Community building through social media – how police building relationships online can get you support when it really matters

Screenshot: PC Stanley's Twitter page

Recently I was having a conversation with Nick about the value of social media, the community links you can build using Twitter and blogs and the value this has in the real world, when I remembered the story of PC Richard Stanley’s blog.

PC Stanley is a blogging police officer and Twitter user from Walsall. He uses these platforms to talk to the “locals” about his job and help give plain English examples of how the police work and why things are done in a certain way sometimes. I read his blog, follow him on Twitter and have personally never found him to be anything less than factual and informative with some nice humorous banter, creme eggs, #foxwatch and competitions thrown into the mix.

A couple of months ago he wrote a piece in response to a news article in the national press where a suspected burglar was shot during an incident and the property owner who had shot him was arrested.

It was a factual piece that explained, from a policing point of view, why sometimes the “victim” of the burglary can also end up being arrested along with the burglar in cases like this. It was written so that it would be easy for the public to digest – and I felt it was. It was informative without being patronising and a good insight into how a decision to arrest someone could be made.

However, what wasn’t easy for regular readers to digest was what happened next. His blog’s comment section exploded with anonymous commentators condescending and, in some cases, outright insulting PC Stanley. It wasn’t an argument about the accuracy of any details in the blog but an inference he was doing something wrong by engaging in this way and “toeing the party line.”

One of the local “tweeters” spotted this and put out a “call to arms” and they responded (myself included – although I don’t live in Walsall, but drink there often enough) to defend PC Stanley and his right to blog in any way he pleased.

Through a series of blog post and 140 character updates on Twitter PC Stanley had built a community that were willing to stand up and show support when people with an axe to grind targeted him. As it stands there are 90 comments on this one post. About a third of the way into the comments, you can see how the tide changed from criticism to support as more and more local bloggers stepped in to defend PC Stanley. The anonymous commentators really underestimated the strength of feeling their attack would provoke, with one person even inferring our comments weren’t genuine:

“A large number of comments have been critical of PC Stanley’s blog, and there’s been a moderate number of comments in support of him, but then the pattern changes and a number of comments suddenly have become somewhat biased in his ‘favour’. A modern day Glavit alive and well.” [sic]

We were, and are, real. Although few of us have actually met PC Stanley in person we all felt strongly that he was being targeted and more so because he was being criticised on how he had chosen to engage with us. PC Stanley didn’t ask for our support. He did tweet that the post was provoking conversation but at no point did he say “Hey guys come defend me.” He didn’t have to – he had a ready made community willing to stand up for him that had been built over time through engagement.

Whatever your view is on the original article and subsequent comments is irrelevant here. What I’m trying to highlight – and in my opinion what is fantastic about this story – is PC Stanley hadn’t done anything unique or ground breaking. He simply went out and talked to people using the tools that were available to him to bring the conversation to us; the community relationships built from this meant that we were more than willing to step up to the plate when we thought it mattered.

Social media matters and the relationships and community you can build through these different networks are valuable and very real.