FBI ramps up Twitter use to fight crime and inform public of crises and threats

Through the years, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has always met the public where it is communicating - whether with fliers in post offices, on TV, or in print - and now the agency is strengthening its social media strategy to reach broader audiences.

WASHINGTON: Through the years, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has always met the public where it is communicating – whether with fliers in post offices, on TV, or in print – and now the agency is strengthening its social media strategy to reach broader audiences.

The FBI has been on Twitter since 2008, but it wasn’t until about a year ago that it really started leveraging the platform and pushing information out. Now the federal agency is incorporating more videos, photos, and hashtags into its tweets and Facebook posts, and it is even getting involved in current events, such as Cyber Monday.

Paul Bresson, unit chief for the FBI’s national press office, said the agency is using Twitter in a number of ways, such as getting help solving crimes, raising consumer awareness of fraud and crime trends, informing the public of any crises or threats, and recruiting talent. 

All of the reasons for using social go back to furthering the FBI’s "mission of serving and protecting the American people," explained Bresson. 

Posting messages from the @FBI Twitter handle allows the agency to get information out quickly, efficiently, and to a worldwide audience, he added. The handle has more than a million followers, many of whom are members of the media, said Bresson, so each tweet gets even more traction from retweets and favorites.

In addition to the @FBI handle, which is mainly managed by Bresson and the FBI national press office’s supervisory special agent Joshua Campbell, the agency has local Twitter pages, such as @NewYorkFBI and @FBILosAngeles. The agency doesn’t use any outside PR or social media agency support.

Campbell said the field offices’ Twitter pages allow the FBI to localize messages and reach additional audiences. The regional handles also give these offices the opportunity to collaborate with local police by using specific hashtags or tweeting to each other, he added.

When the FBI posts a tweet about a fugitive or a crime, people are encouraged to provide useful tips or information on the matter, but they are driven to a tip line or a website, rather than being asked to tweet.

In terms of recruiting, Campbell said Twitter has been very helpful because the "FBI is recruiting from the same crop of highly talented individuals as the private sector."

"If you look at the private sector’s use of digital media, they have kept pace," he explained. "We are getting there as well in government and trying to ensure that we are on par with the private sector when it comes to getting messaging out."

Making sure it has a strong digital presence is also important when looking at the "Millennials, or the next wave of talent, who want to work for a place that is digitally savvy," Campbell added.

While the FBI has certain rules and policies it has to comply with when it comes to what it can post on social, it has come a long way throughout the years from strictly having an account to now using it in creative ways with videos and graphics. The future of how the organization will use social is "very exciting," added Campbell, because it is hoping to go from using it as a one-way information tool as a two-way dialogue platform.

Another government agency that has been building buzz on Twitter is the CIA, which has been lauded by media outlets for its quirky, timely, and humorous posts. The CIA’s first tweet in June said, "We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet."

Earlier this week, the CIA had some fun with NBC series State of Affairs by explaining factual errors in the show.

Campbell and Bresson said they didn’t want to speak on behalf of the CIA’s use of Twitter, but they noted that "there are different reasons and ways the government uses it."

"We have two different missions," noted Bresson. "How [the CIA] uses social media could be for a completely different reason than how we use it and why we use it."

All in all, Campbell added that the "FBI, like any agency, is a brand," and it takes very seriously what it puts on Twitter and the purposes behind the messages it posts.

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