We live in a very quiet, historic neighborhood in South Florida but in the past year, a neighbor’s home and several cars have been burglarized, threatening everyone’s peace of mind.
In the midst of all this, our neighbors have decided to be more vigilant so the other day it occurred to me that if we really thought this through we could use my good friend, social media, to fight crime and help make our families and homes safer.
The Twitter crime prevention idea I’m going to outline for you here is probably not new but I’ve done some Google searches on this topic and I can’t find anything like it. Hopefully this neighborhood watch trick will be as useful to your neighborhood as it will be to mine.
OVERCOMING THE TWITTER CHALLENGE
The thought of using Twitter to fight crime seems logical to me. Twitter let’s you be as anonymous as you want to be and yet it’s trackable, which is part of what you need to use this tool effectively.
Before we discuss the Twitter tactic I’ve developed for my neighborhood it’s important to acknowledge that Twitter is not as ubiquitous as email or Facebook and you may even need to convince your neighbors to open an account. The best way to describe Twitter to newbies is that Twitter is text messaging to groups of people (like family or neighbors) that choose to follow you by way of your Twitter identity called a “handle”. An example of a Twitter handle is www.Twitter.com/PapiBlogger. Using Twitter handles you can follow your own family or friends or even celebrities that like to text message regularly.
If your neighbors don’t already have a Twitter account, your best bet is to help them get one. It’s easy and there are zillions of YouTube “How To” videos to guide you on how to do this. Fortunately for you and your neighbors, the way we’re going to use Twitter to prevent crime is going to be very basic so the most important skills you will need is those of “tweeting”, “monitoring tweets” and “reading.” .
CREATE A TWITTER HASHTAG
After everybody has their Twitter handle (or ID), it’s now time for all of you to create what’s called a Twitter hashtag for your neighborhood.
The word hashtag confuses nearly everyone when they first hear it but what this basically stands for is a word, phrase or group of words and phrases that starts with the # sign and is followed by a word or phrase. For example, if your neighbors live in an area generally known as Blue Bird Road, you might use the hashtag #BlueBirdRd. The rule is to ALWAYS use the hashtag with any and all tweets.
For example, if you used #BlueBirdRd as your hashtag and you wanted to let your neighbors know that a suspicious person dumped a red bike in front of a certain area you might Tweet the following message using the hashtag method:
Suspicious, white female, 5’0, in her 30s wearing soiled blue shirt & shorts, dumped red bike in lake pit on SW 168th St. & 60 Rd. around 5pm #BlueBirdRd
This Tweet is effective because it describes the activity that was observed and it does so in just fewer than the 140 character limit Twitter lets you have. Through Twitter and other tools you can find on Google, it’s easy to monitor any and all similar posts that your neighbors make with this hashtag for up to a week after each tweet. Without a hashtag, these Tweets would be all but worthless as the hashtag is to capturing words what a net is to fishing.
A couple more pointers about using the hashtag approach:
– Define the geographic boundaries on the north, south, east and west for the hashtag that you select and decide how and when it will be used. You will need to let your neighbors know what the geographic boundaries represented by that hashtag are.
– Be prepared to show your neighbors how to sign on and use Twitter. The best way to do this is in person during one of your upcoming neighborhood meetings but you can also train your neighbors in person.
– If you can, create a short Twitter/hashtag reference manual for your neighbors. The more time you invest in educating your neighbors about using Twitter and hashtags, the more effective Twitter will be.
– Remember that hashtags can and should be very distinct. “Light77FF” is better than “GoldenBeachHomeOwners”. The more unique, the less likely that other people will accidentally adopt your neighborhood’s Twitter hashtag for other purposes.
– Finally, it’s also worth noting that your neighborhood’s hashtag can also be used to upload photos to Twitter and it can also be used in general to broadcast other potential good news events for your community.
Ok, so there’s your Twitter plan for crime prevention. Our next story will show you more tricks on how to use social media to prevent crime and make your neighborhoods safer.