Winning at Twitter
Twitter can be a difficult form of communication to learn, let alone master. The Boston Police Department showed us all how to use it best in an emergency during the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing.
Cheryl Fiandaca joined the police department as bureau chief of public information just 10 months before the incident. She had to draw on her background as a lawyer and a television journalist for 16 years when she and her team of information officers, two sworn police officers and three civilians, found themselves in such an extreme situation.
Shortly after the explosions occurred Fiandaca got a call from the police commissioner. He gave her the go-ahead to start tweeting updates, which she promptly did – remotely from the shopping mall she was in.
From that point forward, the public information team was staffed 24 hours a day. The team was briefed by commanders up to five times a day and followed restrictions on what they were and were not allowed to say. Thanks to a well-trained team, they could be trusted to compose the right kinds of messages without officials needing to review and approve.
Not only did the public information team keep the public informed, they also did their best to defend against dangerous misinformation.
With major media outlets reporting incorrect information and putting officers in jeopardy by broadcasting their activities, the team turned to Twitter to get them to back down.
#MediaAlert: WARNING – Do Not Compromise Officer Safety/Tactics by Broadcasting Live Video of Officers While Approaching Search Locations
— Boston Police Dept. (@Boston_Police) April 19, 2013
Thankfully the tone and speed of coverage changed dramatically after that point.
As if to emphasize the important role that Twitter has assumed in news reporting, the first official announcement from any agency on the conclusion of the manhunt for the Boston Marathon suspects was via Boston PD’s tweets:
CAPTURED!!! The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won. Suspect in custody.
— Boston Police Dept. (@Boston_Police) April 20, 2013
The most important part of the Boston PD’s social media engagement was that it had already been established, utilized and nurtured. Their preparation in laying the groundwork for an open line of communication with the public paid off when they really needed it.
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