Rachel Rogers was a deputy governor in the prison service and the Labour PCC candidate for Dorset. She is a qualified teacher who now works in the field of children’s rights, as well as being a Weymouth and Portland Borough Councillor. She is also an active blogger.
It’s all the fault of @dbremz, my young and SM-savvy sidekick, who told me “You need a website and you need to tweet”.
I suspect he would happily take back those words which unleashed something entirely unexpected.
At heart I’m a communicator. I appreciate technology for its functionality, for its communicative power, but have embraced it only when absolutely necessary (for example, the necessity of internet shopping…).
I posted my first tweet on 10 May 2012. I had just been elected as a borough councillor and I bemoaned the closure of a public toilet in my ward.
However, I had also been selected as Labour’s Police and Crime Commissioner candidate in Dorset, a campaign for which I knew there would be very little funding.
We had to find a way of getting the message out in an engaging and cost-effective manner.
I had used Facebook to keep in touch with pre-existing friends but had no concept of twitter, no idea what I was embarking on. I thought “maybe one tweet a day” would be enough.
How social and engaging would that have been?
Away from the Keyboard
I started by following Criminal Justice System types, some Dorset folk and a number of politicians.
I had a sound understanding of the wider CJS but knew little ofpolicing itself, a subject about which my own Away From Keyboard circle was largely ignorant.
So I googled “police blogs” and found…..plenty, all with their own slant on the subject. I bookmarked the half dozen police bloggers who seemed to me the most relevant and followed their authors on twitter, paying close attention even though they were prevented from engaging with me. They soon led me to other tweeters with similar interests who were more than willing to discuss the thorny issue of police reform and specifically PCCs.
So discuss I did, repeatedly and at length, asking and answering questions, developing my own understanding and (I hope) that of others. It was uncharted territory, ignored by mainstream media, stimulating and liberating, and between us we helped to shape the PCC debate, at least in our own minds.
Twitter wasn’t a vehicle for promoting my candidacy but a space for mutual exploration, explanation, education and enlightenment.
My online and AFK lives swiftly overlapped.
At conferences I recognised people I had never met (the first being @jonbcollins) and simultaneously realised that I was becoming recognisable to people who had never seen me in the flesh.
I rather like this sense of familiarity, though being identified by anonymous tweeters is distinctly unnerving.
I became rather more prolific than my predicted “one tweet per day”, putting my head far enough above the parapet to be invited to participate in online debates and to become visible to the local media, who read what I said publicly and knew what to expect.
Dorset PCC candidates engaged well enough to feature regularly in @BernardRix’s comprehensive blog.
Although my campaign was “lightly” funded (my election expenses came to £4887, less than a quarter of what @PCCDorset spent and significantly less than the £108,000 “budget”), twitter enabled me to put into people’s hands not only my own manifesto but also information relating to changes in legislation and to campaigns country-wide.
This is the future for political engagement: almost instant access to a candidate’s public profile via your phone or your laptop rather than waiting (sometimes in vain) for that wafer of dead tree.
After the PCC elections, I considered leaving twitter. No other local councillor tweets or blogs regularly and I struggled to find a new voice.
The next stage
I went from being an intruder in the world of policing to feeling like an imposter.
Three things prevented me:
- Firstly, I had rekindled my interest the CJS;
- Secondly, I recognised that this was a fantastic way to engage with local residents; and
- Thirdly, I realised that I had not only made acquaintances but also forged friendships, a handful of which I consider to be profound.
I am no compartmentaliser: my politics are indistinguishable from my personality and my work reflects the values of both.
I have been requested not to tweet about my day-job but I never write anything that would be incompatible with its ethos. And as my work, my friendships and my politics blend, so twitter has gradually merged with my AFK life and those online friendships have started to become material.
Everyone makes their own twitter-verse. When someone or something piques your interest, you follow but you ignore what you find boring or negative.
The networking opportunities are endless but it’s important not to be too single-minded: focusing on just your own profession gives you an incredibly narrow window on the world.
I follow an eclectic mix including a Mexican poet, a Spanish football commentator, a French rugby player, a NZ chef, a US police chief and a Luso-American news aggregator (!).
In what other world could I chat with a media law lecturer about St George, a police inspector about Abraham Lincoln and a Fox News journalist about the chemical disaster at West, Texas?
Twitter can steal your life away
It’s true that twitter can steal your life away! I read fewer books than I did pre-twitter and watch less TV (and when I do, I watch with twitter for company).
For me, it is important to be polite, not to tweet in anger or scorn, but sadly some tweeters can be deliberately unpleasant.
@AlaindeBotton put it well:
“Half the bitchiness of the online world [is] due to the implausibility [that] there might be real humans at the other end of the cable”
However, I love being up to date with the local, national and international news, the fact that twitter is unlimited and that anyone can contribute fresh ideas or a new way of seeing things.
I love the element of serendipity, the way that you happen across people who turn out to be kindred spirits.
And I love those unforeseen moments when you engage with someone unexpectedly and run a blessed thread that blazes into glory.
“Boom” as they say.
Yet another reason why I tweet.
This is the 45th post in the criminal justice/legal Why I tweet series. Read the others here.
If you’d like to develop your tweeting skills, check out my online Twitter coaching service which includes an individualised profile of your Twitter style.