Tweet, Tweet: New Way to Call the Police?

19 June 2009

On Wednesday morning I attended the Twitter for Business / Twitter for PR presentation, hosted by Glenn Frost of FroComm. The Twitter for Business overview was a 101 tutorial so in my opinion a little elementary for the audience. For many in client services however it is the hot topic of the moment so it was timely. Plus I love Twitter. What I challenge us to focus on however is less how to get engaged on Twitter, but more WHY you should. Not just to have a conversation, we know that by now, but what is the purpose of that conversation, what role will you have? A strategy needs to be clearly articulated. I get that it’s good to try and through trial we learn and grow, but to provide legitimacy to the value of social media we need to be clear on the purpose and outcomes. By nature of the beast these will be different than other traditional efforts, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Which leads to the next part of the conference, Twitter for PR, which I thought was really interesting. A little misleading by name it was a Case Study presented by New South Wales (NSW) Police Public Affairs Director, Strath Gordon. Mr Gordon discussed how they were brand-jacked on Twitter. If you aren’t familiar with the story basically an Australian Social Media agency, Mentally Friendly, set up the Twitter account (@NSW_Police) in the name of the police department. It was an interesting thing to do to get a potential client’s attention, except impersonating a brand – let along the New South Wales police – probably wasn’t the right tone of transparency we try so hard to keep real online. To be fair I read on CNET that Mentally Friendly added that “the intent was never to misrepresent the NSW Police Force, but to create a simple and genuine dialog with which to gauge the public’s response.” Good thing they had a sense of humor about it.

As a result of the fake Twitter ID, the NSW Police decided to launch into Social Media, as have many other law enforcement agencies worldwide. It has proven an incredibly powerful way to communicate and engage with the community. Public safety officials are finding the sites not only speedy, but also a convenient way to distribute alerts, road closings, suspect descriptions, traffic disruptions, explain why police are in a certain neighborhood or to offer crime prevention tips. Others encourage leads on more pressing matters: bomb scares, wildfires and evacuations.

In addition to providing a semi-reliable distribution channel, apparently the police also face issues that brands do as well – how do we humanise our organisation to the public. Take for example the Boston Police Department and its amusing response to a question…

- Boston Police tweet “INJURED OFFICER: Officer from district 4 transported to Beth Israel Hospital, human bite to arm, suspect in custody”

- @willcady responds: “@Boston_Police if that was a zombie bite, would you tell us?”

- Boston Police: “@willcady Yes, absolutely”

Cute, good response. Glad even the ploice get the nature of the medium. I had never really thought about “friendly” communication with police departments before – usually I would only call in an emergency – but hey, why not?

However I do get concerned that in the dive into social media some of the potential issues may have not been worked out. For example, are the police monitoring these communications platforms as another way for people to contact in a case of emergency? Before your respond that’s absurd, and I wouldn’t blame you, note there was a case of a Silicon Valley exec who did just that when someone broke in. Read the story here if you don’t believe me….If you still think it’s absurd, think ahead a little to a time when Twitter is seamlessly integrated within our other communication devices – for some that is already the case – maybe in crisis it becomes hard to decipher between the different apps on your iPhone. If police departments are not monitoring Twitter or other social media channels they create as an emergency channel – how are they educating consumers about the various purposes? Realistically is it safe to rely on general public’s understanding of those distinctions anyway?

Never would I try to stifle the growing engagement of social media for any brand, government body, law enforcement agency or every day person. However, I do hope that we all think strategically and be smart about potential outcomes – not just the positive ones but the risks as well…

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Sphinn
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Mixx
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • Live
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • TwitThis
  • Yahoo! Buzz

Leave a Reply