Social media engagement is becoming increasingly important for major brands. Digital business intelligence service Net Imperative notes1 that 84% of UK adults now use social media, with two thirds doing so every day.
With so many citizens now using social media, UK police forces are increasingly turning to these platforms to reach out to local communities, in order to police more effectively.
Police on social media
In March 2012, think tank the Police Foundation published a report 2 on police use of social media. In the paper, the Foundation noted that social media “provides the police with a new way to connect with the public.” It divided police use of social media into three areas: sharing information with the public, building a stronger relationship with the public and gathering intelligence for investigations.
As an example, London’s Metropolitan Police force (the Met) has built a robust social media outreach programme.3 On the Met’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube profiles, followers can receive information, campaign updates, behind the scenes images and clips, appeal videos and deliver feedback.
Therefore with social media, not only can the Met engage with the community, it can use feedback to improve its service, facilitating a stronger relationship with the people of London.
Social media outreach
The police are getting creative about how they use social media. As part of its #ConsentisEverything social media campaign, which strove to raise awareness of sexual consent issues, the Thames Valley police posted its Consent: It’s as Simple As Tea video to YouTube.
The clip, which has racked up over three million views, compares requesting sexual consent to asking someone if they want a cup of tea.
This campaign is ingeniously simple. By comparing a complex issue to something as straightforward as making a cup of tea, it communicates sexual consent law clearly to citizens. It is important to note that Thames Valley police were wise to issue a video-based element to its social media campaign.
Research figures indicate 4 that video will account for 69% of all online consumer traffic by 2017, meaning that by utilising this medium, the force ensured its message reached a wide audience.
But social media is a double-edged sword, as one ill-advised post can go viral, wreaking serious reputational damage. Recognising this issue, in 2013, industry body the Association of Chief Police Officers published social media usage guidelines 5 and many individual forces have since followed suit.
These guidelines advise on issues such as online conduct, risks, handling of confidential information and data protection, so officers know how they are expected to behave on social media.
Despite knowing what is expected of them, some police officers do not always comply. In 2014, Freedom of Information requests revealed that hundreds of police officers were being investigated over improper social media posts.
This story was picked up by national news sources like the Independent, generating negative social media content which damaged the British police’s collective image online. Many of the officers investigated retired or were dismissed from their posts.
Trusted brand identity
The British police should utilise social media to try and create a better relationship with the general public, raising awareness, developing a more approachable image and ultimately, inspiring trust. But in the wrong hands, social media can also damage the general public’s perception of the police.
It is important that police forces adopt a cohesive approach and guidelines to social media usage in order to promote a positive, trusted, brand identity online.