Last week our IACP PIO Working Group received a request for assistance from a large agency in the southeast United States. This agency uses a standard process for releasing formalized “Press Releases” and posts them on a “News Room” page on their department website. They currently use social media platforms like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook very effectively for community engagement, but do not use those platforms for delivery of formal “press release” materials.
This agency discovered that some partner agencies in surrounding jurisdictions were tweeting this agency’s press-release related information before they were. Although the originating agency had formally released the information, they felt like they were being “scooped” on Twitter by partner agencies, and were concerned that the information coming from other agencies’ Twitter accounts might confuse the public, or worse yet, cause a lack of scene or situation control for the originating agency.
On its face, this was a pretty straightforward problem, and the primary advice that this may easily be resolved through a “stay in your lane” conversation with that other agency came quickly from my IACP colleagues and me. However, I see this solution as only a band-aid approach to the issue, and this is why . . .
If you currently have a law enforcement Twitter account, take a look at your “followers.” Chances are very good that even if you are just starting your social media strategy, a majority if not all of your local news outlets are “following” you. You will likely also notice the Twitter accounts of some of the local next-gen news interns that constantly call you to see “what’s going on?” are also following.
• The Media is hungry for the fastest breaking news.
• They are following you on the fastest-breaking venue.
• If you don’t give it to them, they will get it SOMEWHERE ELSE
Use Twitter to get your information out. Beat witnesses, other agencies, and speculation to the punch. This does NOT mean that you have to stop sending out formalized releases. Formal releases are great for information control, to provide details you know the media will ask, and to set times forward for formal on-camera time, press conferences, etc. But if the hottest law enforcement PIO topics of 2013 have given us any lessons, they are most certainly that faster bits of information from the originating agency, even 140 characters at a time, are our very best friends.
• When it comes from us, the news media knows it is coming from a validated
• We have a greater degree of control over facts being put out for media
AND the community.
• Most importantly, our public and the media have now proven to us that they are
willing to turn to us, 140 characters at a time, when crises hit.
Consider streamlining by writing your media releases on a blog site or messaging system like Wordpress or Nixle. Many of these offer “publicize” options where you can create your tweet-size message with a link to your media release, and auto publish via Twitter or Facebook simultaneously with your release. Ultimately, you may also be able to create a zero maintenance press release contact list by pointing media agencies to your streamlining site.
AND – By all means, keep the community engagement coming!
This in no way dismisses the use of our social media platforms for community engagement. In fact, this is a symbiotic relationship. Use those great photos, safety tips, and virtual ride-alongs as engagement opportunities in social media to build your follower base, so your direct audience is there when you need to put out that critical safety information.