For many months now I have been promoting the use of social media in the policing world. It brings with it many opportunities for police forces, and most importantly for the frontline neighbourhood police officers. In previous blogs I have also written about the essential rules for any frontline staff that may be starting out using Twitter particularly.
In the past six months things have moved on a long way. Almost all the Greater Manchester Police neighbourhood policing teams now has a registered Twitter feed with a large number being well used. Officers are really keen now on ensuring they are making best use of all forms of social media. We have moved on a long way in a relatively short space of time. The only way this has been achieved is by officers feeling supported and comfortable with the new technology. They have been given training and advice, but also the freedom to develop their own online personality.
It was quite disappointing to see that in some areas of policing this freedom is seen as a potential threat. Chief Constable of British Transport Police Andy Trotter wrote in a recent article for Police Review that all tweets had to be 100 per cent accurate and that controls had to be in place. I understand why he has said that, but what he clearly failed to appreciate was how social networks actually work.
Since introducing social media to front line staff I have been at great pains to continually mention the 90/10 rule – especially when talking to senior staff. The 90/10 rule is the acceptance that nine out of 10 tweets will be absolutely fine, accurate, engaging and serving a policing purpose. But there will be one in 10 that cause a difficulty. The tweet that may provide inaccurate information, may include too much detail, may not support the organisational priorities and policing efforts all fall into this small group. Social networks are by their nature very fast-moving and with millions of tweets every day we know that some will be a problem.
The key is to check whether the inaccurate or problem tweet was done with malice, was it a deliberate act consciously carried out with clear intentions? Or was it just a well-intentioned tweet that somehow lost its way?
The big challenge for the most senior police officers is what they do with the latter of those categories. The times something may not go the right way, but the officer was genuinely attempting to do a good job using social networks. If the response is to investigate, impose severe controls on tweeting, including requiring checks or restrictions then you will have lost the support of the frontline staff. It will doom the use of social media to failure, tweets will be too slow, not in the right language and will become irrelevant.
What is required is a mature response that includes highlighting why the problem occurred, supporting with additional training if needed, and then moving on. That is the key – draw a line under the issue and leave it in the past. We are entering a new era for communication and engagement in policing and to do this with too many controls, restrictions and reservations will mean the service will sit on the sidelines unable to exploit the opportunities.
In short let us all remember the 90/10 rule when we are trying to encourage staff to use social media for meaningful engagement.