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Inspectorate: Bring social media accounts into force PR strategy

Watchdog calls for 'coherent strategies' online

The police inspectorate has told forces to make sure social media accounts are in line with their communications strategies.

HMICFRS says there is too much variation in how police use websites like Twitter and Facebook.

Its call comes a few weeks after at least two forces announced changes to their policies around social media accounts.

The watchdog carried out inspections in the last few months of 2017 and released a report this week on effectiveness in policing.

The PEEL review, by Zoe Billingham, says: “It is positive that forces are embracing social media (all have some Facebook and Twitter presence and the majority are using YouTube and Instagram).

“Our inspection found many examples of excellent and innovative use of social media.

“It is important for forces to have coherent strategies for how they use social media and communicate with their communities.”

Elsewhere, it notes: “Our analysis suggested that police use of social media communications is not always linked to a force strategy for engaging the public and reducing crime.”

Changes to police Twitter accounts have been the subject of debate online in recent weeks after changes to force strategies became apparent.

Gloucestershire Constabulary centralised its dog handler accounts following a review earlier this year, shutting down several of them. A spokesman for the force said yesterday that this was nothing to do with HMICFRS.

Staffordshire Police Chief Constable Gareth Morgan recently said he is reviewing his force’s approach.

On Twitter, he said: “Want more people (& dogs!) involved & talking with the public. Looking to transfer 'unofficial' accounts over to carry on what they're doing.

“I am concerned that 'unofficial' and private accounts don't always appreciate that if they're staff they are accountable and responsible for content. Would rather extend 'reach' and support colleagues to get it right.”

A force spokesman said the review is not a response to the PEEL inspections.

Retired officer Mike Pannett, who helps organise the Police Twitter Awards, told Police Oracle: “Corporate accounts have their place but it would be another PR disaster if - after we’ve lost so many police stations - forces removed individuals who the public can feel a connection with.

“At the moment there are many that are great at public engagement. Give advice by all means, but centralising them all would not be a good idea."

HMICFRS’s report also calls for more dialogue with the public instead of accounts just “broadcasting messages”, as is the norm at the moment.

It noted that officers and staff using individual accounts were more likely to have conversations with people.

A recent analysis found that corporate police accounts would benefit from learning from accounts run by popular individuals.

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