Post by: Kim Stephens
Please ignore maliciously false reports that we’re giving out Bugles at @seattlehempfest .We would never, ever do that.
— Seattle Police Dept. (@SeattlePD) August 14, 2013
The Seattle PD Twitter account was not on my radar, however, the Tweet above caught my attention. When I saw the words “malicious rumor” I thought I’d found a great example of rumor management. The Hemp Fest is a large event that attracts cannabis lovers and activist from far and wide. I thought to myself, “Who would suggest a Police Department would attend and give out snacks? That rumor should be squashed immediately!” As I read through their Twitter feed, however, I realized the rumor that they would be giving out Bugles was a malicious untruth because, in fact, they will be handing out Doritos!
Reading through the exchanges between the Seattle PD and people asking about Doritos and other snack foods typically associated with binge-eating stoners, I thought for sure they had been hacked. Their account lacks the little blue “verified” checkmark, so the thought also occurred to me that maybe this was a fake account. But as I read further, the light bulb went off: this account was not only legitimate…it was brilliant! But why would a police department be involved in handing out Doritos to a crowd of people under the influence? Just a little more digging revealed the hook. The Seattle PD is using the Fest as an opportunity to educate people about the new law that allows people to possess a very small amount of marijuana. In addition to the event, they are using the hashtag #marijwhatnow, billboards and other outreach efforts to educate the public about the law’s “do’s and don’ts.”
Their munchie-Tweets have attracted national media attention, but this campaign isn’t the only reason their social presence makes a great case study. With over 40,000 followers, they are clearly doing something right. Here are three things stand out about their social media strategy.
Their Twitter feed is actually a little hard to read because their Tweets are often responses to questions. Here is an example:
But although these exchanges make for a strange read, they also demonstrate willingness to engage the community. With each query they answer a bond of trust is built; people that aren’t asking questions can also see that this account is a “go-to” source for information. In contrast, if an agency simply pushes out messages the public may or may not be interested in, they miss that opportunity.
By using humor their message about the changes to the marijuana law is getting to the people who need to hear it in a way that is not off-putting. Although it has been widely successful thus far–I’m guessing there were debates about whether or not this was a brilliant idea or a career-ending endeavor. The campaign also demonstrates the trust the leadership has in the outreach coordinator, which infused humor even before this very visible effort. In fact, to have a truly impactful social media presence the involvement and buy-in of leadership cannot be understated.
The department has also decentralized social media control by instituting a “Tweet from the Beat” program. See this exchange:
On the “Tweets-by-Beat” webpage mentioned above there is a description of the program, which is quoted below:
The Seattle Police Department is making it easier than ever before for you to find out about crime happening in your neighborhood. With Tweets by Beat, you can follow or view a Twitter feed of police dispatches in each of Seattle’s 51 police beats, and find out about the flashing lights and sirens on your block.
In order to protect crime victims, officers, and the integrity of investigations, calls will display one hour after a dispatcher sends the call to an officer. The feeds also do not include information about domestic violence calls, sexual assaults, and other certain types of crimes.
A handy list of all of their Twitter feeds can be viewed here: http://www.seattle.gov/police/tweets/feeds.htm. Unlike the Toronto PD, these “beat” accounts are not personalized with the officer’s names and images, instead a naming convention has been used such as “Seattle Police Department Beat 1” or: @SeattePDB1. The Tweets from these accounts read a lot like a police blotter (see below) nonetheless, they still provide an opportunity for the public to see what actions the police are taking, and can help stop rumors from starting.
What do you think? Would your law enforcement or emergency management agency be open to Tweeting potentially controversial material in order to gain an audience and engage the public? From my perspective, it is time for more organizations to get creative!