@SgtGaryWatts, one of the first police officers to tweet for work, writes about his approach to Tweeting.
I covered the journey that brought me to twitter a while ago here so this post is an update on why – two years and 12,000 tweets later – I’m still here. My foray into twitter began with a personal account after years of Facebook use. At first it scared me and seemed like another language and for a person who rambles on a bit, limiting myself to 140 characters was joke.
I had been in a fortunate position previously encouraging Police teams to use Facebook but it wasn’t until I found myself back on the frontline I decided to give Twitter a go. My account started out in the same style I had advised others to go with Facebook, as a team, Falmouth Police.
I soon realised that with the speed of exchanges people soon knew it was just me and others had begun to ask who was tweeting. The change to @SgtGaryWatts felt natural and in my circumstances and opinion was the right way to go.
I stumbled on, tweeting away not really having any direction or aim, just making sure I didn’t embarrass myself or the organisation. I soon realised that I had access to a huge amount of people who:
- Didn’t normally have anything to do with the police
- Would retweet what I said to thousands others
- Were possibly news types that would print what I tweeted and come back for more
- Wanted questions answered but didn’t know where to ask
- Had information to give about issues that concerned them
This was access and information that I had never had before and it was in my pocket, literally! I decided quite early that I needed to have aims, my very own personal strategy. I kept it simple:
- To show the human side of policing
- To show colleagues the benefit of social media
I started to use my personal account less and less and including tweets about my life in my work account. This has been criticised a couple of times but praised more often. I never tweet anything that would endanger my family or pass on personal details but I like to show that I’m just like you.
The benefit of this is that I am approachable. Not just online but out on the street as well. Quite often people will wander around (sometimes drunk) asking for Sergeant Gary and then we meet. Embarrassingly I get recognised on occasion off duty – but that’s part of it too, I suppose.
Colleagues have occasionally had a jibe at my appearances on the radio and paper. They mistakenly think it’s because I put huge amounts of effort into it. They couldn’t be farther from the truth…only 140 characters of effort in fact.
However, I have become a regularly used and reliable source. I often get asked for stories or quotes and will always try to help (if it’s within my role and the situation allows). More and more of my colleagues have seen this now and the penny has dropped. We have a duty to engage and provide information. Social Media and networks allow us to do this is an effective and efficient way that fits with our day (and night) job. There are now over 30 officers in Cornwall using Twitter and dozens of Facebook pages all giving the public what they want. Gone are the days of my getting asked ‘is there a copper on twitter in my area?’ and me saying ‘no’!
It helps that I enjoy the interaction and have made 1000’s of friends. ‘Friends?’ you ask. How can an avatar over an online link be a friend? A year or so ago I would have said the same. Over the past year I have met more and more followers and the bizarre thing is that it is like meeting an old friend. You have a good idea what interests the person, what gets them riled and what their life is about. I wouldn’t say that all 3000 are my friends but it’s surprising how many are!
That is the one amazing gift I hadn’t expected from Twitter.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing. There is a difference between being on Twitter as an authority and being on Twitter as me. I know people follow me because it is a police officer’s account and not for Gary Watts. My personal account has less than 300 followers and my work one over 3000. Easy to see why really. Whilst the account attracts mainly positive people from around the world it can attract negativity too. Mainly some of those that hide behind anonymity and throw abuse and those pesky BOTS!
I have quite a few anonymous followers and mainly they are fine. One or two however regularly hurl the odd Daily Mail look at what the police did here story or odd piece of legislation or urban myth. I started by ignoring them but then challenged some of the views. It actually turned things around a bit and one account (you know who you are) actually started trying to get followers for me!
Another problem is accessibility. I chose to use a mobile device (of my own not the force’s) to tweet with. I wanted to be able to tweet and reply as soon as possible and do. This can often be whilst off duty, with my family or even in bed! It can be a pain sometimes but it is a conscious decision I made and will continue to make.
When colleagues see this it can often be what puts them off. ‘I’m not doing it in my own time!’ ‘I’m not using my own phone!’ There are a number of successful police accounts that only run in work time. That’s the great thing about Social Media, there is no right way of doing it, just a few ways to get it wrong. At the end of it all no one dies, nothing gets broken and it is designed to be Social after all!!!
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