Social media – why the police do it

It was interesting to read the Composite research about the police use of social media which was looking across Europe for best practice. I was lucky enough to be able to discuss it when a selection of officers from across the globe came to Manchester. As you would expect there were a lot of differences with legal and cultural issues but there were many similarities.

The research makes some important points that I would hope those forces that have not yet started to use social media will take on board.

A number of ways that social media is used are covered in the report including to support operational activity as well as developing trust with communities and improving engagement. It states “investigations performed by the police can benefit greatly from information that is available on social media”. Going on to add that what social media does is to empower citizens so that they can support the police in a way that has never been seen before. This can be seen in support to reports of missing people, warrants or wanted individuals.

During the riots in 2011 the use of social media became extremely important and much has been written about it. The research once again highlights how those with established connections on social media benefitted and were able to use them during the crisis. It is also pleasing to see the GMP ‘shop-a-looter’ campaign mentioned for its use of traditional methods of communication alongside social media. One of the activities considered best practice by the researchers was to reply to questions and concerns raised on social networks at a time of crisis when others may not. In doing this the police were able to show the human side of policing which was what the public wanted, according to the research.

Police forces have also been able to make savings by using social media above other paid for methods of communication. The use of social media is done at no extra cost, using no extra people which also helps to ensure it is brought into daily business. At a time of financial challenges this is seen as an important factor in the police use of social media.

So where does this take us? The report adds “Forces that are active on social media are able to confront a number of pressing issues that relate to the increasing ubiquity of social media and their relevance in citizens’ lives.” The research is compelling reading for all including those not working within law enforcement. For me it is simple, there is much to be gained in developing communication, conversations and building communities through social media.

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