Measuring Social Media Impact

Any kind of resource deployment in one area of the city affects resources (and thus crime) in another, so constant measurement is required to ensure police aren't spread too thin and the public's quality of life isn't diminished (or if those are the...


Last month I questioned whether social media could really be thought of as a “force multiplier,” when those free tools can demand significant outlays in resources, time and effort to realize its full potential. This month I want to talk numbers. How can you know something multiplies your force, if you aren't measuring it?

Any kind of resource deployment in one area of the city affects resources (and thus crime) in another, so constant measurement is required to ensure police aren't spread too thin and the public's quality of life isn't diminished (or if those are the outcomes, measurement helps fix the problem).

Social media should be no different. Yet like many businesses, many police departments have no idea how to begin measuring officers' time spent online, or the impact on citizens' quality of life. Without that idea, it can be hard to justify time or any other resources spent there. That much is clear from the wasteland of tried-and-tossed police Twitter accounts.

Yet where people are, police need to be. And so you need to know how to measure the resource allocation to being in those spaces, whether real or virtual.

Start with goals

You wouldn't deploy a saturation tactic without hard numbers on what the problem was, how many civilians within how many miles would be affected, or how long the campaign would last – would you? Don't start social media campaigns this way, either. Vague notions of “Connect with the public” or “Build trust” aren't enough. You have to know why this is needed in your community.

Start with problems (and don't think in terms of “social media problems.” There is no such thing. All problems that occur online have their roots in the real world, and good policing takes both into account). The problems could be as diverse as:

-        Your local gangs are using Twitter to openly plot violence against their rivals, and posting recorded results on YouTube.

-        Your officers are behaving badly on Facebook, and the public is talking about it so much that the local news media is running a story on tonight's 6 o'clock news.

-        You're taking an increasing number of calls related to cybercrime, and you're barely able to handle conventional crimes.

-        Your agency has seen a 200% increase in traffic collisions on a particular stretch of road in the past six months.

-        A rash of thefts from vehicles has stressed out families in several neighborhoods, and it doesn't help that some of them are reporting peeping Toms in the same timeframe as the thefts.

You know that the news media will be able to help you keep the public informed to some extent, but you also know that these things are being discussed online: via Neighborhood Watch listservs, on the local newspapers' member forums, within your own agency, and of course on social sites. That's why you've decided to take to those sites to add your voice and help direct the flow of information.

Your goals for each of those problems might therefore look something like:

-        Collect intelligence and evidence about the gang members, their connections, and their activities.

-        Collect evidence as part of your internal investigation into the officers' actions, and assure the public via both social and traditional media that while you can't discuss particulars, you have seen their concerns and are looking into the matter.

-        Educate the public about the specific forms of cybercrime they're reporting, and how to protect themselves.

-        Educate the public about the flow of traffic on that particular stretch of road (for instance, relative to the new business park that has created increased traffic, or the construction creating new traffic flows, new hazards, and additional frustration).

-        Keep the public informed to the extent possible about your investigation; ask for their assistance and vigilance, and educate them on how to protect themselves.

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