The Social Media Police. Really. They’re police.

For years, hobbyists, police enthusiasts, ambulance-chasers, and thrill seekers have spent hours with their ears cocked listening to police scanner radios. Sometimes these folks do it just for the vicarious thrill that can be found; sometimes they do it because they are fascinated by police procedure; and sometimes they do it as a way of scraping their market for new business opportunities and to acquire new customers.

Whatever the reason a person has, listening in on the PD frequency can be a fun, interesting, or incredibly banal experience. I mean, how many times can you hear the same old, same old “10-14” or that ubiquitous “Suspicious person possible armed with sword” crackling over the tinny speakers in your scanner? Well perhaps no more. Last week the Seattle PD (apparently the most SM-savvy department in the nation) starting tweeting out hundreds of fragments – the type of information usually only heard by scanner-geeks and groupies, but now available to anyone with a Twitter account who was willing to follow the @SeattlePD as they shared with us the details of their busy day.

This would be all well and good, except the Seattle Police Department neglected one of the principal unspoken rules of Twitter etiquette: dont spam your followers! In the course of a day, thousands had clicked on the “unfollow” button, tired of a stream of almost 500 messages, about everything from car accidents, to suicide threats, to the aforementioned “person with a sword.” What the SPD had down, was to post calls to it’s emergency 911 line directly onto Twitter as they came in – even hang-up calls were posted. Boring. Rude. But for some, a source of interesting content.

The mistake that @SeattlePD made was basic: if you are going to clog up your Twitter stream with the mundane, either a) let your followers know ahead of time, or b) take these posts to a separate account and let your followers know they can see these updates on that account. By not informing their followers, and by suddenly unleashing dozens of mundane tweets, the SPD unwittingly did damage to their own online credibility, devalued their own brand, and turned off what would otherwise be loyal followers.

Photo: Erik Jaeger