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News: Police reach 150 000 followers milestone on Twitter
2015/05/07
The South African Police Service (SAPS) is pleased to announce that it has seen a significant growth in its social media presence and has reached a following of 150 000 on Twitter and 60 000 on Facebook. 
 
This milestone keeps the SAPS, which joined this popular social media platform in April 2012, ahead of some of its international counterparts in the United Kingdom, as well as some states in the USA and South Australia. The SAPS’s Twitter handle has come a long way since its inception and is currently growing at a rate of about 5 000 followers per month. 
 
With an active social media presence, the SAPS is able to communicate with communities directly and in real time and mobilise them in the fight against crime. The SAPS Twitter account is also used to complement traditional platforms to track the whereabouts of criminals. 
 
“We are very pleased that we’ve reached this milestone. Congratulations to the team for their hard work. Over the last few months we have been working very hard to improve the content we share and the speed at which we share it. We are not yet where we would like to be but we are doing very well and I believe that all the initiatives that we’ve put in place and enhancement that we will soon be rolling out will bear fruit,” said Lieutenant General Solomon Makgale, Head of SAPS Corporate Communication.
 
Colonel Dimakatso Mokwena, recently appointed to supervise the SAPS social media platforms,  explained that with 150 000 followers on Twitter, the SAPS handle  estimates that over 2 million people are reached, thanks to tweeps who help spread their messages. 
 
“Social media has empowered our followers to safely contribute and to actively participate in the fight against crime. Our Twitter account allows us to have an interactive dialogue with our followers and share crime prevention tips, identify problem areas and improve our efficiency at station level,” said Ms Mitzi Ebersöhn, who is part of the SAPS’s social media team. “We post information about the tangible results of our operations, such as items seized and arrested suspects, without showing their faces in line with their constitutional rights. By law the identity of suspects cannot be revealed until they appear in court,” she said. 
 
Lieutenant General Makgale said the 150 000 mark is a milestone for the SAPS. “This is a major achievement for us. The beauty of it is that we are able to engage with the public directly, explain where clarity is needed and empower communities about the work that we do. Most importantly, our Twitter account gives us the opportunity to share information with the public and offers us the platform to demystify some of the widely-held misconceptions about criminal procedure and the mandate of the SAPS.”
 
To demonstrate the power of social media, Makgale cites a case where an individual recently tweeted a picture at the height of the recent attacks on foreign nationals which dated back to 2008.  A member of the SAPS social media team verified the origin of the picture and we managed to dispel misconceptions that were caused by the picture which was being retweeted.
 
“Following this timely intervention, our followers spread the word that the picture was an old picture and is not from the recent attacks on foreign nationals. Our followers became our messengers who spread the message,” said Makgale.
 
Being on social media comes with challenges where one needs to fend off armchair critics who thrive on negativity. 
 
“We strive to treat everyone equally and respond to all the queries we receive. However, we will not waste resources by engaging in conversations that are not constructive. We remain committed to continue to use this platform to offer an improved service to communities and we therefore refuse to be distracted by people hiding behind pseudonyms who use this platform as a launch pad to mount irrational and spurious attacks on the integrity of the SAPS,” added Makgale.
 
Ms Ebersöhn added that there are still people who treat the SAPS Twitter account as if it were the 10111 call centre. “It is still important for people to call 10111 or go to their nearest police station to report a crime, as the officials there are trained in that area of policing.”
 
She added that one of the keys to being relevant on social media was to post information in a more casual language. “Our online community really appreciates the informal way in which we communicate on social media.” 
 
The SAPS envisages that, going forward, they will have a noticeable presence on other platforms such as YouTube, where they have already opened a channel and are now working on publishing content regularly. Colonel Mokwena said reaching the youth was very important and the SAPS plans to have a presence where the youth hang out online. 
 
For now, the SAPS is very happy with its growing number of followers on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter. From humble beginnings to increasing growth, engaging on the social media means the SAPS is no longer merely communicating to their clients, but rather communicating with them. As Lieutenant General Makgale puts it: “The safety and security of everyone in this country is everyone’s business. If you want regular updates about what is going on in your area regarding policing, follow us on the social media.” 
 
They have also created an Instagram account

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