The Social Media Beat

Twitter Tips for Law Enforcement Social Media

Twitter Tips for Law Enforcement Social Media

By: Chris Hsiung
Date: Monday, September 15, 2014

Chris Hsiung

Captain Chris Hsiung commands the Field Operations Division at the Mountain View Police Department in California. You can follow him on Twitter @chMtnViewPD.

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Not all digital media channels are created equal. Each platform appeals to people differently and each looks and feels different. Knowing these nuances can help reach your community in a more effective manner. Today, we’ll focus on Twitter with future posts covering other platforms.

What makes Twitter a great messaging tool for law enforcement is its innate ability to inform the public through short bursts of information. Effectively crafted tweets can quickly provide factual information, dispel misinformation or rumor, and provide a historical timeline of your agency’s professional efforts to resolve an in-progress event. By following a few guidelines, you can greatly expand your reach and increase the odds that your tweet will be retweeted.

Keep it short

Although Twitter gives you 140 characters to craft your tweet, try to aim for a tweet with around 120 characters. Doing so allows gives people space to add commentary and makes it easier to retweet your message.


If you have an in-progress incident consider creating a hashtag. These days, every crisis has a hashtag. Either you can create it or others will do it for you (and you may not like the results of the latter). Keep your hashtag short (this will help with your character count limitations) and include the incident hashtag on subsequent tweets. Done early enough in a crisis incident, media and the public will follow and also use the same hashtag. Searching the hashtag after an incident will provide a quick historical overview of how things played out. However, #if #you #choose #to #use #hashtags, #DontOverDoIt. More on hashtags from crisis communications expert Melissa Agnes here.
Also, if you have a special event like a parade, fair, or athletic event, there will likely be an associated hashtag. Identifying and using that event hashtag in your tweets is a simple and effective way to reach attendees, even if they don’t follow you on Twitter.
Include photos when possible

Your tweet is competing against hundreds of other tweets scrolling across people’s phones and monitors. Including a quality photo is a great way to grab someone’s attention and help your message stand out among the noise. Visuals are very powerful in the digital media world. Consider using a free tool like Google Maps Engine Lite to quickly and easily annotate a map to draw attention to an incident area.


According to Wisemetrics, the average half-life of a tweet is 24 minutes (and that’s assuming it’s been retweeted at least 10 times). If your tweet isn’t getting retweeted, it’s significantly less than that. Try tweeting at different times of the day and monitor the level of engagement. Free tools like Tweriod will analyze your Twitter account followers and give you a report on the optimal times of the day and/or days of the week to send posts. Of course, all of this goes out the window if there is a breaking incident. In that case, the public will be looking to you and your agency for factual and timely information. If you are silent, you can count on the public or media to fill the information gap (and you may not like those results either).

The whole “putting a period at the beginning of your tweet” thing

If you start a tweet with the “@” sign, Twitter treats it as a conversation you are having with another Twitter account. The only people who will see that tweet are the followers that you and that account both share. Therefore, adding a period “.” at the beginning of a tweet will allow ALL of your followers to see the tweet. In the example below, I’ve added a “.” before mentioning Chief Grogan’s Twitter account to ensure all of my followers can see this tweet:

Be relatable

How you tweet becomes your agency “voice.” Avoid using police jargon and codes. In times of crisis, you will need to be direct and authoritative. Outside of a crisis, avoid the robotic “just the facts” persona. Instead, think of how you would want your front line staff to interact with the public. We don’t train people to be robots. We teach and rely on them to be personable, professional, empathetic, even humorous when appropriate. It should be no different on social media. It’s social media….that mean’s it’s ok to be social.

Lastly, don’t do this:

In the above example, someone has shared six photos on their Facebook page. If you’ve linked your Twitter account with Facebook, you have the option to have Facebook automatically share the same photos on Twitter. The downside is the way it appears above. It’s not attractive, very few will actually click on the link to view the photo, and without more context, people are just going to bypass what would otherwise be an awesome photo from your department.
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    About This Blog

    So you have found, or perhaps stumbled upon, The Social Media Beat, the blog for the IACP Center for Social Media Web site. The Social Media Beat is about three things: social media, law enforcement, and perspective. Here you will find a fresh outlook on the issues that are affecting law enforcement agencies and their personnel when it comes to social media.

    Social media is taking the world by storm. Social networks, blogs, photo and video sharing sites, and virtual communities are changing the way people live, work, and play. These tools present unique opportunities as well as challenges to the law enforcement community.  The Social Media Beat brings together a team of bloggers who will speak directly to you about hot topics and current issues.

    Bloggers include IACP staff and practitioners in the field who can provide a unique front-line perspective. Our team cares about social media and wants to ensure that law enforcement across the country are knowledgeable and well-equipped to incorporate this technology.

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    Dionne Waugh

    Dionne Waugh is the Digital Communications Manager for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, which is the largest, full-service sheriff’s office in the state of Colorado. Prior to that, she spent more than six years creating and leading the Richmond, Virginia, Police Department’s social media efforts, which led to international acclaim and recognition.

    She has spoken about law enforcement and social media at more than a dozen conferences across the country in addition to four IACP annual conferences. Waugh is a former newspaper reporter who wrote about crime, police, and the court system for several years. That experience and an ingrained curiosity for what makes people tick has fueled her desire to improve communication between people. Follow Dionne on Twitter @JeffCoSheriffCo.

    IACP Center for Social Media

    IACP's Center for Social Media serves as a clearinghouse of information and no-cost resources to help law enforcement personnel to develop or enhance their agency's use of social media and integrate Web 2.0 tools into agency operations. The Center is funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

    Leon Robertson

    Officer Leon Robertson is the Social Media Coordinator for the Hampton Police Division. Robertson has developed internationally recognized public safety messages, including the Jingle Bells “Holiday Safety Remix” in December 2013. He has extensive experience in graphic design, video & audio production, and managing various social media platforms. You can follow Officer Robertson’s efforts with the Hampton Police Division on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

    Tracy Phillips

    Tracy is a Senior Project Specialist with the IACP. She is responsible for managing the day-to-day operation of the Web site and coordinating the site's social networking plan. In addition, Ms. Phillips provides writing, editorial, and technical assistance on a variety of association projects and activities, including police management studies, job analyses, executives searches, federal grants, and various research projects and proposals. She has more than 10 years of experience in state and local government, including work as a management analyst, performance auditor, and crime analyst. Ms. Phillips holds a master's degree in public administration from the University of Georgia and a bachelor's from Clemson University.

    Want to hear more from Tracy Phillips? Follow her and the Discover Policing team on TwitterFacebook, and on the Inside Discover Policing blog. You can also network with other police recruitment professionals in the Law Enforcement Recruitment LinkedIn group.

    Zach Perron

    Lieutenant Zach Perron is the public affairs manager for the Palo Alto (CA) Police Department. Zach was a 2014 visiting fellow at the IACP in the Center for Social Media. He serves on the steering committee for the Bay Area Law Enforcement Social Media Group (BALESMG), and is a member of the US. Department of Homeland Security's Virtual Social Media Working Group (VSMWG). He holds a bachelor's degree in American Studies from Stanford University and is now pursuing a graduate education at the Naval Postgraduate School's Center for Homeland Defense and Security in Monterey, California.  You can follow him on Twitter: @zpPAPD.

    Dave Norris

    Sergeant Dave Norris is a 21 year veteran of the City of San Mateo Police Department. He has worked in a number of positions including Juvenile Detective, Field Training Officer, Narcotics Detective, and Patrol Supervisor. Dave is currently assigned to Community and Media Relations and oversees day-to-day functions that involve the relationship between the police, the community, and the media. Dave is dedicated to the increase of community engagement through the use of social media. Under his management, San Mateo PD's direct subscribers to community alerts and public safety messaging has grown from several hundred to over 22,000.

    Chris Hsiung

    Captain Chris Hsiung commands the Field Operations Division at the Mountain View Police Department in California. Through the department Community Action and Information Unit (CAIU), he manages strategy, community engagement, and growth through the police department social media channels. Chris has been serving the Mountain View community for over 19 years and has held a variety of assignments within MVPD. These include detective assignments in Property Crimes, Person Crimes, and High Tech Crimes as well as collateral assignments on SWAT and the Field Evidence Team. He also serves on the planning committee for the Bay Area Law Enforcement Social Media Group (BALESMG). You can follow him on Twitter @chMtnViewPD.

    Lynn Hightower

    Lynn is the Communications Director and Public Information Officer for the Boise Police Department and has served in that role since October, 2003. Lynn also serves at the PIO for the Boise Fire Department. Lynn authors and manages the social media outreach for Boise Police and often acts as media spokesperson. She advises officers from patrol to command staff on media and public communications skills. Lynn joined the Boise Police Department after 17 years as a television reporter, producer, anchor, and news director. Lynn regularly instructs new officers at the Boise Police Academy and has given media and public communications presentations to dozens of federal, state, and local emergency responder agencies. Follow Lynn and Boise Police on Twitter @BoisePD.

    Billy Grogan

    Billy Grogan is the Chief of Police for the Dunwoody Police Department in Georgia. Chief Grogan was hired on December 17, 2008, after serving 28 years with the Marietta, Georgia, Police Department, to start a brand new department. On April 1, 2009, the Dunwoody Police Department began operations with 40 sworn officers and eight civilians providing police services to the 47,000+ residents of the City of Dunwoody. Chief Grogan embraced the use of social media from day one of operations. The Dunwoody Police Department began using Twitter the first day and has added Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, and Vine to their arsenal since then as effective tools to market their department and engage their community. Chief Grogan has written about the benefits of law enforcements use of social media, participated in several social media focus groups and lectured at the IACP, Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police Conference, COPS Conference, and many other venues. Follow Chief Grogan on Twitter @ChiefGrogan and the Dunwoody Police Department @DunwoodyPolice.

    Mark Economou

    Mark Economou is the Public Information Officer for the Boca Raton Police Department in Boca Raton, Florida. His media and public relations background spans nearly 20 years. Spending nearly 15 years in radio and television news, Economou held many positions from assignment editor, reporter, anchor, and executive editor. After that, he served as the Director of Media Relations for Cote & D'Ambrosio, a Public Relations, Marketing and Advertising firm in Wickford, RI. He then served as head of Media Relations for Citizens Bank of Rhode Island, the 9th largest bank in the United States. Follow Mark on Twitter @BocaPolice.

    Frank Domizio

    Corporal Frank Domizio has been with the Philadelphia Police Department since 1997. He is currently assigned to the FBI’s Regional Computer Forensics Lab as a Forensic Examiner. Previously he was assigned to the Department's Office of Media Relations and Public Affairs where he was the Social and Digital Media Manager. Frank has spoke at several industry conferences and major universities on the topics of social media and content strategy.

    Tim Burrows

    Tim Burrows was a sworn police officer for 25 years with experience in front line operations, primary response, traffic, detective operations, and supervision. He has training in a broad spectrum of policing responsibilities including IMS, Emergency Management, computer assisted technology investigations, leadership, community policing, and crisis communications. Tim left policing but has remained involved through consulting with law enforcement on the advancement of communications and social media. Tim runs #CopChat on Wednesday nights at 9pm ET, to allow police and community members to connect and break down barriers. To learn more about him you can follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook or click here to contact him

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    The Social Media Beat periodically features guest bloggers who share their perspective on the topic of social media and law enforcement. These individuals are law enforcement professionals; sworn and civilian personnel from agencies of all types and sizes throughout the world. If you are interested in guest blogging, please send your request to All bloggers must be affiliated with a law enforcement agency or educational institution. We cannot accept blog entries from vendors or others working in a for-profit capacity.

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