One of the most important things we do in life is learn. We learn from our mistakes, we learn from the experience of those around us, we learn from experts. We have an incredible capacity for learning and many reasons for doing so.
I have never met a successful person who has accomplished anything without learning and I have never talked to an expert on any subject who thinks that they’ve learned all there is in any given course of study or expertise.
Learning is still being done on subjects that have been solidified in our existence for centuries. In policing we continually learn about human behaviour, officer safety, and crime prevention. So you can understand that if we are still learning about things that should be second nature to us, it stands to reason we must educate ourselves about social media and how to best utilize the power that it holds.
I have been teaching social media use for nearly three years in both formal and informal environments and I know that I haven’t even come close to understanding all the ways in which it can be used, nor have I realized all of the abilities that lie within it.
Education about a topic comes in many forms. Experience, theory, practical; can all lend to how we educate ourselves about the use of social media. Even then, what works for one, does not work for all and what garners positive results for one agency can be detrimental to the efforts of another.
Formal learning from those that have some degree of experience or expertise is an absolute, but think of the ways that can be carried out. Webinars, tutorials, classroom lecture, and conferences can all be venues for formal education. Watching how others perform, populate the social space, and engage with their communities can provide a virtual setting that is safe and secure.
In law enforcement we often turn to role-playing as an invaluable resource to create the, “I’ve been here before” mentality. The same can hold true in the social space. I have often looked at other agencies when they are responding to crisis communication situations, defending their position on a given subject, or responding to community questions and I have played the part of the agency to determine how I would perform in the same situation.
But, there lies an inherent beauty in looking beyond the borders of our profession. Look at how the public and businesses conduct themselves and learn from the best of the private industry and the public. Social media was not created by law enforcement so it would be logical to look to the creators for guidance and education… the community at large created the popularity of social media. The companies that have provided the platforms have changed how they work in response to the community demands.
Yes, we are unique and we have laws, rules, and regulations that can create challenges inherent to our line of work, but other corporations and industries have their own challenges that are unique to them as well.
I ensure that when I find things that are new and exciting or show a potential for success, I share them with others and I know that others do it for me. That’s part of the education cycle. Always learning, always looking to improve.
Call on those that appear to be leaders in the social media field, both from a policing perspective but also from the private sector. I have reached out to many experts for advice and they are all willing to provide assistance. The best part of that is that often you can help educate them on how we work and some of the unique challenges that we experience. In turn as a result of seeing that first hand, I’ve seen the experts help educate the public for us and often times, a message from someone outside of law enforcement can have a stronger level of influence than those from within.
Finally, don’t ever be fooled by experience, or in this case, lack thereof. Those of us that have been around social media for some time may think we have all the answers. Don’t discount the ideas of someone that is new to the space. In fact, latch onto them. They haven’t been jaded by, “Been there, done that” and their ideas may be just different enough that it could be the next big form of outreach. I have learned from the people I teach in every class that I’ve been a part of.
Those who need education in social media are not just the members that are tasked with using it, but also their supervisors so that they not only understand what their people are doing but what can be accomplished and what can’t be. But it doesn’t stop there. Every rank within your organization needs to be educated to the reasons your organization is using social media, that outcomes that you are trying to reach and the outputs you’ll use to achieve them. Social media is an extension, or it better be an extension, of your overall communications strategy so every player involved needs that education so that achievement can come with less resistance and more support from the top down, the bottom up, and every lateral stakeholder there is.
Finally, educate your public. Let them know what you are doing. There is a really good chance that they are going to help you refine your presence because if you are doing it for them, and you should be, their input can be invaluable. There’s a good chance, they’ll be able to educate you as well.
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