The Metropolitan Police's top comms executive has rejected advice from social media experts, saying he will not go as far as interacting with bloggers.
The Met has been hit by a storm of negative online publicity following the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests on 1 April- including two officers caught making controversial comments on Facebook.
Diffusion director Ivan Ristic said it was 'quite pressing' for the Met to improve its social media abilities, while Brando director of social media David Cushman advised the Met to embrace 'a two-way flow of conversation' (see How I See It).
But Met director of public affairs and corporate comms Dick Fedorcio this week responded: 'That gets into a grey area. If I was seeking to manipulate people, it would raise a question about how that reduced our integrity. To be leaning on someone to say "give us a good blog" starts to raise some ethical issues.'
Fedorcio recently revealed plans to improve the Met's social media capability (PRWeek, 24 April). Since then one police officer has resigned over 'inappropriate' comments he made about Tomlinson on Facebook.
Another unknown officer boasted about 'the unwashed getting a good kicking' in a police blog entry posted a day after the G20 death of Tomlinson.
Ristic said: 'The Met should look at who out there is potentially sympathetic and with a bit of effort could be turned on to its side. By finding them it can start telling them its side of the story.
'The Met has this reputation of stonewalling and that makes it difficult in a social marketing context. Find sympathetic people to tell your story, rather than wading in yourself.'
Ristic also advised Fedorcio to have an effective social media audit manned by a full-time comms expert, who should monitor for the Met's name, as well as pressure issues such as 'Ian Tomlinson' and 'G20'. This would give the Met 'a few vital hours' before a story reached the news channels.
Fedorcio pointed out the Met was - for the moment - limited by time and resources. He said: 'All these things are resource-driven. They will be taken into account on what we can or cannot afford. Increasingly, the "cannot afford" argument is changing.'
Meanwhile, on this week's letters page, Fedorcio hits back at criticism of the Met's press statement following the death of Tomlinson.
Letters, page 18
HOW I SEE IT - David Cushman, Director of social media, Brando Social
Police have always said this kind of thing privately. Now they are publishing it. How the Met responds is crucial. Expect it to start listening intently. The Government is placing value on the public's confidence in public services and there will be pressure on the authorities to come up with ways of tracking and evaluating confidence. Social media offers a solution.
Social media requires a two-way flow of conversation and a human rather than corporate approach to responding. That will be a bigger challenge for organisations such as the police, which struggle with the idea of letting go of control.