Today I stumbled across the Twitter feed for the Los Angeles Fire Department. I thought it was sort of a silly novelty until I clicked on the Twitter feed for the only person LAFD is following, Brian Humphrey, a public spokesperson for the department. Humphrey’s use of social sites to create a lightweight process for disseminating news from the department is clever and effective.
LAFD also publishes alerts to a Google Group, LAFD_ALERT, which contains the same information as the Twitter feed, and a blog that publishes longer articles. The home page for the Google Group explains what the alerts are for and how they’re used.
What I like about Humphrey’s approach is that it works with the web rather than just being on the web. Had LAPD put a form on their Web site that said, “subscribe to LAPD alerts,” it would be unlikely that they’d be seeing the public engagement that they get by taking advantage of existing services for which people have already registered. This approach surely works for him because implementing it was free of cost (other than his own time) and probably red tape (he didn’t need to get any help from IT to set it up). But the side effects are worthwhile in and of themselves. It’s a great example of how it can be more effective to reach users on the services they already use than to build a new service and expect them to come to you.