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The one with David Schwimmer…

Discover how Lancashire Constabulary entertained, reassured and informed their online community when their post appealing for information went viral. Guest blog post by Andy Crook, Digital Communications Officer for Lancashire Constabulary.

13 Dec - 10 min read

Appealing for Information

When a PCSO shared an image of a suspect on Blackpool Police’s Facebook, nothing could prepare us for the huge public response we received, including from one of the world’s most famous TV actors, leading to the content going viral and generating international attention and huge PR coverage, online and offline.

Sharing suspect photos online to appeal for information is common practice for forces up and down the country, it’s one of the key ways we can work together with the public, be active within the digital community and hopefully gain the information we need to resolve incidents. At the time, we didn’t think there was anything out of the ordinary about this particular post or photograph.

Ross Geller

The appeal quickly generated hundreds of comments from our Facebook followers on how the suspect wanted in connection with the theft shared an uncanny likeness to David Schwimmer, the actor who played Ross in the TV show, Friends. If you don’t know who that is, it’s this guy:

You know, of Ross and Rachel; “we were on a break” fame. The public began commenting on the likeness immediately and Friends puns ensued!

A PR Opportunity

Noticing the growing attention on Facebook, Blackpool Police spotted a PR opportunity and decided to address the speculation around David Schwimmer, responding with:

“Thank you to everyone for your speedy responses. We have investigated this matter thoroughly and have confirmed that David Schwimmer was in America on this date…we’re so sorry it has to be this way.”

The humour and cultural reference to the Friends theme song proved popular with our audience and this comment alone attracted 121,000 Facebook reactions from the public. Soon, Blackpool Police’s Facebook post’s reach was climbing to over 20 million, comments soared to over 200,000 and David Schwimmer was trending on Twitter.

We’re a force who likes to embrace a variety of communication channels and social media plays a big part in informing and reassuring the public. In this case, we had to balance having a little fun with the serious task of identifying the suspect.

David joins the Investigation

Press enquiries began to come in from across the world and major news outlets were covering the story, from BBC to CNN. There was an increasing appetite to find out whether the suspect had been identified and arrested. While we were investigating potential leads, something happened we did not expect – David Schwimmer proclaimed his innocence in an amusing video posted on his Twitter account.

We were completely stunned – we hadn’t approached David in any way to encourage him to join in, the global reach of the post ultimately finding its way to him in New York. Making sure to get the most out of the interaction, we thanked David for his help, re-tweeted his post and shared it on Facebook. But it just goes to show the impact high-profile influencers can have on a campaign.

Positive Outcome

Thanks to the widespread coverage on social media and UK-based news, a suspect was identified and subsequently arrested with the help of the Metropolitan Police. The original post had to be removed due to the live investigation, but we released an update to let all those who were interested know we had achieved a positive outcome. The Met were quick to respond and use their own Friends pun…
We were asked why it was necessary to take down the original post – we do this in case it interferes with evidence in court, but we’re grateful to everyone for engaging and helping to bring about this positive outcome, including our colleagues in the Met…and of course David Schwimmer.

Managing the impact of going viral

Blackpool Police’s Facebook page gained an additional 13,000 likes during the week of the incident. Managing an influx of unusually high responses on social media was a challenge for us, in particular, as every comment could include information vital to the investigation.

Using Orlo, we were able to provide both officers and office-based staff with controlled access to social media accounts, meaning comments could be monitored (volume permitting!) responded to quickly, and retrieved in bulk, ensuring no important developments were missed. We could also monitor the hashtag and when people were talking about us or the investigation and analyse the post’s engagement in real time. Orlo gave us what we needed in one place – complete visibility and control of what was happening.

Changing perceptions using social media

We’re conscious that we were lucky the public engaged so positively with this post, but we do get a range of views. We put out thousands of Tweets/Facebook posts every month and, whilst the public are overwhelmingly supportive, we do get a wide range of views. Our strength is that we have access to great content and there is always something to tell our communities about or a need to reassure them or ask their opinions.

Our social media channels are a core part of our public engagement strategy. We want to let people know we’re human and build trust with them by being open and transparent. Over time we have learned what works and what doesn’t work, how to respond to criticism and when to have a bit of fun and be entertaining. We work hard to get to know our digital community, reassure them and help them to feel safe.

Guest blog post by Andy Crook, Digital Communications Officer for Lancashire Constabulary.  Follow Lancashire and Blackpool Police here:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LancsPolice

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lancspolice/
https://www.facebook.com/BlackpoolPolice/

Rachael Richardson-Bullock is Marketing Communications Executive at Orlo. Storytelling is at the heart of everything she does and is passionate about the positive impact social media has on lives and businesses. A fiction writer in her spare time, she also enjoys taking her puppy for walks and watching Sherlock.

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