- Contact Name: Director of Communications Rhonda Weldon
- Contact Phone: 512.471.4472
- Contact E-mail: Rhonda.firstname.lastname@example.org
- Date: 6/15/2011
The University of Texas at Austin (UT) is an undergraduate and graduate college campus community located in central Texas. The UT Police Department (UTPD) consists of 65 sworn officers and 70 civilian employees and serves a population consisting of students, faculty, and staff totaling about 70,000.
The UT public affairs office has been using social media to connect with students, faculty, alumni, and community members since the summer of 2008. In 2010, UTPD stepped into the social media realm. Their original intent was to use the social media sites for recruitment. However, the site soon grew and today, the presence also serves as a platform for crime logs and as a crisis communication tool.
In September 2010, an active shooter situation unfolded on the UT campus. The existing text alert system was in place; however, it was believed that these messages needed to get out to an even larger audience. So, a Web developer assigned to UTPD began taking the text alerts and posting them to Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #utshooting. In less than 24 hours, the UTPD Facebook page went from 400 followers to over 10,000.
When the crisis situation dissipated and things began to return to normal there were a few interesting after effects. The first was the creation of the I Love UTPD site, a Facebook page created by University of Texas students. Through this page, students expressed their appreciation for the department as well as UTPD personnel. The second was that the over 10,000 Twitter followers continued to follow UTPD. These followers continue to engage by liking and commenting on the UTPD Twitter and Facebook sites.
When asked what tips they have for other law enforcement agencies getting started with social media, UTPD staff expressed that the responsibility for social media site maintenance must be shared. For example, had a member of the police department been the sole person responsible for social media site maintenance, the vital messages disseminated during the September shooting would never have gotten out due to the fact that all officers were responding to the situation. UTPD staff stressed that responsibility may not go by the organizational chart. Instead, find someone who “gets” social media, and will serve as a knowledgeable and responsible voice to your community.
Another tip from UTPD: develop reciprocal relationships with other organizations and agencies. Having these relationships on social media, means that your message will be spread further and wider than if you were just doing it yourself. If a local agency sees you are disseminating important information, they may share that same information with their fans and followers, exponentially increasing the number of people that will get your message.
UTPD has experienced great success with their social media efforts and hopes to continue to grow and expand as they move forward. One way they hope to expand their use of social media is to include more crime prevention efforts. They also hope to do more event promotion through Facebook and Twitter.