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Live Blog – Sussex Police: Interacting with social media #Bfong

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With Nick Cloke, head of media relations at Sussex Police and Christine Smith, multimedia producer and social media specialist.

Nick works with traditional media, and uses social media. Christine is one of the people driving the social media forward. He has worked with a number of forces.

Christine has worked as a journalist with national titles, including the News of the World, The Sun, The Mirror  and has worked in media relations for Kent Police before joining Sussex.

She is also a special constable, these days she works as a traffic officer, part time as a volunteer.

Three years ago the team started with Operation Otter using social media for communication. In the last year using to connect with the community. Twitter is the main tool for Sussex Police.

It is used for community engagement. To provide a service to the community and join in the conversation.

Not just putting the message out and running away, but joining a conversation and getting ideas from the public.

Senior officers have used it. Christine has been pushing it for some time. A common request is “can we have a Twitter account?”

“We decided weren’t going to give people what they wanted immediately. Not a scattergun but getting it right with training and resources behind it.”

“It’s new technology, policing is usually five years behind in terms of technology.”

Christine started working with neighbourhood teams.

“It’s not just about setting up accounts, it has to be set up according to the law, because we’ll get into trouble if we don’t set things up in the right way.

“We have a responsibility to the public, and social media is a part of that.

“We took a closer look at what other forces were doing, particularly the Met, and found there were no social media users.”

Sussex Police Twitter account started up manually and it’s progressed.

“We have about 2,000 followers force wide, and have across all accounts, almost 10,000 followers.”

Christine is responsible for training. Pushing it out and getting involved with hyperlocal communities. Ensuring officers are trained in how to engage in conversation online.

Historically you’re not supposed to have a presence on Facebook. It’s cultural through all forces.

“We don’t want to focus on the medium, but about the message. It’s about talking to people.”

Have been working with Public-i in Brighton.

“We didn’t used to ask people what they thought of us, it was just about surveys. With hyperlocal communities it’s changed the dynamic.

“We’re finding out what the public want and focus policing that way.”

There are  34 Twitter accounts, some area, some individuals. Neighbourhood policing team accounts can be faceless, but there is resilience.

“We need to know once they go online they’re not going to do something daft when time has been spent building up reputation.”

“It maybe anonymous but hashtags for PCSO names give personality. If they move on to another role, then there is continuity.”

NC – Senior officers aren’t serving community in the same way as a neighbourhood team. Senior officers offer reassurance and security.

Lawrence Taylor had a strong personality, but people move on, as he did. With a team then the account doesn’t lie dormant.

Publishing information on Twitter but have to conform to the law. Christine created a training package so officers know how to make the most out of it but also the risks of what they shouldn’t be doing.

CS – We don’t put them in front of a computer. It’s not difficult to run a Twitter account, what is difficult is tone of voice and whether you reply to someone.

Regularly asked what should I say? What can I say? Some messages can seem flippant, to others they’re conversations.

Some have been really for it, some really against it. We need to know everyone online has shared values.

“It’s not IT, it’s a communication tool.”

NC – A waterjet moment getting social media going was protests. Outside London this area has a great deal of protests.

This time last year had March for England and Unite Against Fascism in town.

The force had expanded its communications team, so they were open to new ideas for operations. Had a week’s notice about these two opposing groups.

March for England’s purpose is to make St George’s Day a public holiday. Previous events had little impact.

Then local councillors and MPs signed a petition against them, believing they were linked to EDL, even though March for England distance themselves from this group.

There were stronger feelings against the march, which resulted in stronger feelings from more right-leaning people.

Corporate communications found chatter on Twitter, blogs, Facebook, about the opposition to the march.

Use social media as a monitoring tool, looking for potential issues.

Police realised they had to prepare for two opposing groups in the town.

Had strong feelings on both sides, tried to reason with both sides, almost as mediators online.

Saw numbers tail off. Tie up to traditional media. On the Friday the Argus were informed about potentially volatile situation. Agreed it would be a good event to cover, but opposing views were egging the situation on.

A front page headline saying far right coming to Brighton, would inflame the situation. Argus chose to cover the event and not push it in advance.

Dispelled rumours in advance. Numbers were less than 1/3 lower than first though. Cost of policing the event was reduced.

Public order approach means can reduce the number of police on the street by managing information and dispelling rumours.

Issues are a balancing act. Never going to win as police. Always two groups in opposition. We will say what our line of tolerance is. Tell people they have a right to protest. Find tension decreases.

Christine Smith and Nick Cloke

“Our role is communication, not intelligence. There is a strict divide between intelligence and our plan.”

Criticism from the floor about the lack of information after the TAJ squat eviction.

People were not available.

Kemp Town neighbourhood policing team coming for training.

CS – Sometimes operation policing takes priority.

NC – The shooting of Fitzpatrick was handled on Twitter more quickly.
Have a better understanding with photographers.
Want to hear people opening up dialogue.

Trade off between person multi-channeling on the day, at events. Live Tweeting. Have officers on the street Tweeting live photographs.

Sometimes it’s for information purposes.

Student protests outside Hove, great number of tweets saying students were being tazered. That rumour was killed because we sent out photographs proving it didn’t happen.

Keen to avoid misinformation.

CS – It’s evidence based. Police officers like hard facts and figures. Social media gives us statistics. I can prove people are reading messages. Who isn’t. Who is interested in what they think isn’t interesting.

“As soon as you can thrown down a load of stats, they’re happy. If it didn’t work we wouldn’t be using it.”

NC – Target witness appeals. Look at what the victim was using in terms of social media. Target messages through friends and family.

Twitter is a great way to find missing people. Attach a picture to it and see it go out.

Greg Hadfield asks if police can take over someone’s Facebook?

NC- Have situations when someone has died. Lots of tributes on someone’s page, sometimes family were quoted in articles. Also photographs being ripped out. Came to the fore for Nick four years ago.

A woman who was very media friendly went missing. Lots of pictures of her and messages from her family.

She was murdered by her boyfriend on their second date. he is now serving 20 years.

Journalists took photographs from her Facebook. Unsuitable pictures of her on holiday. Now advise family members on how to take Facebook pages down. We make families aware of what they want on show.

Police cannot close it down.

Police will post on someone’s wall, tribute page and post appeals and messages without taking over the account.

Nick and Christine are both active social media users. Use it socially and professionally. We replicate our jobs online.

Nick’s job is speaking to journalists, off the record briefings. A great deal can be regulated online.

It’s good to talk to journalists Nick doesn’t see often, build reputation and nurture reputations.

Complaints last year about interaction with photographers. Complaints about being stopped from filming in a public place. Debated the issue with people on different forums and ended up being featured in articles on The Register.

Now have a training package on public photography. Ended up working as advocates for photographers when it came to national policing.

Christine is starting a project using social media to work with the gypsy and traveller community.

“Some people might think they don’t use social media, but I’m going to go out there and prove they do.”

CS – Twitter account started to show role as special constable. First special Tweeting with support from the force. Showing I was out on duty and what’d I’d been doing.

Realised it was part of professional life.

“What I experience on duty reflects on my day job.”

Found out people were jumping red lights in Uckfield. Went, gave out tickets, Tweeted and got a positive response.

Use to communicate with other police officers in other forces. Get asked advice from other police officers. Have been giving training and advice to other forces, including the Met and Manchester. Build network through Twitter.

“Limited what I say about personal life in case crazy motorists come after me.”

Found can make mistakes and use those mistakes to teach. Mistakes end up on the Argus website.

Challenges faced

Claire French asked about using smart phones.

Up until the late 90s journalists talked to police. Now run a press office function. Criticism is less information available to journalists.

Controlled environment now more professional. Now people feel ownership of information. Need to let go.

There is quicker distribution of information.

Traffic light system of media information and interactions.

Not over complicated. Happy for police to talk about.

Amber information issue where want people to talk to police communications team.

A big project is red, when need a corporate communication person involved, such as in a murder situation.

Flip side, some savvy journos pick up on the social media accounts and using it as an information gathering tool.

Something have to bring in is get what’s on Twitter for story, and a unique story.

Want lots of detail, cannot justify the time spent gathering information. It’s not a journalist information tool.

CS – Issues around this, we don’t want to know personal opinions. The Twitter is not for that. Journalists pick up soundbites, but discourage that.

Enthusiasm is being dampened by court results. Have Tweeted court results. I will only know limited information.

NC – Capacity issue. Have a small team and prioritise whether it’s public interest. Do we have a need to put it out. Lots of stories we don’t have resources for.

Go with the consequences and say that’s the level of information. Cannot provide lots of information without sinking the ship.

More officers tweeting stories is a brilliant thing. But if source story from an officer through social media, keep interaction going, but can’t have best of both worlds and expect the communications office to give chapter and verse.

Adam Oxford – Put more online?

NC – We are keen on open data, but level of detail requires sanitation. Lots of manual work about getting a response.

Four times more stories out there but don’t have the resources to give best of both worlds.

Contention between Tweeting.

Can’t find out the details.

Cathy Watson and Chie Elliot

Cathy Watson – Can’t you answer journalists queries.

NC – Can do what we can.

CS – Want to send out information. We will give as much as we can, but bear with us.

NC – We want more to be out there, if journalists want to interact with individuals, but can’t expect for every story, to get all background details. Very stretched team.

Put out as much as we can.

Need media to realise the stories that really matter.

Greg Hadfield – Could do as Manchester Police did, and put out everything. Resolving of the trust we’ll tell you what we can.

Christine selects when she’s Tweeting. Will block abusing tweets, engage in banter.

Make it clear not to report crime through Twitter.

Does social media make journalists role redundant?

At the heart of what we’re seeing is information going direct to people.

Cathy Watson – Why are you the people who decides who should read a story?

Nick – Too much expectation to provide information. Journalists also controlling the information.

Wale Azeez challenges what information goes out.

Still giving access to questions.

Greg – Best story is the whispered story from the guy on the case. The scoop is: There’s a murder, there’s the cop on CID with the fact, there’s the splash.

NC– Not controllers of information. One function is not to ask us.

CS – No resource for smart phones. Officers can use their own phones. Would love them to be able to do that. Can’t tell them to. Can’t be liable for breakages.

Blackberries are not web enabled.

Sarah Marshall and Tim Ridgway

Use Internet Explorer 6. Have only recently had access to Facebook and Twitter. Bound by policy.

Deputy chief constable has helped remove a great many barriers.

Use Firefox for social media. Now after a year’s work, they will give it to anyone who asks.

Some forces do not enable access to the internet for security reasons.

Greg Hadfield expresses sadness at the loss of the blue police box at the clock tower.

Chie Elliot asks if crime can be reported via Tweets.

Christine – No, but if there are reports of anti social driving and behaviour, then we know where a problem is.  Can’t provide direct cover for a mugging with current technology. Would love to see something like that wired to contact centre.

Nick – Can react to crimes such as vandalism online already. Never say report online if someone’s at risk  and need a police response, always call 999.

Social media work has been done without any budget.

NC – Were questioned after TAJ squat as to why police were in body armour.

Clive Reedman – If knew it was going to happen, then should be ready to respond. People Tweeting around Kemp Town, but Sussex Police media team were in a meeting.

Claire Smyth – 50 police sent in, but few people there.

NC – Difference between policing March for England and UAF, and Smash EDO, not so willing to engage with police. Put out more officers because they weren’t communicating. Didn’t know where they were going to be or how many.

Officers deployed at TAJ didn’t know how many people there. How dangerous the building was. Found two people there.

Can only do we what can.


Written by Sarah Booker Lewis

March 21, 2011 at 9:45 pm

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