The 999 call made by someone wanting to speak to Sir Alex Ferguson attracted a lot of interest this week. It was put out by officers through the GMP Manchester North Facebook page they administer to raise awareness of the problem of inappropriate calls and to encourage people to think whether they have a genuine emergency. It was the way this information became public that was most important for me.
If you missed what happened you can check it out on the PR Week website. http://www.prweek.com/article/1228579/pr-savvy-coppers-latest-exploit-man-uniteds-shambolic-season
More than three years ago Greater Manchester Police embarked upon a new way of working that reduced central control and became about facilitating and empowering officers and staff to be communicators. The way this could be achieved was by maximising the opportunities of social media. It needed determination and support from senior staff who were prepared to make the change even if it meant taking some risks.
What has happened is that there are more great stories and details being made public now than we have ever seen. Before we made the changes the way such a story as the 999 call would have made its way to the central communication team would have been long and tortuous – if it had ever made its way to us. Despite an education programme in place to raise awareness of the communication team and what it does, and explaining the opportunities of working with the media it was so distant that it had no relevance to staff. Not any more.
The programme which has now established Twitter and Facebook for local neighbourhoods and communities has ensured that effective communication is now something at the fingertips of staff. They are able to make a difference and see how they are doing it on a daily basis. When they get it right it has a huge impact, as with the 999 call but it doesn’t come without difficulties.
Many of the officers and staff have times when they are concerned about what they have done. Has their genuine attempt to engage been misinterpreted? Do people get their sense of humour? Can they really have a personality on social media?
The role of the communication staff becomes to help provide reassurance to guide when guidance is needed and above all to give encouragement to people stepping into this challenging world. It is not about controlling, chastising or questioning but has to be much more about building confidence for the future. We all know there will be times when things do go wrong and need to be dealt with but these are few and far between.
These are definitely exciting times and I hope that we are now seeing the fruits of the work that began more than three years ago and has been able to put communication into everyone’s daily lives.