How Analytics Help Austin PD Manage Government Social Media Risk & Improve Engagement
When a drunk driver crashed into the crowd at Austin’s 2014 South by Southwest (SXSW) event, the Austin Police Department (APD) utilized social networking to keep the public and press up to date with the developing situation. As news quickly spread across the country, the number of new followers and inquiries soared. APD used analytics and alerting software from ArchiveSocial to sort through the noise and immediately respond to critical questions and information.
In the last decade, Austin has become one of America’s favorite cities. It’s a media darling, business is booming, the cultural scene is thriving and people are moving there in droves. Young people are coming for the jobs and staying to start families. This has caused a demographic shift to a more youthful population. Austin also has a reputation as one of the country’s most tech-savvy cities, boasting residents who are innovative, early adopters of technology.
Given the population’s youth and connectivity, social media is a crucial component of the local government’s communication strategy. Austin’s central city communications department reaches its constituency using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Periscope, NextDoor, Reddit, Tumblr and Flickr. One of the most active agencies utilizing social media is APD. When one of APD’s public information officers, Jennifer Herber, took her position several years ago, the department had 1,200 Twitter followers. Today, that number has soared to more than 55,000. “We’re really proud of that,” she says.
With such volatile activity, the need to retain social media communications was pressing. The city’s central communications department contracted with ArchiveSocial to automatically archive the wealth of public information shared across social media each day to comply with Texas’ Public Information Act. Furthermore, Austin’s communications team employs ArchiveSocial’s Risk Management and Analytics (RMA) solution to illuminate how the public is feeling on a variety of issues — a tool executive leadership finds invaluable for decision-making. RMA automatically sends alerts on topics important to the communication team and provides analytics tools such as sentiment analysis and usage metrics.
Staying a Step Ahead with Alerts and Sentiment Scoring
One of Herber’s primary responsibilities is to monitor the alerts sent by ArchiveSocial’s RMA solution. The solution allows an agency to customize alerts to its needs, so it can receive notifications when certain questions are asked or when a comment violates the agency’s social media policy. “We get a lot of alerts,” Herber says. “We’re a very tech- savvy city here in Austin, so if someone posts a negative video it can go viral within hours. Many times those videos don’t tell the whole story and can cause backlash, but the alerts are helpful in giving us a heads-up. We often get alerted about them right as they’re getting posted. We can then monitor things, let our leadership know what’s going on, investigate and respond appropriately.”
Herber says the team also monitors its social media pages for subjects considered “off topic,” and ArchiveSocial’s customizable keyword alerts are crucial for that. “Often we’ll post something about a crash closing down traffic lanes, for instance, and someone will post a video or make a derogatory statement that has nothing to do with that in the comments section. That’s when it’s nice to get those alerts because we can see those comments in real time and immediately delete them if they violate our policy,” says Herber.
One of the most useful scenarios for the alerts was during the 2014 SXSW festival — the annual multimedia extravaganza that draws a massive audience from around the globe. On March 13, a drunk driver crashed through festival barricades and plowed into the crowd, killing four people and injuring two dozen. The ensuing media attention brought an influx of queries from concerned friends and families of festival attendees. Tens of thousands of people began following Austin’s Twitter feeds and Facebook pages overnight, which helped the city and APD push updated information out as quickly as possible to the public. ArchiveSocial’s analytics system came into play, continually apprising the city and police department communications teams of alerts and questions from individuals, allowing a swift response during a critical time.
In addition to using alerts, APD is also starting to experiment with the sentiment scoring capability of ArchiveSocial’s RMA solution, measures how positively or negatively citizens are responding to various topics. RMA’s analytics and reporting capabilities provide meaningful insights into controversial issues, citizen engagement levels and platform usage over time. For example, APD has used RMA to track public sentiment about its #WhatTheHelicopter campaign — a hashtag the department created to keep the community informed and allow them to ask questions about police helicopter activities. APD often finds the technology useful for reaffirming the information and reactions they receive via other forms of communication such as phone calls and in-person visits, and intend to further utilize the reporting capabilities to share social media trends and findings with department leadership.
The Future of Analytics and Social Media
Herber doesn’t see the use of social media slowing down anytime in the near future. In fact, APD is constantly looking at new ways to engage different groups in the community through social media platforms. They use Periscope to release videos of press conferences, Facebook and Twitter to encourage citizens to share positive interactions with officers, and Instagram to better engage youth in the community. They also utilize a social media hub to share real-time updates with journalists in a manner that allows departments to maintain their focus on resolving incidents. According to Herber, ArchiveSocial’s archiving and analytics tools will only become more critical as APD and the city of Austin increase their use of social media to improve the way they interact with and disseminate information to their community.