Northern (Blue) Lights

This is the second is a series of posts about a recent trip to Orkney. In the first part I talked a bit about my personal experience travelling around mainland Orkney, both on my own, and as as part of a guided tour using public transport. This post covers some of the ‘unconference‘ activities which took place during the weekend.

Camp Follower?

I get a real buzz from attending unconferences – which are often referred to as ‘camps’, and have blogged about some of them previously  here,  here  and here. There’s something about being in the same place as lots of interested and interesting people that is totally inspiring. It recharges my batteries every time. Campers generally attend in their own time and pay their own travel & expenses. As a result, everyone is genuinely committed to making the very best of the experience.

The Project Gutenberg EBook of Punch - Volume 25 (Jul-Dec 1853), by Various
Camp Followers as portrayed by Punch magazine in 1853

I think I first heard about Island Gov Camp during the build-up to BlueLight Camp a couple of months ago. Sweyn Hunter was a remote attendee – or “remotee” as he calls it – and he drew attention to the plight of remotees during events. BlueLight Camp had taken steps to improve the remotee experience – for example by setting up sessions with distinct hashtags for Twitter participants, but there was still room to improve.

Sweyn promised to focus on remotees at Island GovCamp, and he asked if I would attend remotely and give him feedback; I immediately agreed. However, as the buzz about the event began to build, I found I couldn’t resist the allure of being there in-person, and I made arrangements to travel up a couple of days early.

Saturday morning – Northern BlueLight Camp

The weekend unconference activities were originally due to start at midday on Saturday. However, a conversation between Sweyn and Duncan McKenzie a couple of days beforehand led to an additional partner event being set-up in Kirkwall Police Station to discuss use of social media by Northern Constabulary (that link now updated to Police Scotland). This was billed as Northern BlueLight Camp (#northernBLCamp on Twitter).

#northernBLcamp at Kirkwall Police Station

Duncan gave a presentation on how the Northern Constabulary (Northern Police) currently use social media. The whole of the presentation was filmed and Duncan McKenzie  shared his presentation in DropBox. (2014 update – links to presentation and film removed as links not currently working)

As both the presentation and soundtrack are available I’ll just list a few of the highlights:


Northern Constabulary on Facebook
Northern Constabulary on Facebook
  • Northern Police are making very effective use of Facebook and have nearly twelve thousand likes (2014 update – the Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google Plus links changed to Police Scotland)
  • They also have over 5000 followers on Twitter
  • They also have a presence on YouTube and Google Plus
  • With 23% without Internet access in uk, Social media is great tool, but complements rather than replaces traditional forms of communication
  • Northern Police have found Twitter really useful for warning during major incident, particularly as it gives direct, real-time contact with public
  • The benefits shouldn’t be underestimated, but remember that Twitter does crash, so dont use it as only means of communicating
  • There’s huge growth of mobile connectivity, with the fastest growth being 16-24 year olds, who are historically a very difficult to reach, younger audience
  • People carry their mobile ‘phones all the time, so it’s getting easier to contact them wherever they are. Increasingly, these phones are smartphones
  • Retweeting force tweets can be extremely useful for missing persons, and it allows direct engagement with affected citizens
  • Duncan quoted the example of a missing 13 year old boy in Wick area – press release was disseminated via Twitter and Facebook so much faster than traditional forms of communication. There were 577 shares within around an hour – get message out very quickly
  • Northern Police have found that it’s a way of generating positive coverage for work with social media and a great way of getting feedback
  • If you engage with people you – and they – get a lot out of it
  • If some individuals put up silly comments, other users often help by ‘self-policing’

Analytics: All change

Physical attendees at NothernBLCamp
Some physical attendees at NothernBLCamp

Duncan made a very interesting observation showing both the value of Google Analytics and the changing nature of news creation and dissemination: the top referring site to the Northern Constabulary web site used to be the BBC, now it’s Facebook (FB: 23,000 versus BBC: 3,000). It’s been a big shift, but it’s only been happening gradually.

People who don’t use social media still frequently benefit as they often know people who do, so information gets to them one way or another.

Some Orkney remotees at NothernBLCamp
Orkney remotees at NothernBLCamp (in another building!)

It was particularly interesting to note that Mobile Facebook is now number 2 in the list of top hits, and that tablets and smartphones are popular.

The top two devices are iPhone and iPad (HTC and Samsung are also growing).

Google Plus

Northern Police are just ‘dipping a toe in the water’ with Google+. Duncan has found that +1 acts as a recommendation service for people from someone that they trust, and they also use it as a photo and video service. They’ve found it offers something different from Twitter and Facebook, and Google Hangouts provide reassurance as highlighted in the recent riots

I must admit I haven’t really got my head around Google+. I’ve created a profile and am connected with some people and I do occasionally find some useful stuff on there. I just haven’t worked out when and what to use it for compared with Twitter, Facebook, You Tube and Pinterest. For the time being, I’ve set up to automatically post my tweets to Google+ using the rather nifty TwooglePlus* app, but I fear some tweets won’t translate awfully well into Google+ and might be antagonising those who live in GooglePlus Land. Duncan’s presentation has prompted me to have a proper play with Google+.

Don’t just broadcast

Two-way communication is crucial – Northern Police try as hard as they can to interact with the public, and answer as many questions as possible. Duncan mentioned a couple of examples:

  • Chief superintendent recently held Facebook chat with public which was very popular
  • Road policing – A Police Inspector answered road safety questions on a range of topics e.g. speed cameras etc


  • Twitter is a great platform to warn and inform
  • Facebook, handy for larger appeals, force promotion, reputation enhancement
  • Make your social media policy clear
  • Don’t use social media to report crime – use proper channels for that
  • Have a clear internal policy for staff so they know where they stand
  • Engage as much as you can – but remember the need for robust monitoring processes
  • Don’t try and replicate tweet and Facebook messages which can seem too robotic

Duncan finished off his presentation with a couple of short videos which are worth a look if you haven’t seen them

Questions and Discussion

There was an interesting discussion once Duncan had finished his presentation – it was great to note that some questions came in from remote participants via Twitter. A few notable points from the discussion:

  • Engage with everyone – you don’t know where people are on Twitter
  • People in remote communities can help spred the word by retweeting trusted content
  • Organise people in remote areas
  • People are on networks anyway – engage as best we can, word of mouth as well
  • Visibility of the force – harder in huge area to be seen – online helps reassure
  • People in remote areas might be online more to keep in touch
  • Monitoring of the force’s social media streams is near 24×7 as the comms team operates a shift system anyway
  • There isn’t a single right answer for social media – do the best you can

There was some discussion about what next. Some examples and suggestions included:

  • Hard to reach young people – in Edinburgh there’s an initiative for a police presence in schools
  • Individual officers are tweeting in Tayside (they do this in Hampshire as well)
  • Social tools such as The Knowledge Hub and Yammer can help organisations connect and collaborate.
  • The Police are a good example for local government – Duncan suggests if the police can get over the anxieties associated with social media use, then so can local government
  • Be as open and transparent as possible – this technology helps you do it and it’s the way of the world
  • There’s risk, but there’s risk to everything to do – need to face up to it
  • Pinterest could be a great way for Police (and other public service organisations to engage) – the U.S. military use the site extremely well

Risks and Clangers?

Question: What’s gone wrong – any clangers?

  • Biggest risk during high profile cases like naming individuals
  • Reputation issues – emphasis on importance of monitoring
  • Very rare to encounter a problem
  • The audience are understanding
  • Well meaning members of the public could publish condolences before family has been informed by police – we should be the first ones to tell them if there has been a loss

Question: Are there negative comments?

  • Yes, of course, but on Facebook users are frequently self-policing
  • Individuals may be unreasonable, but others pitch in and tell unreasonable people they are being out of order
  • Northern Police have a link to policy on their main Facebook page

That’s about it for this post. Next time I will cover the IslandGov Camp sessions which took place on Saturday afternoon and Sunday

Picture Credits

Project Gutenberg

Kirkwall Police Station by @prettysimple


  • Various links updated in 2014 as they were either outdated or no longer working.

Northern Police has now become part of Police Scotland

Twoogleplus link no longer works, besides which, I am now a regular user of Google Plus

By Mark Braggins

Walking, usually with my two ex-racing greyhounds. Interested in lots of stuff. Work: Business Development and Research at Drawnalism


    1. Hi John, thanks very much for leaving a comment. I didn’t intend to become an event reporter, but there has been a spate of interesting ones recently which seemed worth sharing. I will blog about something else soon, honest!

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