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Officers better on Twitter than police PR teams, report says

The study analysed almost 1.5 million tweets

Corporate police twitter accounts should learn from individual officers’ use of social media, researchers say.

A study of almost 1.5 million tweets from 48 corporate and 2,450 non-corporate police accounts, encouraged official social media controllers to embrace the techniques used by more personal police accounts.

The Knowledge Media Institute analysis of UK Policing Engagement via Social Media, presented this week at the Evidence Based Policing conference described corporate police accounts as a “one way street.”

“One of the key elements that can be observed from our manual analysis of tweets is that non-corporate accounts are more interactive than the corporate ones.

“Another observation is that although non-corporate accounts may not have a large number of followers, they tend to have some key followers (e.g., local neighbours).

“They know their communities better and they manage to engage their community members by participating in discussions and providing direct feedback to users.

“Corporate accounts could benefit from identifying highly engaging police staff members and community leaders, and involve them more closely in their social media strategy,” the report said.

The most popular tweets for both types of police accounts used sensitive and respectful humour.

But researchers acknowledged the tightrope police Twitter users must walk as misjudging the tone of a comic tweet can result in irreversible reputational damage.

Popular tweets were more likely to come from corporate accounts which had been established for a long time but personal account tweets were more likely to attract retweets if they followed many other accounts.

This sometimes had the opposite effect for official police twitter accounts- users felt “surveyed” if they noticed a centralised police account was “following” them.

For both types of accounts tweets attracting high levels of engagement were longer easy to read, avoided jargon, were highly informative and used pictures or videos.

But using mentions had a negative impact on a post’s popularity, the paper said.

The researchers found users were more likely to engage with tweets which talked about roads and infrastructure, events, missing people, mentioned locations or aimed to raise awareness about issues such domestic violence and modern slavery.

On the other hand, tweets receiving lower engagement talked about crime updates: such as burglary, assault or driving under the influence of alcohol, following requests (#ff) and advice to stay safe.

The report said previous research suggests people are more likely to retweet posts about weather conditions, missing people and road problems “since by sharing these messages users feel they are helping others.”

The potential for police to engage with the public through social media is being limited as there is often no budget for staff training, the report said.

“Nowadays, the public is getting used to seeing companies and organisations using social media 24/7 as communication channels, and have started to expect the same coverage and behaviour from the police.

“However, social media is not the main policing communication channel, and the police social media accounts are not active 24/7.

“There is therefore a mismatch between what the public expects, and what the police provides.”

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