The Spanish police and Twitter

A great example of sense, sensibility… and community management

Madrid-based Spanish journalist Manuel Baigorri of financial news agency Bloomberg called me a couple of days ago for some comments on the use of Twitter by the Spanish national police force, quoting me briefly in an article entitled “For Spain’s police, Twitter is the social media gun”, also published on Mashable.

This is a topic I have discussed with the media on previous occasions: here, and here, in this France Presse story. My opinion remains the same: this is a channel that allows a large number of people to voluntarily be in touch with the police, and it has a tremendous potential value. It not only strengthens the police’s image and encourages the public to cooperate in combating crime, but can also be extremely useful in the event of an emergency.

The Spanish police’s methods in getting these results, based on intense community management, shows it as a force that is in touch with the wider population, have clearly been successful. Initially prompted by a lack of resources, the initiative reflects a good balance between the need to talk the public’s language and that of sending out the right message: not all the messages, replies, and reactions that the Spanish police send out into the Twittersphere are perfectly phrased; which is unsurprising, given the pressure that they operate under, but all in all, it is professionally handled and much more successful in achieving its aims and objectives than traditional methods, typified by the rigid, uni-directional approach of most large organizations.

Taking maximum advantage of the concept of “virality”, the initiative shows a clear understanding of how the social networks function. When I first wrote about this topic, many people criticized the Spanish police for what they saw as an artificial, or forced style, as though they were trying to project a progressive, up-to-date image. Some people even thought that such an approach was not befitting for a police force. There were also those who, with little thought for the repercussions, increased the police’s workload by sending in “joke” messages, or false reports.

The Spanish police’s task in achieving a balance between connecting with the public, its own behavior code, and not turning the conversation into an interrogation is a far from easy one. What’s more, they are doing this in real time, at “Twitterspeed”, with little time to assess their strategies and tactics.

In short, Spain’s police force has shown itself not just able to connect with the wider public, but to respond quickly and effectively to a wide range of situations. In Twitter it has found a communication channel of immense value. Its achievements should be recognized, and seen as an example to other police forces around the world.

(Disponible en español aquí)