Although a number of UK police forces have adopted micro-blogging service Twitter as a means to engage with the public, they have so far had limited success, according to a research study published this week.
The study, entitled ‘What Are the Police Doing on Twitter?‘ and conducted by Cisco researcher Jeremy Crump, found that "36 police forces had corporate Twitter accounts by October 2010, as did 140 neighborhood or other local police teams".
Police forces have been under pressure to develop new channels for communicating with the public. But until October 2010, when the data for the study was collected "the achievement of this goal [through Twitter] has been limited".
"An examination of a sample of some of the most active accounts suggests that exchanges within networks are infrequent and the nature of Twitter means that conversations are difficult to join (because they are only semi-visible). In many cases one-way broadcasting of requests for information dominates other comment."
It concludes that Twitter may be a good tool for "publicising issues and conversations that will take place elsewhere, whether in other online fora such as virtual beat meetings, or perhaps on Facebook or in public meetings."
One caveat to the findings, however, is that since the data was collected, the use of Twitter by both the police and the public has intensified. "The data collection for this article was undertaken at a time when followers were fewer and networks sparser than is now the case, and when there was far less political, popular, and senior officer concern with use of social media in policing," it says.
Two recent reports from McKinsey and Ernst & Young found that businesses are also failing to use social media to interact with customers. The former found that the priority for business using social media was to make marketing campaigns more efffective, while that latter discovered that only 15% of consumers feel businesses are "good" at interacting with the via social media.