Case Study: Surrey Police's award-winning Twitter feed

An unconventional approach to Surrey Police’s Twitter feed picked up the Grand Prix at this year’s Social Buzz Awards. Here we look at the thinking behind the strategy, and look at what made it so effective.

The Social Buzz Awards 2013 took place in London on 28 November, celebrating the UK’s social media success stories and rewarding the brands and agencies behind some of the most effective social strategies and campaigns of the last 12 months. Picking up the coveted Grand Prix award at the event was Surrey Police’s Twitter feed, which proved a great example of digital disruption and showed how social media can be used to communicate information in an innovative way. During the 2012 London Olympics, Surrey Police capitalised on the public interest around the Games by using a humorous and unexpected tone of voice on its Twitter feed. The force has continued to take an imaginative approach to its Twitter feed, and in doing so has brought humanity and fun to its communications, disrupting people’s perceptions of the police, while growing its followers and reach. Here we take a look at the force’s awards submission and find out how the boys in blue used the little blue bird to win people over.Grand Prix During the London 2012 Olympics, policing was generally seen in a positive light and Surrey Police complemented this on Twitter by using an imaginative approach and ‘unexpected’ tone of voice, enabling the force to join in with events, which was well received. For example, when Olympic cyclist Lizzie Armitstead lost her glasses during the women’s road race through Surrey, the local police responded by tweeting: ‘Lost: 1 pair lucky Oakley Sunglasses. Owner: @L_ ArmiTstead. If found, pls hand them in. She’d like them back for the #TimeTrial on Weds…’ @TeamGB echoed a similar plea which was retweeted 637 times. It led to national newspaper coverage in The Daily Telegraph, Daily Express and was number 422 in The Independent’s ‘2012 things to remember the London Olympics by’. The story also featured in the daily Olympics diary on BBC News Online and in a Storify from The Wall Street Journal called ‘Social media highlights from the Olympics’. The force’s corporate communications department, with senior officer buy-in, wanted to purposefully continue this approach because as a it understood the opportunities offered by social media. However, to engage in dialogue and encourage assistance, its language needed to be more personable. The force recognised that messages are more likely to be shared if they are human and didn’t want to push an overly formal tone – the challenge was to be conversational while remaining clear and professional.Objectives 1. Use Twitter to support the force in building on the public’s goodwill and praise for ‘human’ policing during the Olympics and ensure Twitter presence supported its perceived more ‘human’ police brand 2. Use Twitter to support the force’s three priorities: keep people safe from harm, give them confidence that the force will be there when they need it, and relentlessly pursue criminals. Strategy • Learn from and build on praise received during Olympics for @SurreyPolice• Increase reach of certain tweets by using a light-hearted approach to convey a policing message • Create ‘light and shade’ on the Twitter feed, balancing light-hearted content with formal messages so followers take notice when @SurreyPolice is serious • Build followers to increase reach with particular focus on users with a connection to Surrey • Stand out from other police forcesImplementationWeather warnings: Instead of a formal message, Surrey Police took a more imaginative approach, creating the hashtag #IceIceSurrey with road safety tweets in the style of Vanilla Ice’s hit 80s single. #ChristmasCracker & #DecktheCells: During December 2012, a daily policing themed cracker-style joke was tweeted, along with an operationally focused festive tweet. These included: ‘On the first day of Christmas, our officers arrested three drunks-a-driving…now they won’t be Driving Home for Christmas #DeckTheCells’ Town centre violence: Also during December 2012, Operation Yuletide focused on alcohol-related violence in town centres. Research showed that once an individual is intoxicated it is difficult to get through to them rationally. Messages around ‘behaving’ are less likely to resonate so being held to account socially may be more motivating than judicial punishments. There is often one person who takes it too far– the ‘liability’ – so the campaign adopted an uplifting tone with a serious underlying message.Valentine’s Day 2013: Surrey Police launched '’ (slightly different to!) to find 30 individuals wanted on warrant. The campaign included branding the warrants website page, writing lonely heart ‘adverts’ for each individual and promotional tweets including live tweeting during ITV’s dating show Take Me Out. #Tweconstruction: On 1 March 2013, one month on from an armed robbery in Surrey, the force held the world’s first ‘Tweconstruction’, tweeting maps, pictures and other information in real time as the offence had occurred. This is an example of @SurreyPolice getting a serious message across in an imaginative way.Vadering: On 4 May 2013, @SurreyPolice took advantage of Star Wars Day to send out a tweet including a photo of a local boy ‘vadering’ two officers, which was an internet craze at the time.Results#IceIceSurrey is regularly publicly praised by Twitter’s Steve Summers, most recently at the Parliamentary Internet, Communications and Technology Forum and was also the subject of a CIPR blog, ‘IceIceSurrey casts the police in a new light’. It also featured in Buzzfeed’s ‘37 Things You’ll Only Find Funny If You’re British’ and on social media blog The Wall. It was also the subject of national media coverage including The Times and Daily Telegraph. Although some of their angles were negative, the online public comments were overwhelmingly positive. #IceIceSurrey led to over 3,000 hits on the website’s road safety advice page, which usually only gets a handful of daily hits. 30 #DeckTheCells tweets led to 1,375 retweets, reaching 759,039 accounts in total. The vadering tweet was retweeted 3,260 times, including by @StarWars, which has 456,858 followers. Between 8-15 December 2012 @SurreyPolice recruited nearly 2,000 followers and on 11 December alone we increased by 900 (average follower growth for a month). During December 2012 followers rose from 14,200 to 17,400 which is 3.2 times normal growth. There is significant overlap between the force’s followers and followers of other prominent Surrey accounts such as @BBCSurrey and @SurreyLife, demonstrating that those interested in the county of Surrey on Twitter are likely to follow @SurreyPolice. Many of these prominent accounts either retweet, modify tweets or repurpose content, which not only increases the reach of messages, but shared followers are likely to see the content first in their timeline and therefore view @SurreyPolice as an authoritative voice on local news. Judges’ CommentsAlex Packham, social media manager, Now TV: "Surrey Police is an outstanding example of how to get the basics of social media right. They post amazing content in a tone of voice that is totally unique and contributes to a greater purpose, which in their case is keeping people safe and building trust with the UK public."Ricc Webb, social media experience manager, Nokia: "Unlike most brands on Twitter, these guys used it in a way that didn’t try and bowl you over with competitions, giveaways, videos of extreme athletes... they simply used it for the basics, talking to people in a real way, using subtle humour and pics to bring their personality to life."This article first appeared in the 13 December issue of The Drum. Click here to order your copy