Law enforcement did it right in Cleveland on social media

By Kathleen Williams, APR

If you are a politics junkie like me, you have been consumed over the last two weeks with the conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia. Needless to say, I wasn’t at either, but I did play a small (OK, tiny) role during the Republican convention in Cleveland, as a member of Ohio VOST(Virtual Operations Support Team) – a loose confederation of public information officers from across Ohio who are trained in using social media during emergency management events.

Kathleen Williams, APR, is the Public Information Officer  for Clermont County.

Kathleen Williams, APR, is the Public Information Officer  for Clermont County.

So, for several evenings that week, from 6-10 p.m. (or, as I had to get used to thinking, 1800 to 2200 hours!), I monitored social media feeds and hashtags (#RNCInCle and #RNCInfo -- the hashtag we used in our posts) surrounding the convention. My job was to alert my VOST chief if I read anything that seemed ‘off,’ and to ‘amplify’ posts from the Cleveland Police Department, Cleveland Fire Department, City of Cleveland, etc. – any recognized official source of information – to spread accurate information and dispel rumors. That might range from road closings to bus route changes to information on the status of a particular protest.

I built my feeds using TweetDeck (and learned how to find geolocation Tweets), and also used a tool called Tagboard, which collects hashtags from multiple platforms, making it easy to look over posts from many sources.

Take a minute to read this recent blog from Ann Mulvany, a senior executive at FrazierHeiby. She takes a closer look at the exceptional job the Cleveland Police Department did using social media during what was a very intense and stressful week.

As she says: “Responding quickly and authentically to questions, comments and rumors reassures residents -- and people following the event from a distance via online channels -- that the police are in control of the situation and working to keep everyone safe.

"At the end of the day, it’s all about transparency. By providing information about arrests, including quantity and cause, Cleveland Police project an image of a city with relative calm (especially impressive considering the circumstances) and a police force that is working hard to keep it that way.”

You don’t have to be in government PR to learn from this. A few takeaways:

  • Good information, dispersed accurately, quickly and repeatedly, chases out bad. The more official sources do it, the more they are trusted.
  • Humanize and humorize: Police from around the country came to Cleveland to help keep the streets calm and safe that week. They did indeed do that. But they did more. By sharing many positive photos, and by using humor and touches of humanity in their posts, police and other law enforcement officials could bask in the goodwill of a community, and nation, that truly appreciated the work they were doing.