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BizReport : Social Marketing : September 02, 2010

Police embrace Twitter but lack strategy

A new study from the Canadian Association of Police on Social Media takes a look at the Tweeting habits of cops and their agencies in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. It transpires they're doing a cracking job but, as with other corporate users, could do with putting social media policies in place.

by Helen Leggatt

CAPSM Police social media logo.pngLaw enforcement officials and agencies are using social media to communicate with their communities, and many have signed up to Twitter. This enables police to keep the public informed of up-to-the-minute safety information and disseminate information that could help capture perpetrators of crime.

However, a recent study of over 1,000 official and unofficial police Twitter accounts in the U.K., U.S., and Canada, undertaken by the Canadian Association of Police on Social Media, found few have a social media strategy in place.

Considering the nature and sensitivity of police information given out over the micro-blogging platform, including descriptions of wanted criminals or details of missing persons, it should be imperative that guidelines are in place to promote responsible, legally sound, and consistent Tweeting.

Of the 62 Canadian agencies or officer Twitter accounts in Canada none included disclaimers or policy information. Just nine of the 800 American police accounts investigated had legal disclaimers, none had policy links. However, in the U.K., one agency - the London Metropolitan Police - has included a link to its Twitter policy although, at the time of the survey, no Tweets had been sent.

So what are police Tweeting about? According to the survey:

- About half of all users Tweeted about on-duty activities, including arrests.

- Nearly 38% of users Tweeted about wanted or missing persons.

- About 54% Tweeted about traffic or other public safety advisories.

- 35% of all accounts Tweeted about police and community volunteer activities.

- Just 9% Tweeted personal opinions about crime or criminal justice.

"That more police are using Twitter to connect with their communities is encouraging. However, they should take care not to use it only because it is popular or because the neighboring agency signed on. Instead, they must recognize it in the context of public communication at large: who uses it, how they use it, and where it can fit into various types of police operations," concludes the study.

Not all law enforcement agencies are embracing Twitter. Ex-policeman, and partner at, Mike Vallez, believes there are a few barriers to break down before more agencies get connected. In particular he notes legal worries, skepticism, financial concerns, and a perceived lack of value.

"Law enforcement is missing a huge opportunity to build community on Twitter and to reap the benefits of those communities," writes Vallez. "Social media is not very social if only one person is talking, come on coppers get in the conversation."

Tags: micro-blogging, police, social media, social media strategy, Twitter

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