Social media isn’t just a fantastic resource for personal and professional users – it’s also invaluable tool for emergency services. South Australia Police (SAPOL) now use social media to promptly send out missing persons alerts, issue disaster and weather warnings, disseminate images of suspects and provide traffic information, as well as communicate other news.
SAPOL’s adoption of social media has also proven popular with the South Australian public – they have more than 146,000 Facebook fans and almost 14,000 Twitter followers. Kwasi caught up with Shelaye Boothey, Media Director at SAPOL, to discuss the force’s use of social media.
Why is social media a priority for SAPOL?
“…there’s a tremendous public demand for police news.”
Our presence on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook enables SAPOL to better engage with the community in the space that they are communicating. We use our social platforms to gain public assistance with investigations, to provide warnings, to push road safety messages and to highlight a range of work that we do. While a person might see one SA Police car in their neighbourhood on a given day, chances are that person is looking at and using SAPOL Facebook page throughout the day. Our presence and visibility in the social space helps to reassure the community that we are out there, working to preserve the peace and prevent crime. These sites enable SAPOL to inform and canvass the views of our community and stakeholders. Additionally, there’s a tremendous public demand for police news, and these mechanisms allow us to reach out to the community in a very immediate way.
What sort of rules do you have for voice and tone on social media?
“As a general rule, we avoid police jargon.”
We do adhere to certain style conventions and have policies in place to ensure consistency across our Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts. As a general rule, we avoid police jargon and aim to communicate in direct and professional terms. We always aim to ensure our tone is credible, respectful and responsive; we aim to provide timely, interesting content and to disseminate friendly, useful advice around crime prevention and public safety.
— SA Police News (@SAPoliceNews) April 20, 2013
How do you find a balance between humorous, engaging content and serious business?
“There’s some scope for sharing a joke with our followers from time to time.”
There’s really no accounting for what can happen on a given day. Naturally, we report on emergencies and crimes with due seriousness; however, given the informal nature of Facebook and Twitter, there’s some scope for sharing a joke with our followers from time to time. It’s generally the case that quirky, surprising ‘strange-but-true’ stories which raise a smile in our office. As a result we do great traffic on our social sites when we share a joke and it gives us the opportunity to present the occasional light-hearted story. Our audience knows we are real people sharing real stories, and sometimes events are amusing.
— SA Police News (@SAPoliceNews) July 23, 2013
Have you considered using Pinterest the way some American police departments (and the QLD police) have?
“We’ve certainly considered using Pinterest.”
We’ve certainly considered using Pinterest, and continually re-evaluate how we can improve our engagement with the public. It’s likely something which will warrant further consideration in the near future.
How do you deal with trolls?
Any organisation which publishes information in an interactive public forum faces a degree of risk. We encourage community debate, but there’s clearly a distinction between relevant, non-threatening and respectful comments and ‘trolling’ remarks intended to cause controversy or elicit an emotional response. We reserve the right to amend or delete material which could be considered derogatory, offensive or defamatory. Every staff member at Media & Public Engagement Section has the authority to remove inappropriate material, and we’re certainly vigilant in moderating our public pages. People who ‘troll’ our Facebook page typically receive one or two polite warnings, and find themselves banned from commenting further if they persist in posting unhelpful or offensive material.
Do you measure metrics such as the number of leads that come in that can be attributed to social media? How do you measure success?
“Calls and online tips to Crime Stoppers have jumped enormously since we launched our platforms.”
Our numbers continue to grow across all platforms. We use the analytics available in each of the platforms to examine who is reaching us, what resonates best with our audience and when the peak traffic times. We also get a lot of great direct feedback. We know that our social media platforms have been directly responsible for finding dozens of missing people, reuniting people with stolen property and solving lots of crimes. Calls and online tips to Crime Stoppers have jumped enormously since we launched our platforms. Callers routinely say they’ve seen our call for help via Facebook and they have valuable information to give us. It really has been an enormous success for SAPOL.