Social Media Handbook for Police: Part 3


Welcome to the third in a new series of social media tips aimed primarily at a police audience, but hopefully applicable to a wider group of people too, especially those in the public sector. This series of posts will aim to identify some good practice and useful hints and tips for police officers and staff to consider when using social media.

Part 3: Policies / Strategies / Guidance

You will hear lots of people claiming that you need a whole raft of documents before starting using social media. After all we are the police, and we NEVER do anything without a massive written policy and guidance, and probably a week long training course too. Well, you may want to reconsider that approach, for a number of reasons:
Social media changes really fast. Don’t forget that Twitter is only 5 years old. 3 years ago we would have been discussing MySpace as the network of choice, and how to engage with the public on Friends Reunited. Any policy you write now will quickly be obsolete – as an example I expect location based services like Foursquare and Facebook Places to become more popular in the next 12 months, and after that something else again.
You already have policies about social interactions. They probably say something like we will give you a guide on what to say to the public, but generally trust you to get on with it. If there is a complaint we will deal with it. If you make an error, apologise and deal with it. Why would you want to write a new strategy covering exactly the same thing when done online?
You already have a strategy for policing. Ours is centred on protecting the public, making communities safer and improving what we do. All of that translates well on to social media platforms – and best of all your staff will (or should) be already aware of the strategy, and already be implementing it is their community and their area.
So am I saying that you should just say ‘get on with it, you are on your own!’ Well not quite (although the part about ‘get on with it’ is worth saying, and repeating a few times, but I digress…)
There are some pitfalls to social media, and a couple that are unique to policing.
Copyright is an issue that a police force would not want to be caught out on, but one that many users of the Internet think does not apply to them. Find a good source of Creative Commons licensed photos (I use Flick’r). These can be used non-commercially with an acknowledgement of the source.
Images of the public – especially children – can be contentious. A good idea would be to make sure you have appropriate consent before using these on your social media site. (I did however read one social media policy that talked about getting written consent, countersigned by an inspector or above, and filed for 3 years with a copy sent to the communications department…)
Deleting posts is a sensitive subject. There will be occasions when users post offensive content, and this should be removed, especially if a page is intended for family consumption like most police pages. But what about comments that are not offensive, but not in agreement with your posts? What about those comments that could prejudice an investigation (“I know who did it, he lives at…”) or those that are simply pointless? Some consideration of these issues up front is worth the effort, before you get accused of censorship!
So do you need a stack of policies to start using social media? No. Should you just turn your people loose with no guidance? Also no. And if you want to see some example policies (some good some bad) then have a look here, or drop me a line in the comments and I will send you the guidance I wrote for Lincolnshire Police.
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20 Responses to Social Media Handbook for Police: Part 3

  1. One thing I realised I forgot to include in here is the excellent ENGAGE guidance from NPIA on use of social media – http://cfnp.npia.police.uk/files/dm_engage_v6.pdf

  2. Nick Keane says:

    Thank you for another excellent blog post and for highlighting the Engage Guide, which itself is now a year old, but happily still pertinent.

    If I may say something about the changing names around social media; Friends Reunited, then Myspace, then Facebook, then Twitter, then Foursquare. The challenges are that often people either get seduced by trying to understand what the “new new” is, or get alienated by all the new words and expressions (there was famously a lot of verbal hostility towards twitter, by non users when it first emerged) or get trapped into thinking whatever the application, something will replace it (“what’s next after facebook?). Whether this leads to people writing strategies or policies or not is not , in my opinion, as important the need for a coporate understanding what the changes mean. The emergence, trending and in most cases death of the various applications is of secondary importance to understanding what the underpinning continuities are.

    Sir Tim Berners-Lee dismisses the expression as jargon but it’s most popularly referred to “Web 2.0”, organisations need understand the changes underpinning Web 2.0 and then the applications and innovations arsing from that become much more comprehendable and manageable.

  3. Once again a good read.I do agree with Nick Keane that a corporate understanding of the meaning of the changes is an important necessity for success.Indeed I will go further by saying that another necessary precursor for successful implementation of change is that there should be an agreed process for doing so.No room for “turf Battles” between interested parties in a force.
    I have found these two requirements have been shown to be necessary for success whenever one is trying to exploit technology driven innovation into new products or services, in both the Private and Public Sectors.There are many examples of Corporate failure or waste of vast sums when one or other of these requirements have been omitted.

  4. Tim Burrows says:

    Another good article in this series. I’ve written about these subjects myself and I am amazed at how many agencies are willing to go out into the SM space without some simple parameters while others do create crushing governance.

    While I agree that cumbersome policies and governance may be duplication and not always necessary depending on what is already in place, I have to say that a strategy for how you police and how you convey what you do are two very different things. You don’t need to name a tool within a policy, but you do need to govern communication for the protection of your members and your agency.

    I believe you do need a strategy in place to guide what you will say, when you will say it and how you will say it. (Platforms, tools, who, why, etc.) I have studied several agencies that just throw information at the fan hoping that it will stick…and it never does (or not in a meaningful way). At the same time, others are laser focused in their delivery, message, professionalism and it has meaningful and lasting impact.

    Full agreement on one thing…you just gotta do it!

  5. Pingback: Social Media Handbook for Police: Part 4 | Partridgej's Blog

  6. Serge says:

    Hi Justin,

    I am currently working on a social media policy in The Netherlands. If you could supply me with a/some example policy(ies) I would be very grateful!

    Regards, Serge.

  7. Pingback: Social Media Handbook for Police: Part 5 | Partridgej's Blog

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  18. Anastasia Miller says:

    Hello
    I have been reading your social media handbook with great interest as at WMP we are looking at our guidance and policy relating to social media. With this in mind I would be really grateful if you could send me the guidance you wrote for Lincolnshire Police.

  19. Pingback: Social Media Handbook for Police: Part 3 | Policing news | Scoop.it

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