, AirSoft weapons, and assorted tactical gear. Live demonstrations followed in the range and the hands-on experience was well worth the time invested to attend.

I have learned over the years that those of us in law enforcement like to see and touch new products and technology. You only need to look at the attendance numbers that regional trade show events like CopsWest and Trexpo produce to see that our profession is in love with the latest and greatest when it comes to tools of the trade.

Up to date equipment, use of modern technology, continual training and development of personnel, and constant evaluation of policy and procedure are a few examples of positive attributes of a progressive and quality law enforcement agency.

But in the society and culture that surround us today, that is not enough. It is said that change is slow and difficult. The days of strict “paramilitary” police work have passed. Society has asked law enforcement to evolve into a business that includes community partnerships, transparency, and accountability, while at the same time, upholding the law and “fighting” crime.

We have not been asked to step away from our role as law enforcement officers, but rather to improve the way we do business. Answering these challenges and changes for law enforcement is not necessarily something found in a booth at the next trade show, but rather a change in philosophy and simply modifying the “way“ that we do business.

Law enforcement managers should look to their own personnel for one easy answer to help in this “change.” At a recent #140 Character (Twitter) conference, Chief John Stacey of the Bellevue Police Department in Nebraska discussed BPD’s use of social media. Chief Stacey described how a young officer “lit up” during a recent briefing where the Chief mentioned that he would be out of town for a Twitter conference. The young officer was surprised that the Chief knew what Twitter was all about.

That officer and the Chief had never really engaged in conversation before that moment, but because of that common ground have developed a new and improved rapport. This small example serves as both a tool for internal personnel development and investment in an agency, but moreover breaches the tip of a much greater tool for reaching out to your community.

Chief Stacey is among a growing group of law enforcement administrators who have embraced the use of social media as a tool to engage, communicate, and interact with the folks that their police agencies serve. The Los Angeles Police Department, the Sacramento Police Department, and the Whittier Police Department in California, each host a blog, and actively interact with their communities.

Some police agencies, like Bellevue, have taken the use of social media further.  Bellevue PD, like the Lakeland Police Department in Florida, has both a Twitter and a Facebook page. BPD even encourages their individual police officers to send “tweets” about activity while at work.

The Oxnard Police Department in California has asked a lead officer from each beat or sector within the city to send out Twitter updates specific to their service area. OPD also produces web video providing crime info, press release information, and other information to promote their agency.

YouTube is also being used by law enforcement to deliver assorted messages and embedded video. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department in Nevada and the Milwaukee Police Department in Wisconsin are two agencies utilizing YouTube. Media releases, crime prevention tips, suspect wanted bulletins, missing persons, are all examples of potential use of video releases from a police agency.

The Boca Raton Police Department in Florida and Chief Dan Alexander have taken the concept of mixing social media and Law Enforcement even further. BRPD has a project called VIPER that packages the best of their use of social media use in a one stop shop. VIPER allows the Boca Raton community to interact with BRPD by use of video, Twitter, Facebook, crime mapping, news, email alerts, and more. BRPD provides text messages and email information through a service known as Nixle. Nixle is available at many agencies and local government agencies across the country.

Think about your own personnel, your family, and friends. How many of them are carrying a web enabled phone with them everywhere they go? Technology has put cameras, news reporting, and instant delivery of information in the hands of virtually every person on the street.

Take advantage of this wave and go “hands on” with social media. Explore the benefits and learn about the positive impact your agency can have by interacting, listening, and being involved with your community by using social media as a tool for law enforcement.

Image: Abby_Lanes via Flickr

Case study: How Boca Raton PD responds to community needs

Visibility, Intelligence, Partnerships, Education, and Resources make up the Boca Police VIPER brand.

Visibility, Intelligence, Partnerships, Education, and Resources make up the Boca Police VIPER brand.

Last week I talked about the importance of “listening” to your community, including taking into account a variety of factors about the community itself. It won’t be the last I discuss this topic, but I wanted to take some time to examine what Boca Raton PD is doing with all that data.

Chief Dan Alexander, who blogs at BocaChiefBlog.com and tweets as @bocachief, talked with me about the Boca VIPER program as a branded crime prevention strategy. Granted, BRPD hired a public relations firm to help with branding… but even this itself was a response to realizing that community needs were bigger than the agency could accomplish on its own. As Alexander put it, “We needed to market, but cops don’t market very well.”

What were those needs? For starters, “listening” doesn’t just mean watching what is being said about you. From a law enforcement standpoint, it also means crime and calls-for-service analysis.

BRPD found from its number-crunching that the bulk of its crimes were being committed by people from outside the community. In addition, says Alexander, while community support for its police was high, and a number of programs had already been put in place to address problems, none of it was part of a cohesive strategy.

So Kaye Communications, a local PR firm, helped with conceptualizing and developing the new brand.

Branding crime prevention: Boca VIPER

The five elements of the Boca VIPER brand form the comprehensive crime-prevention strategy the department had been moving toward all along. As Alexander explains, these are “independent elements that overlap”:

  • Visibility allows people to see the police and connect with their brand.
  • Intelligence shows the importance of information, and how the community is impacted by “outside forces.”
  • Partnerships with local businesses and organizations help improve the agency’s reach.
  • Education via traditional and Internet-based media involve the public in crime prevention.
  • Resources including officer training, facility improvement, and operational tactics keep police constantly improving.

Where social media fits

As public relations professionals constantly remind each other, marketers, salespeople, and others, social media is not a strategy unto itself. Rather, it needs to be integrated into a broader communications strategy that includes all the different roles in an organization

At BRPD, this is exactly the case. “Social media personalizes us, helps us make a connection to get information to the people who need it,” says Alexander. “It’s logical to realize how social media tools relate to a unique constituency that uses them.”

The main point of social media, which is part of VIPER’s “Education” component, is to drive traffic back to the main VIPER Web pages. The agency has Twitter and Facebook pages (but not MySpace anymore because, as Alexander says, the strategy is constantly being tweaked depending on what works).

The VIPER site itself is being revamped, so that it will now include BRPD’s Twitter feed. The advantage here, says Alexander, is for all citizens—not just media—to be able to see “police blotter”-type information as it happens.

The department is also considering a video feed, which would allow the agency’s PIO to take questions twice a week, while mapping—complete with e-mail alerts—will continue to help citizens look at criminal activity in their own neighborhoods.

Web presences, says Alexander, do not have to be mutually exclusive, and in fact should not be. “These are all different ways to inform, promote transparency,” he says. “We don’t rely too heavily on any one tool because there’s ebb and flow. Instead, we use the tools to draw people to the content.”

Getting the cops involved

There’s listening to the community. Then there’s doing something with that data—creating the tools that allow police to respond to what they’re hearing. And then there’s choosing the people to help promote the overall brand.

Alexander’s blog and Twitter presences go along with the department’s PIO work, but he would like BRPD cops themselves to join in eventually. Officers bring a “unique street-level perspective” to incidents, which is why Alexander believes there is no reason why they can’t use social media together with traditional chains of command.

“It won’t be fast,” he warns, “and information will be filtered—not to keep something away, but to protect everyone involved including officers.” (Arguably, the agency’s openness in advance of a major incident will help critics understand its responsibility to keep some messages filtered.)

Still, getting to that point will be challenging. As Alexander wrote for ConnectedCops.net, five barriers often keep law enforcement from realizing social media’s full benefits. “Social media is wide open, and the idea of getting up close with people doesn’t jive well with who we are as police officers,” he says.

He hopes to start getting officers involved by asking those most comfortable with the technology to lead the way. Even so, the effort will be tricky. “We have to figure out how to control yet also decentralize our message,” he says. “For officers who do connect on a personal level with the public, the trick is helping them learn how to do it officially.”

And so, while his officers aren’t actively resisting the idea, he notes that they seem to be taking a “wait and see” attitude. Thus listening will become as important to them individually as it will to the agency as a whole.

Feedback for Boca VIPER

Indeed, as with any good public relations strategy, listening is still an important part of implementation. Alexander has blogged about feedback he gets, and the department is planning focus groups next month. Surveys helped the crime prevention unit determine what the VIPER site should focus on. For instance, identity theft is set apart on its main page because in Boca Raton, it’s a major concern.

Moreover, says Alexander, “This is a living, breathing process. Our strategy is a function of our connection with a number of different sources.” He likens it, in fact, to Boca Raton’s population itself. “Officially we’re a community of 85,000, but that number can swell to 300,000 during the week,” he says. “You can’t define our population. Likewise, social media allows us not to be isolated within our borders.”

Learning from Boca police

  • Listen first. Gather data from multiple sources: residents, business owners, visitors, your agency’s own activity stats.
  • Respond. Go where the people are, both online and off, to communicate with them.
  • Take it slow. Start with areas that have the most need, as well as the areas you’re most comfortable with.
  • Gauge. How are your constituents responding to your efforts?
  • Adjust. You don’t have to get it right the first time.
  • Broaden. Let feedback and experience guide you toward expanding your reach.
  • Repeat.

How can you integrate social media not just into your communications plan, but also your overall mission as a law enforcement agency?

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