The Social Media Tool you really need (and its not Facebook)

Originally published in Blue Line magazine November 2012

I caught my 15 year old daughter doing something extremely embarrassing the other day. I walked into the family room and there she was lying on the carpet, feet up on the couch and she was- if you can believe it, talking on the telephone.

I was stunned.

“What are you doing?” I said pointing to the adult only communication device.

She flashed me that you are too stupid to live look that only a teenager can pull off.

Her:     “It’s a phone why wouldn’t I use it?”

Me:      “I dunno, you have spent the last 4 years constantly texting, BBM’ing, Tweeting and Facebook’ing. I’ve never actually seen you use a telephone” 

Her:     “This is so much easier” as she rolled her eyes in disgust “And I don’t get creeped”

Interesting, I thought to myself. I wondered if my teen was getting weary of social media in general and did she just use “creep” as a verb?

My three teenage kids have always been the barometer for me on what’s in and what’s “so two hours ago”.

I knew about Down with Webster, hash tagging and Heelys before any of my fellow parents. My kids are continually opening my eyes to new opportunities and don’t hesitate to let me know what is passé.

Teenagers are realizing what, law enforcement already knows about Facebook; that communicating your likes, desires, wishes and friends builds a database on yourself.

Facebook sells this information to advertisers. Facebook ads reflect your interests which is no coincidence.  But which other creepy people are also exploiting this open source information?

As a cop, it’s a wonderful tool for us to have criminals populate their own dossier profiles for us.

As we saw in the N.H.L. hockey riots last year in Vancouver, some suspects can’t help but post pictures of themselves committing crimes. They may as well just nominate themselves for arrest.

We have seen the effectiveness of using Facebook as an open source data base to further our investigations but is it the tool we need to extend our reach into the community and build relationships with our citizens and in particular the youth of our community?

My 18 year old son doesn’t use it at all, my 17 year old prefers Twitter and my 15 year old is back to using the phone.

Here are some thoughts and comments as to why teens are moving away from Facebook.

“My dad is my Facebook friend how bad is that?”

“Because it’s addicting, time wasting, attention seeking/ approval, and makes a person hate their own life. I find it really boring now. People on Facebook have no life.”

And my personal favourite-

“I don’t like Facebook, it’s like a prison, you sit around all day, write on the walls while getting poked by random dudes and you hope some shower rapist don’t put you on its list”

 It’s possible that teens today are now starting to value face to face interaction and are getting annoyed with the drama that comes with this Social Media tool.

I know mine are acutely aware that potential employers and academic institutions are using Facebook to check backgrounds of potential candidates and eliminating candidates at a record pace.

And it’s not just the kids.  GM recently pulled their Facebook ad’s citing a lack of effectiveness. I’m proof of that, as I have never even clicked on a Facebook  ad.

Concerns about relevance, privacy  as well as what has been described in the recent IPO as being “massively overpriced” may just put Facebook’s future in jeopardy.

So if the youth is actually moving away from Facebook to the next big thing what is that thing?

Mobile apps are the next best thing and if your organization isn’t immediately developing one for your agency you are at risk of becoming a dinosaur in law enforcement.

Here’s why;

You’re in a war whether you know it or like it.  You’re in a war to get your message heard over everyone else.   You’re in a battle to build followers and create relationships in the event the worse happens and you need to communicate with   that part of your community that doesn’t watch, read or listen to traditional media. It’s about making those connections with an ever-increasing diverse community and securing your future relationships.

Keep your Facebook page if you have it- it serves a purpose and helps build a following. But if you don’t have one-  re-allocate your energy to produce a mobile app before you’re left behind.

A mobile app that offers a one-click connection to your police organization yields incredible potential and opportunity. More people are now texting than using websites.

An app gives your community instant access to your news feeds and existing social media accounts personally branded with your logo and designed for maximum marketing and improved customer service.

The mobile cell phone has become a very personal device to the owner.  Create an app and that little icon will be  the first thing they see in the morning and the last they see before going to bed. As a police service trying to connect with the community this poses incredible potential.

Within a few years almost every on- line product will be accessible through an app. Banking, food, travel and recruiting apps are making their move now. One report states Apple is receiving up to 1000 app’s per day. That doesn’t include Blackberry or Android apps.

Everyone wants crime and safety related information therefore a police app has the potential to sell itself.  Whether its violent crimes, illegal drugs, gangs, traffic reports or safety issues, our information is interesting and sought out by many. Your police app won’t require the immense publicity (other apps do) to be accepted and downloaded by your community.

But wait it gets better; the best reason to develop a police app is the “push messaging” component. An app that has this capability becomes the most powerful community mobilization tool a police service can employ. This feature allows you to personally message all those who have subscribed to your app.  Public service messages, amber alerts and community safety messages can be sent directly to your customers. Unlike emails, Twitter messages, and television you can be certain your message will hit its target and actually be read. You will now have a new crowd sourcing platform at your disposal to, inform and educate your community.  A mobile app energizes your existing organizational strategies and has the capability to take community mobilization to a level never seen before in policing.

Now you can communicate with your public, on your terms. You have the one on one relationship with your community member. No middle man to filter your message.

To be able to deliver your message without risk of alteration or editing can create a powerful presence for your agency.

And if your still not convinced, even boy wonder and Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg has mobile app development as his top priority for 2012.

The value of FB as an investigative tool is hard to beat.  A massive collection of online, open source data, linking people and revealing their likes dislikes associations and tombstone data all for free to the curious investigator.

But that is only half of what we do.

Promoting our anti-crime messaging to ensure healthy and safe communities requires further reach to extend ourselves into our communities.

As a cop, I am constantly pursuing anti-drug, gang or hate strategies that are sustainable and will resonate with the public (and especially the youth).   Paying attention to this demographic and what they gravitate to -makes good corporate sense.

Mobile apps will develop those relationships with the people we protect and will build on our capacity to inform, connect and interact in a contemporary and relevant format.

They are “our most precious resource” (however frustrating they can be) and police ought to follow their lead if we hope to build a relationship with this part of the population. The youth have spoken and the social media format they decide will be the format we must adopt to communicate with them.  In this regard, they are the leaders and we are the followers

Superintendent Gary Askin is a 32 year member of the Waterloo Regional Police Service currently overseeing Drugs, Intelligence, Hate, Guns, Gangs and Special Response.  He can be reached at  or at

Twitter @garyaskin

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