Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Social Media and Police & Crime Commissioners

The Blue Light Camp unconference ( description here) met on Sunday 15 April in Manchester just ahead of the BAPCO event. To quote the website: BlueLightCamp was born as an idea by Sasha (@sasha_taylor) from the ashes of an online #nhssms discussion in relation to how social media was being used during the 2011 disorders in some UK cities.

I went along, as did many others, to discuss the role that social media can play in assisting the blue light services do what they do - only better. I ran one session entitled

"Should Police & Crime Commissioner candidates use social media (SM) during the election - and once elected should the new PCCs employ SM? And if yes and yes - how? What are the opportunities and challenges?"

The first answerers almost shouted "how can the PCCs not use SM?!" Social media is a key way (perhaps even now the prime way) to gather people's ideas and concerns. Even though social media users are a subset of society - other mechanisms also represent a sample of society as well. One contributor (and I won't name people) made the important point that when you consider what is termed the 'fire hose' of information now being produced by the social net (twitter, and facebook, and google+ and you tube and and and...) there is a wealth and wide diversity of what the world is talking and thinking about. Strategy now needs to be informed by analysis of this fire hose of information.

So given that the resounding answer to my initial inquiry was that SM is a vital way for PCCs to listen to their publics, the discussion then moved into what are the lessons to be aware of, and what are the challenges. Here are some of the points made: 
  • Social media is just that - be social, be real, be interesting - and people will want to engage with you
  • Consider whether one or several accounts is needed - perhaps one for the 'office of' and one for the PCC her/himself
  • Be clear on what can be promised in response to messages in terms of speed for example and do not overlook the huge issues around confidentiality
  • Social media is an ideal way to engage with third sector organisations as well
  • Don't be naïve (such as pretend a mistake was due to someone hacking your account...)
  • Note that the volume of material that SM channels can assemble can grow and grow - so do not underestimate the need to curate and archive the material
  • Keep the debates focused and have one place in which several sources can be brought together
  • SM will be able to raise awareness of the PCC elections and the use of virals is not to be underestimated in boosting democratic involvement in these new elections
  • SM is boundary-less whereas PCCs are focused on a geographical space and so this has to be factored in (although perhaps PCCs should also be thinking about the people who work, play or study on their patch even though they are not resident there - the police have to after all)
And finally, one issue was raised about what role the Police Authorities have in organising hustings for the PCC candidates. One view was put that why should the PAs be involved in this at all as this is beyond their interest. On the other hand, others said that if the PAs did not arrange these hustings, who would? This is a debate that is set to run. What is happening in your area?

So all in all a very useful discussion about social media and its application to the new political leaders on the block. Watch this space!

(PS I will blog separately about my impressions of 'unconferencing' as this was my first one, particularly how it relates to Open Space.)


  1. Great blog Jon - I've linked to it from www.bluelightcamp.org.uk Looking forward to your blog about your impressions of the unconference.