To use Twitter to its fullest potential for public communications, emergency management, andother functions, law enforcement agencies must first understand the medium -- not only howcitizens use it, but also how their peers use it both officially and unofficially. This study, a surveyof 1,089 police and police-related Twitter accounts, used 25 different criteria to show howagencies and officers are using Twitter, where they can improve, and implications for their futureuse.
Keywords: law enforcement, Twitter, crisis informatics, social media policy, third-party Twitter tools, public information, community relations
The way law enforcement agencies use social networking for public relations andcommunications is not well understood. It is easy to look at a handful of Twitter and Facebookaccounts, and think they represent all law enforcement agencies on those particular socialnetworks, whether they are active or inactive or positive or negative in tone.However, this does a disservice to the 1,000+ law enforcement agencies and officers on Twitter,as well as the communities they serve. The fact is that agencies approach the way they usethese tools in a variety of ways: personal accounts both official and unofficial; official departmentaccounts; via mobile devices, third-party tools and the basic web interface; and in conjunctionwith other social networks. They may assign one person or a team to maintain their accounts,opt for a positive or neutral tone, or try an account briefly before ending its use.The goal of this study is to refine our current understanding of the way law enforcementagencies in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom use the social networking toolTwitter. Popular because of its messages’ brevity, Twitter allows for one-to-manycommunication, at the same time facilitating an unprecedented means for two-waycommunication between police and public.Currently, most if not all analysis of law enforcement Twitter use is qualitative and anecdotal.This study quantifies that use and analyzes levels of engagement, such that law enforcementcommanders, public information officers, members of the media, and members of the public(among others) will be able to assess their local agencies’ and officers’ use compared to others’.The study will also help police to develop best practices regarding Twitter use, whether personalor official.Researchers wanted to find out whether police users:
Fully utilized Twitter’s many features, such as professionally made backgrounds andappropriate avatars, to create a better sense of engagement with their followers.
Accessed Twitter via the standard web interface, or used third-party and mobile-device