Who owns social media?

There are some days when you can take a long look at where you are and what you are doing and can feel a sense of satisfaction. Today was one of those days for me. Why? Well, it was down to a group of police officers and police community support officers (PCSO) who came together from across Greater Manchester today to talk about social media and how we can develop it to meet what communities want.

Twelve months ago we launched the first neighbourhood Twitter feed – the much mentioned @gmpdidsbury. PCSO Ben Scott took on the challenge of creating a local identity on Twitter and finding ways to engage with his community through the social network. More than 2,000 tweets later and he has more than 2,300 followers as well as a whole host of stories about how Twitter has been able to support operational policing.

In the next few days we will reach the milestone of having all the almost 60 neighbourhood teams using Twitter. It is something that would have been unthinkable just a couple of years ago. Giving police officers and PCSOs the power to use a channel of communication direct to the public to broadcast information – it would never have happened. There would have been concern about how people could be trusted, how could things be controlled and about potential risks to reputation. But we have reached a momentous time when officers tweeting has become an accepted situation. Almost the norm.

The purpose of getting the officers together was to share ideas, good practice and identify those issues and concerns about using social media. When officers are given the opportunity of tweeting their first thoughts are always the concern about such responsibility and what happens if something goes wrong. But those concerns haven’t impacted on what they have done. All the officers demonstrated their commitment to using social media and finding how it can best work to support their local communities. Some had never used social media before they started tweeting at work and yet they are now trying to see what more can be done using the channel.

This may feel like a landmark but things never stand still and we are already looking for the next stage and future developments. Having all the neighbourhood teams on Twitter is important but now we need to expand even further so that we can provide Twitter feeds for local communities. This means really understanding communities and the boundaries that exist. For police services they may be all part of one large neighbourhood but the communities within are often very clearly defined. It is those distinct communities that we need to work with. What it means is even more officers using social networks to speak to local people.

Twitter is also just the starting point. More developments are needed to put Facebook into the hands of neighbourhood officers. It is communicating with a different audience to Twitter and needs different guidance, support and monitoring in place. But there is a lot of knowledge about social media in the hands of the users, the officers and staff in organisations, and we need to recognise that and make use of it. No communication team should think that they are the only ones that have the answers.

So, today was a turning point as well as being a milestone. It clearly demonstrated how much has been achieved with the dedication, commitment and enthusiasm of the police officers and PCSOs that have grasped the opportunity to use social media. But it also highlighted that the future is in those people’s hands, the people who know their local neighbourhoods, the people who know what the issues are and the people who are working with their communities to make them safer. No-one should be so arrogant as to think that they have all the answers or that they can define the future alone and in isolation.

We have come so far and achieved so much but we must all continue learning about social media and how we can work with it.

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