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Websites of the Week: BocaPolice

There’s more to it then just giving the police chief a Twitter account.

More and more agencies big and small are using so-called social media—Facebook, Twitter and YouTube—to reach the public without the filter of the traditional media outlets.

But there’s more to it than just giving the police chief a Twitter account. At the SMiLE (Social Media in Law Enforcement) conference in Washington April 7-9, officials from the Boca Raton (Fla.) Police Services Department showed how it’s done. That means a steady branding strategy, a plan for drawing people to the content the department generates, a plan for quick response to events or bad publicity, and more.

Part of the department’s connection with the community involves its VIPER program, which stands for Visibility, Intelligence, Partnerships, Education and Resources—a recipe for effective community relations.

That site opens up a world of content. There are photos, linked to videos, about police activities, crimes and resources, like suspect photos, to empower the public and help police.

There are the usual text-based press releases, except the department doesn’t need to actually send things to local media. It just posts things on its site, and frequently on its Twitter feed, Facebook page and YouTube channel. And Chief Dan Alexander realizes that multimedia is important; people want more than plain text.

He also wants the site to provide some entertainment, he told attendees at SMiLE, in order to attract people to the content. The VIPER site includes a link to the chief’s blog, as well as to a kids’ section, including a mascot and games. The department thought of everything.

There are offender alerts and a crime mapping function. Also on the site: a way for the public to sign up for alerts through Nixle, a growing mass notification system.

Important to the whole thing: consistent branding, said Alexander.

Part of the use of the technology stemmed from the frustration of giving information to local media, only to have it ignored. This way, the department gets all its information up on the Web, where citizens who want it can get it—or Facebook it, or Tweet and re-Tweet it.

Mark Economou, the city’s public information manager—and a former TV reporter—gave some additional tips on how to make it work and explained why it’s important to have an online presence.

First of all, fewer and fewer people rely on local or network TV news to get their information. He cited a study that found about 78 percent get info from local TV news, 73 percent from cable or network TV and 61 percent from the Internet—more than from the radio or the local newspaper.

other tips: people want links to more resources. They want to interact and comments. Video should be relatively short–generally just a couple of minutes–and have a solid streaming platform so people don’t give up and surf away.

Economou also pointed to an example of very bad Internet-driven publicity and how it was dealt with–the case of the naughty Domino’s workers, who made a video apparently showing them doing disgusting things with pizza. It went viral on YouTube and the morning news shows led with it, setting the company up for PR disaster.

So what did Domino’s do? The CEO didn’t even do TV interviews, but went straight to YouTube itself, posting a video in which he fessed up to the episode, expressed his anger and intolerance for the behavior, and made a firm commitment to deal with it.

Maybe most important, he did all that in about a day, squelching the story before it could fester.

Contrast that with Tiger Woods, said Economou, who avoided the media after his November SUV wreck, letting details dribble out, resulting in broad public condemnation the golfer continues to deal with.

“Get ahead of it as quickly as you can,” advised Alexander.

And in Boca Raton, they’re seizing control of their message with not one but several Web presences, including:

And taken together, they’re the Government Video Websites of the Week!

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