04-Jun-2013

Spotlight on Saskatchewan: Social Media Openness at the Saskatchewan RCMP

by Jonathan Tremblay

Social media is the wave of the future... we've been hearing for five years. Unfortunately, despite basic media such as Twitter and Facebook being relatively old news and despite our Premier being one of the most active online participants around, Saskatchewan organizations are lagging behind the rest of Canada in online interactivity.

The more bureaucratic the organization, the further behind they rank. So it could come as quite a surprise that Saskatchewan's Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Division is at the cutting edge of social media interaction. With more than 2,000 employees in 80 detachments from North Portal to Uranium City, Saskatchewan's RCMP is not only effective, it's innovative.

I spoke to Natalie Gray, Communications Strategist for Saskatchewan's RCMP and IABC member since 2011. Natalie manages social media for the Division and was at the heart of their four ''live-tweeting'' events in the last year. With the hashtag #CopCalls for three evenings and nights, Natalie and her colleagues live-tweeted incoming calls to the RCMP dispatch centre where 9-1-1 calls get a response. From ''intoxicated person in a park'' and ''animal theft'' to ''assault'' and ''family dispute,'' the events gave us a vivid peek into the evening of Saskatchewan's law enforcement. A fourth event even had an ask-me-anything live-tweeting with one of our Saskatchewan respondents. And you thought your job was stressful.

As a citizen, I was fascinated. As a communicator, I had to ask a lot more questions from Natalie. ''Many people get their perceptions of what police work is like from watching police dramas on TV. But the reality is much different. Social media allows us to give an up-close view of our work to the people we serve.'' She tells me that the live-tweeting events had the objective of increasing awareness of the breadth and variety of work that our Mounties do every night.

Natalie began simply with a strategic communications plan that was well received and that progressed with senior management buy-in, media relations, internal buy-in and a thorough evaluation after the first session. The result? ''During the first event, our number of Twitter followers more than doubled.'' Natalie tells me about the great amount of questions the RCMP receives when they announce an upcoming live-tweet and the equal number of comments that come from employees that love having their work brought to light.

The live-tweeting events give us a window into the RCMP, but the communicator has a lot to consider when holding such an event: officer safety, public privacy and the entire event occurs in both of Canada's official languages. Indeed, Natalie also simultaneously live-tweets in French, sometimes with the assistance of RCMP translators.

How does she cope? The boy scouts would say to ''always be prepared'' and the Mountie communicators: doubly so. ''Spending time prior to the event, planning and anticipating what will happen helps to ensure the events run smoothly. For example, we had tweets ready to send out, educating the people to stay on the line if they have accidentally called 911.'' The strategy involves openness, but also education, a double-whammy for the communicators that can evaluate success by the decline of misdials and hang-ups.

In the end, Natalie says that social media is the ideal tool for communicators trying to reach across the wide plains and forests of this province. High-speed Internet access has become almost universal and the RCMP has taken advantage of the medium to inform, to educate, to connect and to innovate.