The FBI’s New Social Media Strategy

fbisocialmedia.jpgLast Friday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced a series of “new web initiatives” including a mobile phone app, widgets, a pilot program in Second life, and pages on Youtube, Twitter, and Facebook.

The FBI says these tools will “make it easier for you to help us track down wanted fugitives and missing kids, to submit tips on terrorism and crime, and to get our latest news and information.”

Many of these so-called “new” initiatives have been around for a while, but this announcement does reveals the FBI’s overall strategy for using the Web to recruit new talent and to make it easier for people to inform on their fellow citizens.

John Miller, head of the FBI public affairs office says the agency was interested in using social media because “to reach out to the public, we need to be where people are—and we know tens of millions of people spend their time in social media sites.” The FBI’s social media activities spread information about wanted fugitives and missing children, and serve as a recruitment tool for the agency’s current “hiring blitz.”

On Youtube, the FBI’s year-old official channel hosts short behind-the-scenes videos including a look at a prostitution sting, an informative clip about bullet trajectory analysis. The FBI Press Office Twitter page has been active since November, 2008 offering readers breaking crime news and information about job opportunities with the bureau. Facebook users can become “fans” of the agency on a page that has videos and updates on wanted criminals, scam warnings, and missing children. Based on the age of some of the FBI’s Facebook videos, we can tell that the agency has been on the site for at least three months.

In the virtual world of Second Life, the FBI is doing pilot tests of billboards and kiosks that display wanted posters for cyber criminals and the FBI’s ten most wanted fugitives. Users can also connect to the agency’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and jobs pages through the FBI’s locations in Second Life.

iPhone owners can connect with the FBI through a new app designed by NIC, a web developer that specializes in working with government clients. This app uses FBI RSS feeds to provide users with updates on wanted criminals. NIC is also creating a second version of the iPhone app that will “use geo-location information to enable you to easily submit tips to your local FBI office” and another application focused on missing children.

These iPhone apps are one of many widgets created by the FBI. Other FBI widgets provide links to content from the bureau via embeddable graphics that can be used on web pages and social networking sites. Jonathan Cox, a management analyst in the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs says the agency’s “first four widgets alone have brought more than 2.5 million people to our website.” It will be interesting to see if any of this online activity actually leads to any new hires or hot tips for the FBI.