Sunday, 7 December 2008

How the Police are using social media better than many brands

I was lucky enough to attend a great event on Friday: the Don't Panic Social Media Conference in Manchester. There were some top speakers including Tom Murphy from Microsoft, Meg Pickard from the Guardian Online and Simon Wakeman from Medway Council. 

The highlight though, came from a completely unexpected source: The West Midlands Police [WMP]. [Check out the website even if you don't live any where near the Midlands, it's fab. Seriously]. 

When Chief Inspector Mark Payne took the stage, there were a few puzzled looks [and probably a few guilty ones too]. Even I thought 'what are the police going to teach me about social media'. How I was to eat those mis-chosen thoughts. 

Chief Inspector Payne, [still nervous of calling a policeman by his first name] was not only informative, but a brilliant presenter - probably one of the best I have seen [I did see Steve Jobs present and I'd say Mark was the complete opposite: humble, self effacing, funny, open; and probably better]. Without gushing too much [can you get arrested for gushing?], the WMP is a great case study on how to use social media for serious issues and add a bit of humour too.

Firstly, the YouTube channel is great. It covers real crime scene footage, instructional videos and appeals. CI Payne showed us this footage of a raid in Coventry:

Secondly, they've got a Facebook Page here that helps them connect with 16-25 year olds - a group of the community the police have traditionally struggled to talk to. The Page works because it is full of useful and entertaining content - it  gives info like contact emails and numbers for urgent and non urgent enquiries [I wish Brixton police had this when I lived there]. It has 1300+ Fans, which is more than many Brand Pages. 
My fav was the Police Puppies photo album. A brilliant way to show the human side of being a policeman [or is it person?]

Thirdly, and I love this, was the Plodcasts. Podcasts from coroners, CSIs, PCs. Genius. The podcasts are interesting, informative and contain info that the police want to get across. And it's working - they've had 20,000 downloads and CI Payne gets lots of emails asking when the next one is coming out.

A question from the audience asked about the dangers of getting negative comments on the FB Wall or YouTube videos and CI Payne responded:
"People will say bad things about the police no matter what. This way we know what they are saying and we can respond - as long as we say something sensible. Often we don't have to because people from the community  come onto the Page and defend us - usually by talking about their own experiences with the police."  
He also added:
"We're working it out was we go. I've got it wrong a few times, but overall it's working. We're talking to segments of the community we struggled to reach before" [these aren't his exact words but I hope they do him justice].

IMHO the reason why this works is because the WMP:
  • Are open
  • Are human
  • They listen
  • Provide useful content in the right context
  • They don't try and be 'yoof'
  • They respond i.e. engage in conversation
For such a conservative and usually closed organisation [no offence meant], this is a particularly bold step. And so far a successful one. I wish more brands had the courage and the open attitude of the WMP.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That is great to hear!

Looks like some people are ahead of the game when it comes to new social media for policing. However, many PDs are still hesitant to learn about and employ web 2.0 technologies. Maybe they just don;t know how to take the first step and look for information. You can't blame them, there isn't too much out in the world wide web that is targeted to help police get up and running with social media, except for maybe this company that sets up podcasting for law enforcment.

I am doing some research for my superiors, so I would really appreciate any feedback or information anyone may have.