Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Social Media Removes The Filters

I'm at the SMILE Conference this week. Unless you've been in prison for a long period of time, you have probably recognized how social media is changing how people consume information and communicate. Law enforcement is no different. Social media is changing how law enforcement interacts with the communities they serve.

I sat through a number of really great presentations today. I want to offer a few of the high points from a few of the presentations today.

Lauri Stevens from LAWS Communications had this observation in a session she taught: You can't control the bad things other people might say about you on Twitter or other social media, but if you aren't on social media, you can't use it to communicate all the good things your agency is doing.

Many agencies are concerned about the image their agency has in the public arena. No one likes to see that their agency portrayed negatively. Especially, since many times that information is not correct. But if you aren't using social media, you lose that ability to counteract that negative message with the real message that your agency has. If you are going to jump into the social media arena at your agency, you may have to develop a thick skin. But the truth is, most times that negative message was already out there, you probably just didn't hear it because you weren't listening to social media.

Both Kara Owens of the Minnesota State Patrol and Stephanie Mackenzie-Smith of the York Regional Police in Canada brought up the idea that law enforcement agencies that use social media are able to bypass the filter that is sometimes imposed on an agency by traditional media outlets.

We've all heard the old line from the media that "if it bleeds, it leads". But just because a story isn't lurid and isn't in the headlines, doesn't mean that it doesn't need to be told. There are many things that agencies are doing that citizens will be interested in even if a newsroom editor isn't interested in it.

Using social media gives an agency the ability to be their own editors and emphasize the messages they think are important. Social media has democratized the publication of information. It's about time that law enforcement has embraced this democratization.

Based on the SMILE Conference attendees, I was pleased to see just how many law enforcement agencies around the U.S. and even around the world are embracing social media as a way to better connect with the communities they serve. Social media helps agencies get their message out without filtering.

Has your agency embraced social media?

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