The question ‘what next for police and social media?’ was an interesting one posed to a group at the Bluelightcamp unconference that took place this weekend in Manchester. In the past three years there have been some significant developments by police forces in the UK using Twitter and Facebook. Some have branched out further into other networks such as Google+, Pinterest, YouTube and Flickr.
Many police forces have moved from using social networks to just broadcast information, to look to engage and develop conversations with people. In lots of cases there is less concern about controlling social networks and more investment in supporting frontline officers and staff to use social networks.
The police have been able to use social media at times of crisis and during emergencies, and many have developed a more relaxed less formal tone. It has provided a way to promote activity and also to share key information and crime prevention messages.
So, what next for police and how they are using social media?
There are a number of developments that I think are likely to have an impact in the coming months.
Firstly, there are growing opportunities for people to be able to publish themselves in increasingly slick and impressive ways. For this you can see a number of apps that have developed to help people do more than just post on Facebook or Twitter. If you look at Tactilize as an example or Snapguide you can see the sorts of things that people can achieve. Another element of this for Greater Manchester Police is the initiative to take members of the community out on patrol. They are then encouraged to post, write or photograph about their experience. This isn’t how we use social media but how we encourage others to.
Secondly, we will see social networks starting to go 24/7 and become more of an operational tool than just for engagement. This could mean that forces start to accept crime reports through social networks. At the moment this is not being encouraged because the system is not in place behind the scenes to manage crime reports on social networks. However, this is the natural progression particularly for Twitter and Facebook.
Thirdly, the social approach needs to be brought inside the organisation so that we find ways to develop collaborative platforms for staff to use. It requires appropriate technology to support such a move but more importantly it requires an appropriate culture. The time is now right for such a development. I have seen a lessening of the grip of the hierarchy and moves to harness the knowledge and experience of the frontline that has been supported by the external use of social networks.
Finally, we need to keep up to date with changes and events. This means continually checking who wants to speak to us and through what networks, knowing what we are doing and what we want to achieve. But also it is about knowing how networks are developing, what is new and how apps might be able to support your work.
The police have come a long way in the past three years and have achieved a lot. This is not a time to rest on our laurels, it is a time to keep striding forward and developing. Most importantly it is a time to involve people in what the future looks like.