In an earlier post on the potential for mass mobilization of a particular Canadian Facebook campaign, I wrote that it would be a mistake to measure its success solely by the volume of (traditional) media coverage it generated, the amount of money it raised, or the number of boots it put on the ground.

Those are all important elements of social and political engagement, but they form the core of advocacy 1.0; not advocacy 2.0, which should be based on fostering conversations online, and more importantly, around the water cooler.

At the end of the day, I argued, if the ROI of social media advocacy is measured solely on the basis of the old paradigm, then the exercise is bound to fall short of its potential because it will have missed the point.

The same is true of social media and policing.

For police forces in Canada and abroad, tapping the full potential of social media will require a substantive shift from more traditional approaches to law enforcement (and the measuring of outcomes and success) toward a community or problem-based policing model.

In the problem-based policing strategy, individuals and communities are engaged in finding solutions to criminal or public safety issues that affect them. Crowd-sourcing–a popular social media strategy designed to engage communities in developing content or finding solutions to a problem–jumps to mind as the social media extension of this policing strategy.

But for this new model to work, the use of social media must not be driven by a technology-first mentality (the shiny new toy). The real driving force must be an appreciation of the potential social media provides for real-time engagement and dialogue; including with groups and communities that had been out of reach of most traditional police interventions, notably youth at risk.

Looked at from this perspective, it is clear that using social media solely as a one way communication system would miss the point. So too would using social media as a kind of mobile or internet-based crime reporting line. If not integrated within a larger strategy of community engagement and dialogue, that approach remains policing 1.0 dressed up as something else.

Such a social media strategy would not only fail to leverage the full potential of online engagement but, if too focused on enforcement outcomes, could actually subvert efforts at engagement by creating a wedge between the police and various communities.

Online communities are very discerning. They can spot a phoney a mile away. First and foremost, effective social media engagement must be genuine and transparent. Hidden agendas–be they corporate or personal–rarely survive the collective glare of the online community.

Embracing policing 2.0 for most police forces will mean more than expanding their digital or online engagement capacity; more than creating a YouTube channel or Tweeting police reports. It will mean embracing a new way of thinking about how they relate to their community.

By providing police forces and law enforcement agencies with the potential for exciting new strategies, paradigm-change may yet become social media’s greatest contribution to policing.

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  1. Massimo, you make several good points here. First and foremost is that it’s not about the tools (shiny new toy) as you refer to it. Realizing the “potential social media provides for real-time (that’s beyond 2.0 in my mind) engagement” is key and where many law enforcement agencies trip up.

    A well-crafted strategy is absolutely essential. Law enforcement agencies need to identify the target audience and determine their goals for that audience. It’s at this juncture that “appreciation” you speak of starts to happen. But only by going through that process can the police practitioners really understand the deep engagement and relationship building that’s possible.

    Some of us call the paradigm-change you describe as the #bluewaveofchange :-)

  2. Thanks Lauri. Look forward to discussing further!

  3. Tim Burrows says:

    There is no doubt that the police and law enforcement are finding it difficult to decide what the ROI and best measurement tools are for determining success and resource allocation.

    Using social media is less about what the individual knows or as to say but its greatest value lies hidden in the collective voice of all who chose to add value to the conversation.

    For example, each community that is recognized as an “at risk” or “identified” community may hold part of the answer to what will make their community better. Another community that holds socio-economic power may be able to fund that answer, while another community that holds the tolls may be able to implement the answer.

    SM can pull all those groups together en masse as long as people are there to answer, or more importantly, there are people who are there to listen.

  4. Very well put Tim. The $ 64,000 question is how do we help create that paradigm shift in thinking and operations that will “put people there to listen”?

  5. Is the overarching issue that forces are using social media, in a limited and reasonably unstructured fashion, as a tactical tool without real strategic intent, direction or application?

    Most forces, particularly in the UK, have allowed responsibility for social media to be ‘claimed’ by their Press Offices. Consequently, it is used as yet another broadcast mechanism. Because it is only understood within the context of a ‘communications tool (although it is rarely effectively used to communicate, just broadcast), the strategic uses remain largely unexplored or, more importantly, governed at the senior level.

    I agree with you about the dangers in taking a ’1.0 in borrowed clothing’ approach. Police use of the full range of tools must be integrated into a comprehensive marketing based approach to service identification, creation and delivery. It must sit at the strategic level and serve a strategic purpose.

    Playing with shiny new toys is great fun, but it doesn’t deliver the business.

  6. Matt says:

    In order for law enforcement agencies to embrace the “no holds barred” sort of engagement that characterizes much of the information exchange found in social media, I suggest that some baby step adjustments would be required. The “chain of command” culture inhibits a free flow of information and the easy banter found in online social media.
    Perhaps some of the lessons to be learned about the rapport required might be found in the daily conversations that take place in the small neighborhood community policing offices.

  7. Thanks for the comment Mike. I think that you’re right about the general absence of strategic direction and framework evident in most police forces’ use of social media. However, I think that the problem may be deeper and reside in their understanding of their core mission. In other words, we have a chicken and egg situation here: Police forces enbrace too timidly (or not at all) the notions of community policing and this results in an operational and strategic disconnect from their social media efforts.

  8. You’ve hit the nail on the head! It should be about applying the lessons learned “on the street” into social media engagement strategies.

  9. Serge Lavoie says:

    Your comments are well taken Massimo, but I wonder about the less benign aspects of social media engagement for policing, both covert and overt.

    Social networks offer tremendous opportunities for monitoring which could easily be abused and will lead to public distrust of police operating in the networks. Think G8/G20.

    At the same time, forces must grapple with more benign uses of social networking which unintended consequences, such as the Pitt Meadow rape incident. Here the social networks offer both investigative information while being used for illicit transmission of child pornography, according to police.

    Talk about a double edged sword.

  10. You raise a critical issue that police forces have to contend with daily: the tension between enforcement and engagement. Social media has the potential of exacerbating the issue and amplifying the underlying tension. Finding the balance between the two and then translating this into a social media strategy is the challenge.

  11. Davros says:

    Great food for thought, thankyou. The newly elected UK Govt’s Big Society approach is for public services to be more open and responsive, so fostering a dialogue with indiduals and communities (with social media being one tool to achieve this) seems to fit. The setting of performance targets for police may be devolved from national to local govt, however unless local authorities have an effective way to engage individuals and communities we will just be in the same position of trying to meet targets that do not match people’s needs.
    An approach has been developed in Plymouth, UK for police and local govt to maintain a shared database of engagement results. It doesn’t yet harness SM nor foster a conversation, but it is a start.

  12. Thanks for the comment Dave. We face the same issue here in Canada where philosophical, political or policy disconnects between the local civilian authority and the police force can slow down the pace of reform. It seems to me that what is needed is the articulation of a social media value proposition that resonates with both local councils and police boards as well as with the police leadership and rank and file.

  13. Laura Madison says:

    “Crowd-sourcing–a popular social media strategy designed to engage communities”

    In my opinion police have always used crowdsourcing.The only thing that has changed is the tools. Every time in any medium including digital that police agencies have asked for assistance, information, witnesses from citizens it has been/is external crowdsourcing. I am interested in what specific tools you have experience with, build with and use that you can now recommend for police Massimo? Are there any security issues with third party crowdsourcing platforms? If so what are they and do you have any solutions to add to the ongoing knowledge base?

    Thanks and nice to see your blog going well! :)

  14. Thanks for the comment and observations Laura. For me it is less about the technology platforms and more about the analytical, policy and cultural frameworks of the organizations wanting to engage and encourage crowdsourcing and collaboration. And I would add that this applies to all organizations, public and private.

  15. Angus Fox says:

    Massimo, I could not agree with you more. There is a fundamental shift that is taking place, at least here in the UK, where our live engagement app for Surrey Police is being used by the public to see who their local officers are, what they are doing and most importantly to develop two way conversations among the local community. (search Surrey Police in the Apple app store to find out more).

  16. Thanks for your comment Angus – congrats by the way on your app — the real test for social media and policing will be to see whether police organizations 1) engage in meaningful two-way conversations; and 2) more importantly, figure out how to leverage message amplification by encouraging sharing of content across multiple channels. Otherwise, they will be talking about policing 2.0 but practicing traditional web 1.0 communications.

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