What’s in a name? Choosing your online name

There has been some online discussion over the past few months on the names people choose for social media accounts, and it got me thinking. A while ago there was confusion over who owned a Twitter name if the person using it moved organisations – do the followers stay with the organisation, or does the tweeter rename the account to reflect their new employer, and take the followers with them?

For most people this is a relatively small issue, as few of us have tens of thousands of followers, but it is worth thinking about – a disgruntled ex employee with even a few hundred followers could easily change their name to @’yourorganisation’sucks or similar, or misrepresent themselves as still working for you – appropriate policies  and clear guidelines on social media account ownership are worth thinking about up front.

Of course you don’t have to change your name when moving on, although for some people in the public eye this may cause consternation.

It is worth giving some serious thought to your user name in advance of registering it – unlike Netflix who created a new service called Qwikster, apparently unaware that the Twitter user of the same name was already active. Even worse that user described themselves as “a student who has among his interests’ women and recreational drug usage”.

Organisations may want to consider some form of naming policy- several of the police forces I have worked with have some form of standardised naming conventions such as NPTtownsville.  Others allow people to choose their own names, but again a little thought up front will save confusion and grief later on.

Services such as  namechk and knowem can help you check to see if your chosen name is available across a huge range of online sites. If you are stuck for ideas then Socialpuma has a range of sites that suggest names – some weirder than others.

Whatever name you do go for it should conform to a few basic rules:

  • keep it short – the 140 character limit on Twitter means that people find it hard to retweet (share) your thoughts and posts if your name is over about 15 characters.
  • keep it simple – an ideal name should describe you – either by name or function. If simple is not available, then go for memorable.
  •  try and keep consistent over all the social networks you use for the same purpose. People like to know that you are the same jsmith on Facebook as they have been following on Twitter.
  • Upper/lower case is irrelevant to Twitter, but JohnSmith is easier to read than johnsmith – even if they are both the same account.

One final note. My Twitter name is @jiiii. I  describe that as a ‘J’ and five ‘I’ s when telling people my name. Should I have gone for something a bit simpler (JPartridge for example)? Absolutely – but most obvious variations on my name have already gone. I leave you with one last thought – register your preferred names now whilst they are still available, and register them across any social media sites you are likely to use in the future. Most sites are free to register on, so go and do it now.



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What should a Police and Crime Commissioner do?

It is not that long now until Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) are upon us – elections will be held on the 15th November 2012 – but there is still some confusion (and concern) over what this new role will do. In broad terms they have the powers of a Police Authority plus a few. Their powers are quite wide ranging, including budgets, and the hiring and firing of the Chief Constable. From the Home Office site: “PCCs will be able to set the priorities for the police force within their force area, respond to the needs and demands of their communities more effectively, ensure that local and national priorities are suitably funded by setting a budget and the local precept, and hold to account the local chief constable for the delivery and performance of the force.”

Vote for a good politician poster via PropagandaTimes on Flick'r

Vote for a good politician poster via

My question however, is slightly different. If you were to stand as a PCC (and at the time of writing only one person has gone on record stating that he wishes to do so) what would your manifesto be?

Ask that question of the general public and the answers might be obvious – more police officers on the beat, reduced bureaucracy, reduced costs, less crime… the list is probably predictable. However I hope that most intelligent PCC candidates will consider what is achievable before making wild promises to the electorate. After all if they don’t, they are unlikely to be re-elected for a second term.

All PCCs will of course need to address the issues above – particularly the one around budgets and costs. As they will take up office in the late autumn, they will be immersed in budget setting for the following year almost immediately, and decisions on council tax precepts will need to be taken within a couple of months. Any decision to increase council tax will therefore probably be a key electoral issue.

In some areas of the country there may be local ‘push button’ issues; those local concerns that will have to be addressed by PCCs. However the wide geographical area that many PCCs will cover (think of Devon andCornwall, orThamesValleyfor example) mean that these high profile issues may not be high profile across the entire electorate.

Some PCCs will have an understanding of policing, community safety or similar, and will have a particular set of views that they will bring with them from previous employment or experience. Again these views – often not informed by understanding some of the constraints and unique operating environment of the police – could sound good on a manifesto, could easily gain public support…but fail the test of achievability.

So over to you – if you were standing, what are your top 3 (or 5 or whatever) priorities for policing. How would you phrase those to get you elected, but to also be able to deliver those promises once you were elected?

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Effective Engagement 6 – Slow, Slow, Quick, Quick, Slow

I have written previously about the Boston Explosion, and lessons my force learnt from that experience on how to use social media more effectively.

The critical point is that social media can be used for public order, critical incidents,  neighbourhood policing…indeed all areas of policing.

Image credit cobalt123 on Flick'rForces must engage early to build the relationships that can be used in emergency situations. Build trust early so people believe what you say. Build a community online that can assist in rumour killing, requests for help and clear up and investigation.

So if the unexpected happened to your organisation – how prepared are you? What is your support network on social media? A few suggestions to help:

Have ICT that works with social media sites – sounds obvious, but in the recent riots several forces had to rely on personal laptops and 3g dongles to access the internet, as force networks were too restrictive.

Have communications and operational people next to each other and talking about what they are seeing and saying, and what they see the public saying via social media.

Use the contacts you have built up in peacetime to get your messages out – youth clubs, businesses, local celebrities – all these can help in times of crisis.

Use the hashtag that is being used by the public, or if there isn’t one, create one. (Beware of hashtags that are rude or offensive however).

Plan for the transition from a steady state to an emergency situation where communications may need to be more controlled than usual. Also plan for an orderly transition back to a steady state once the emergency is over.

Organisations that are leaders in their field have many of the following characteristics – both for online activites and offline:

  • Prepare in peace time rather than at war
  • Have leadership buy in
  • Establish engagement at a local level, not at a corporate communications level alone
  • Consider the impact of both digital and traditional communications
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Effective Engagement 5

 New Technology – more hindrance than help?

Don't report to the police

This isn’t my image – just one that I feel reflects the public view of technology, and of the police.

Many people – especially in middle management in the police-  are frightened of this brave new world of engagement. There is comfort in the processes we all understand, and have a degree of control over. Increasingly however our world does not work like that.

People are talking about policing, having conversations and discussing your services, without inviting you. Journalists are finding stories and presenting them in the traditional media this way, and more importantly many people are finding their news via Twitter, sharing it via Facebook, uploading their videos and pictures of your services.

“Effective engagement is at the heart of policing. the revolution in digital technology means that people are engaging with services at their own convenience and in the manner, medium and at a time which suits them.” Nick Keane – in the Engage Guide to police forces using social media.

“the revolution in digital technology means that people are engaging with services at their own convenience and in the manner, medium and at a time which suits them.”

The speed of technology for the public vastly exceeds the speed with which traditional police force communications can respond. Modern smart phones can take a high definition video, edit it and upload it to the internet…before your officers have even returned to the station at the end of their shift. Have a look at this video of a TfL employee abusing a passenger for an example of what that can look like – this employee lost his job before the day was out.

There are loads of videos on  YouTube videos on policing – some good, some mis-understood, some bad. Some are even posted by forces themselves. The following is just a quick edit of a few videos out there:

By posting videos, commenting on other people’s videos, or refusing to comment, what message are we sending? How can we use the huge numbers of people watching videos online to engage more widely, and explain the context of issues such as taser deployment etc?


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Effective Engagement 4 – The Usual Suspects

The Usual Suspects - Image credit lamont_cranston on Flick'r

The consultation process should aim to maximise the opportunities of local residents and others (e.g. businesses, school children etc.) to make their concerns heard and be taken into account before the organisation makes a final decision. Skilful communication is an essential element of consultation.

Two Questions:

Do we just consult on issues that are easy or controversial to the public for us – budget setting, local priorities, station closures – or is it time to look at widening the impact that the public and key partners have on policing?

Which traditional methods still have their place?

The NPIA local policing and confidence guide talks about Access, Influence, Interventions and Answers as the way to build a successful engagement with local communities:

Access – If people can’t access their local police easily, they won’t be engaged, by definition. There needs to be a local understanding of the structure and working relationships within neighbourhood teams. Need for continuity of staff and training for both police staff and for local volunteers.

Influence – Police forces need to understand the impact of issues traditionally seen as ‘low level’ on feelings of public safety. Involving local people in setting priorities will not only improve people’s experience of contact with the police, but also give them influence over what matters locally. Done well it all leads to improved confidence.

Interventions – As the last entry in this series said – stop making all the decisions. Local communities need to arrive at solutions through true joint problem solving. Solving long standing problems will improve confidence in policing. Solving them together is easier and cheaper, builds community skills and sustainable change, and also improves confidence. Finally, once the foundations are laid, there is a need for joint tasking of police and local volunteers and organisations to improve the effectiveness of any actions.

Answers – Feeding back information about action and outcomes to community members is vital so people know what happened. There is a need for marketing and a variety of communication methods, as not everyone will be online (or read the local paper for that matter).

New ways of working using social media are a great way of widening all four areas. Have a look at this video of a Twitter based app by Runnymede beat for one way of giving access and feedback to the public. Virtual ward panels as covered in a previous blog also allow real influence, not just lip service.

Old style drafty village hall consultation still has it’s place…but social media (Twitter, video, online questionnaires and meetings, Facebook etc.) has started to make this seem as outdated as the fax or teletype.

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Effective Engagement 3 – Stop making decisions

A continuation of my posts on the theme of engagement.

Stop making decisions. Or at least stop taking all the decisions yourself.

Stop thinking that the police have the monopoly on all the good ideas. As one commentator on part 1 of this series said:

“[police] systems reflect a style of policing from at least 30 years ago in the days when it was considered the job of the police and not the public to solve crimes. In fact, it was seen as an admission of failure if the police turned to the public for assistance.”

We need to move on (or perhaps it is move back to when the police were the public and the public were the police), and accept that no-one knows the local community as well as the local community.

Activities such as virtual ward panels can spread the involvement to the wider community. This approach has been tried in Kensington and Chelsea in London, and has delivered some good results – real community intelligence leading to detailed community focussed priorities. In simple terms these are regular online surveys completed by a panel of people (which can be several hundred strong) in their own time, and providing real opportunities for them to influence the areas of questioning, and thus police activity.

Virtual Ward Panel example

A few things to remember:

  • The questions must be local, specific and timely
  • The process of creating them can be useful in itself
  • The panel should be made up of a variety of interests…or you can have several panels (for youth, businesses etc).

The effect on the public of just reading the questions is often to increase confidence in neighbourhood policing – the police are obviously aware of the details of what is going on, and are keen to ask the public’s opinion on local matters.

There are many ways of widening involvement – we just need to actively encourage them, make them real, make them meaningful. Other methods include Twitter/Facebook accounts, live online beat meetings, street surgeries, and yes, even traditional village hall neighbourhood meetings.

So think: How clear is your force on the decision making process, and where decisions can be influenced and by whom?

The ultimate aim should be to only take decisions where professional knowledge is essential, and even then in conjunction with the public where necessary. We should flood our decision making processes with the public…and not just the usual suspects.

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Effective Engagement 2

What the heck are we talking about?

…consultation, engagement, conversation, involvement, participation…

We use these words all the time, but with little thought to what they actually mean.

from Wikipedia definition “The tradition of a decision-making body getting inputs from those with less power is generally known as “consultation”. This became popular with UK governments during the 1980s and 1990s. Even though most governments that carry out consultations aredemocratically elected, many people who became involved in these processes were surprised that conduct of such “consultations” was unsatisfactory in at least three respects.

1) Groups that already had influence were often the only ones consulted

2) People who did not have the resources to find out would usually not be able to be part of a consultation, even if the decision it was meant to influence might have a major impact on them.

3) There were no agreed safeguards against consultations being used cynically by decision-makers to make it look like they had sought to canvass other opinions, while in fact having set a new policy in place even before it asked the question.”

So here are some good definitions of what these words actually mean:

Public (or Community) Involvement “Effective interactions between professionals, decision-makers, individual and representative stakeholders to identify issues and exchange views on a continuous basis;”

Participation “The extent and nature of activities undertaken by those who take part in public or community involvement;”

Public (or Community) Engagement “Actions and processes taken or undertaken to establish effective relationships with individuals or groups so that more specific interactions can then take place;”

Consultation “The dynamic process of dialogue between individuals or groups, based upon a genuine exchange of views, and normally with the objective of influencing decisions, policies or programmes of action.”

So next time you use the words, make sure that you – and those you are talking to – understand what you mean.

(all definitions are from Guidelines on Effective Community Involvement and Consultation RTPI and the Consultation Institute.http://www.rtpi.org.uk/download/385/Guidlelines-on-effective-community-involvement.pdf)

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