Some of the best use of social media in the public sector over the past few years has been by police forces across the UK. So it’s no surprise to see West Midlands Police doing great things with Facebook Live…
by Peter Edney
As I’m sure many of you are aware Facebook started to roll out its live broadcasting feature - Facebook Live - to all users at the start of the year.
At West Midlands Police we’ve carried out various live video broadcasts through social media over the years to try and give our followers a behind the scenes look at the work we’re doing to prevent crime, help people and keep them safe.
It’s fair to say that while previous #WMPLive events have been successful - this week’s videos took it to the next level with viewing totals topping 200,000 within 24 hours.
Before I get into that, I wanted to skip through a quick history of WMP going live online.
It was 2011 when now Superintendent Kerry Blakeman carried out the first live broadcast the force had ever done using TwitVid through his Twitter account.
Various follow-ups followed from Supt Blakeman and others via Bambuser, Google Hangouts and more recently Periscope and Blab.
In 2013, as the technology improved, the press office got involved and the #WMPLive hashtag was used for the first time as we hosted a Google Hangout from HQ. This was presented from our press conference room and also took live feeds from various departments across the force - including the dog unit, motorway police, firearms and air ops. On that occasion our live viewer count was around 1,500 and while the hangouts did have their technical problems it was a real success at the time.
Periscope and Blab have filled that space more recently and the force has used Periscope for various topics - from showcasing a recovered property store to a day of broadcasts at the dog unit and out with traffic officers for a mobile phone use campaign. While these saw hundreds of people tuning in live, the random nature of Periscope meant we weren’t guaranteed to reach people in the West Midlands. Blab has also proved a promising platform for live Q&A sessions on Twitter and for getting feedback from local communities.
Our aim with all of these live broadcasts has been to showcase the force, give people an insight into what we do and enable followers to engage with us in a different way. We knew that when Facebook finally offered this functionality it had the potential to be a huge hit.
So in the latest iteration of #WMPLive last week Supt Blakeman was involved again, taking on the ‘Philip Schofield role’ in our ‘Going Live’ production. He was joined by Special Constable and press officer Lee Page as the ‘Sarah Greene’ co-host - which I guess left me as Gordon the Gopher gripping an iPad in the back of the car.
We ideally wanted two officers involved to be able to make it more of a conversation and allow us to take some of the live questions as they came in. I was also conscious that if we were going to use Facebook Live that we do it in a dynamic way. We could have played it safe and had two officers sat in an office but we felt if we could put viewers in the back of a police car it would give a much better idea of what we’re faced with on a daily basis. If you’re going to go in for these things, you may as well go all in!
All of the broadcasts were filmed from the iPad which was ‘hot-spotted’ to our 4G phones during the evening - we’d done a couple of short tests before but we had no idea how the connection would hold up while on the move. As it turned out it was absolutely fine on 4G for the vast majority of each broadcast - only dropping out slightly on one of the blue light runs.
In total we broadcasted an intro to the evening, three Q&A sessions while on the move, two blue light runs while we responded to 999 calls along with updates on what had happened. We also went live from the scene of a collision on Hagley Road West, published a video ‘almost live’ from our new custody suite (no 3G or 4G) and finished the night with a summary and thank you in Birmingham city centre.
We had between three and six thousand people tuning into each broadcast live and by the end of the night views were at more than 150,000. ‘Reach’ on the videos combined to around half a million people but what was really interesting was the huge amount of engagement we received. Thousands of comments poured in - the vast majority being sensible questions or people thanking us for giving them an insight into what we do.
I’ve no doubt that the mysterious Facebook Algorithm ‘rewarded’ our use of Facebook Live – the company is already on record saying that live videos will appear higher in user’s timelines. It also helped that notifications were sent out to our followers each time we went live - although some evaluation of this has shown not everyone would have received a notification for each video. We’re still trying to work out exactly how that aspect of it works – the videos did however offer viewers the ability to subscribe to future live broadcasts, presumably this will be flagged to them with a notification next time we use it.
Perhaps we’re fortunate that when we put these ideas to senior management they very rarely say no as they understand the benefits of doing something innovative and new online.
My one piece of advice would be give it a go - you won’t know if it’ll work for you until you try it. I appreciate the nature of our content carries a large amount of public interest, but the possibilities for this live broadcasting no matter what the subject matter are endless.
It’s safe to say we’ll definitely be going live again soon!
All of the broadcasts from 9 March 2016 can be found here.
And take a look here for links to all West Midlands Police social networks.
Peter Edney is Operational Communications Manager at West Midlands Police and manages the organisation’s social media accounts.
Image via State Library and Archive of Florida