Improving TPD's social media presence

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The Tulsa Police Department could be making better use of the internet and social media tools to communicate with the public, particularly in emergency situations. TPD has a blog, a Facebook fan page, and a Twitter account -- you've probably received the ominous email: Tulsa Police is now following you... -- but they aren't using any of them in an effective and timely fashion.

For several years now, I've been on a Tulsa Police Department Media Relations e-mail list. Nearly every morning around 8, I receive an email with subject line "Daily" with an attached PDF file. The PDF consists of a description of significant TPD activity the previous night. Except for the TPD letterhead, the PDF is mainly text. Until recently, the body of the email contained only the name of the media contact of the day. Over the last week or so, they've begun to put the text of the document in the body of the email -- an improvement -- but they still attach the PDF and now they're embedding a 262 KB image of the TPD badge in the email, bloating the size of each email to about 1/2 a megabyte.

There are occasional bulletins, too, like the one I received Thursday night about a special-needs child who had wandered away from his south Tulsa home. The email included a high-resolution photo of the boy and a description.

The TPD's use of email seems to assume an old-media approach to disseminating information to the public: The assignment editor at the newspaper, TV station, or radio station receives the email, prints off the attachment, and hands it off to a reporter, who follows up with the TPD media relations officer of the day to prepare a story for broadcast that night or the next day's paper.

Let me use Thursday's missing-boy story as an example of how TPD's approach slows down the dissemination of information they want to convey to the public.

As soon as I saw the email on Thursday evening and decided to help get out the word, I saved the attached photo to my hard drive, uploaded it to my blog database (using the blog software's capability to produce a smaller version that would fit the blog format -- I might also have edited it myself), created a new blog entry with the text from the TPD email, and then published it. I went through all these steps mainly so I could have a link to detailed information that I could then post to Twitter and Facebook. Shortly after I got all this done -- within 30 minutes of TPD sending the email -- I learned that the boy had been found, and so I updated the blog entry and sent out the news on Twitter and Facebook. Had there been a blog entry to which I could have linked, I could have pushed the information out to my blog readers and social networks within a minute or two of seeing the email.

To the extent that word got out to the public, TPD was dependent on media outlets to be paying attention at 8 pm on a Thursday evening. There's a better way that would allow TPD to reach more citizens more quickly and more directly. Here's the way the missing-boy story could have been handled:

  • TPD posts the photo of the boy, description, and details of the disappearance on the Tulsa Police Department blog.
  • TPD uses its @tulsapolice Twitter account to send a bulletin with a link to the blog entry with all the details. The link should be shortened with or a self-hosted link shortener, so that more of the maximum 140 characters are available to explain what's up. As an example, here's my tweet from Thursday night:
    9 yr old special-needs child missing near 101st and Yale #tulsa Tulsa tweeps please RT
    (If such info were available via @tulsapolice, I'd have those tweets sent to my phone, so that I'd see them ASAP. I'm sure many other Tulsans would do the same.
  • TPD sends a direct link (not a shortened one) via its Facebook fan page, and uses the boy's photo as the link summary thumbnail. The accompanying text should still be brief, but Facebook allows a bit more room to explain the situation.
  • TPD sends an email to its media list with the text of the blog entry, a small version of the photo, and a link back to the blog entry. If a media outlet needed a high-res version of the photo, they could obtain it at the relevant blog entry.

The media and the public then would help TPD spread the word:

  • Twitter followers of @tulsapolice retweet the link to the TPD blog entry. All it takes is a single click to spread the message.
  • Facebook fans of Tulsa Police Department share the link to the TPD blog entry with their Facebook friends.
  • Bloggers post info online with link to TPD blog entry, hot-linking photo from TPD site.
  • Traditional media posts breaking news online (with a link to TPD blog entry), follows up with TPD for news story for later broadcast or publication.

Under this approach, when the boy was found, TPD would have posted an update at the top of the same blog entry, and then sent that same link to that blog entry back out via Twitter, Facebook, and email, with the accompanying message that the boy had been found. By putting the updated info on the same blog entry, someone reading the alert later and following the link would immediately see the latest developments.

(It should go without saying, but every such email and blog entry should include day, month, and year in the body of the text, to prevent out-of-date information circulating forever as an emailed urban legend.)

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Steven C. said:

Great article Michael, and a great idea on utilizing social media better. I hope someone within the TPD will read this and understand that they need to do better.

Will said:

Well done Mr. Bates. A strategy will be developed.

Tim D said:

Amazing, you actually have a workable idea wherein Twitter and Facebook could save a life. That would be an amazing beginning to a presidential speech.

"First, I'd like to thank Twitter for saving my life..."

EricB said:

there's a conference next month in Washington designed to help police depts use social media better. I'm from Texas and hope to register this week.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on March 8, 2010 12:14 AM.

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