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Outside, the sun was shining. The cherry trees were blossoming. D.C. was humming with springtime vigor. Inside, cops, PIOs and investigators were learning about how to tweet. The Social Media in Law Enforcement (Smile) Conference was underway. Those folks outside didn’t know what they were missing.

Laurie Stevens, founder of Laws Communications, which put together the conference, began the morning—after coffee and pastries—with Twitter. “How many of you have a smart phone, an iPhone, something like that?”

Most hands went up.

“You’re going to want to get some Twitter apps soon.” Tweeting with mobiles is a good way to go, she said.

Before creating a Twitter account for your department, consider your size. Bigger departments might want several accounts—for smaller groups within the agency. Smaller departments can probably get away with a single account, says Stevens.

Don’t worry too much about your Twitter account name. You can change it later if you need to, unlike Facebook.

Be transparent when online, she admonished. Usernames that are real, that include rank, have more credibility. Remember: Anonymity kills credibility when sending Tweets.

If you have an official account that goes out for the department, put the PIO’s name in the bio. Work keywords in there too. (You have 160 words to do so.)

Ubertwitter is a handy app that allows you to switch between phone numbers and email accounts.

But be warned: Twitter accounts get hacked into frequently. Don’t respond to a message that says, “You look funny in this photo,” or “I’ve never seen you like this before!” That is probably something trying to hack your account.

Twitter is suited to follow events and people in your jurisidiction and areas of interest. Also use it to drill out a message to your community and to connect with them. Example: "Happy 4th of July. Be safe and get a designated driver if you need it. We'll be out there keeping you safe."

Twitter is also suited for investigations. By searching Twitter for events, officers can correct rumors or keep apprised of groups and gatherings.

Hash tags are what you use to find groups and organizations. They begin with a #. Do a search in Twitter and look around.

If you want to know more about a hash tag, go to www.tagal.us to figure out what it means. Register your own hash tag there.

Begin Twitter by following tweets that interest you. Let it grow organically. Often you'll join a conversation rather than start one.

Stevens had a "cops list" available as Law Enforcement 2.0, which will allow you to follow other police groups. Also note: Some people won't like seeing that police are following their tweets. Be sensitive to this.

And if you don't want a group to know you're following them, choose to follow them as an RSS feed.

I'll share what I learned about LinkedIn and Facebook later.

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