The Social Media Beat

Comment Policies

Comment Policies

By Tim Burrows

Tim Burrows

Tim Burrows is a sergeant with the Toronto Police Service.

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How many agencies have started to look at social media use for their organization and have been stumped by one simple challenge - comments from the public? There have been many cases of agencies starting social media accounts that reversed their entry and others that are stalling on their choice to enter because of the perceived and real problems in knowing how to deal with comments from the public.

The other consideration that also plays into this spectrum is returning comments from the organization. This can also be a hindrance if you don't have some clear guidelines. So in essence there are two problems here.

1. Commenting from the public
2. Commenting to the public

Let's look at the latter first.

Any choice to enter social media in a robust and vibrant way should erase concerns of commenting to the public in response to questions and or comments. You see, if you enter social media to only broadcast your information you are going to miss the most important and effective part of the space... social interaction. You simply can't expect to have a community if all you do is tell, tell, tell. There has to be room for your agency to listen, respond, and interact.That is the social part of social media.

You do need to have a plan that should begin with ensuring the right people for the job and that there are clear guidelines in place to help guide their activities. Undoubtedly you have policies in place to ensure professional, legal, and timely dissemination of information. From there, employees need to keep in mind who they represent, who they are speaking in behalf of, and all the considerations that go in line with their position.

Answering questions, providing detail and engaging should be as open as the law, circumstances, and your agency policies allow.Being transparent and telling people that some things you can't respond to for the various reasons will raise your value within the social community.Not responding when appropriate or saying something like, "It's a secret" or "No comment" doesn't go over very well.

Do you have to respond to every mention of your name or every comment placed on one of your social channels? Absolutely not! Some comments aren't worth the time it takes to craft a response. Take for example a comment on Twitter that makes a statement that is nothing but hate laced with profanity. Why comment? Why bring attention to the poster. You can't delete his or her Tweet and trying to have every person that swears removed or banned from Twitter will probably back fire on you in the long run.

Comments from the public can be dicey to say the least. Let's face it, not everyone is going to say wonderful things and give flowering praise to your officers or organization. Some will be abusive, profane, and tasteless in their comments. Simply deciding that you don't like what they have to say is not enough reason though to censor the public's voice. And as government, that is not something that we can begin to do for a myriad of reasons.

So, to protect your organization from this type of behaviour, you should start by letting the public know clearly what is acceptable and what is not. This is nothing new. In fact, every single social platform will have included in their terms the rules of engagement and use, in one form or another.

* Let the public know that you stand behind the terms of the platforms.
* Reiterate them in your own words.
* Have a plan of action in the event that your audience chooses not to play nice.

Let the public know that anyone may comment, negative, positive, or indifferent, but be respectful, on topic, and without profanity or prejudice to do so. Having your own terms of use page can help in this matter which you can direct the public to for clarification. In fact, a landing page on Facebook with your terms for first time visitors is a great option to set the terms from the beginning.

Tell your audience that any abuse of the commenting guidelines may result in their comment being removed.

Negative comments are not enough. In fact, negative comments that are constructive provide a great opportunity to talk with your detractors and build on what could simply be a misunderstanding or a lack of information being provided. We may not notice a failure on our part and the public letting us know can be a great source of pride to say, we listened and fixed it.

When the comment does go beyond the acceptable terms, here is my suggestion and practice.
* Recognize the problem as soon as possible.Yes, that requires you to pay attention to your presence and brand.
* Capture the comment with a screen capturing tool or screen print and save it to a file.
* Let the person know publicly that you are removing their comment, the reason why and let them know you'll welcome them to re-post the comment provided they keep in line with the commenting guidelines.
* Delete/remove the offending post.

By responding publicly, you are showing everyone that you are not censoring the individual, but you are protecting everyone who may be involved and or simple decency.

When considering commenting, think of it this way. No brand would allow a public defacement that is not justified or in its nature against what the public would consider morally and ethically acceptable. Well, you are a brand and you stand for decency, respect, and tolerance.

Protect that!

Be aware that any platform you decide to use, you will have to monitor for the comments where you can't disable commenting.The question though, is why would you disable commenting if you are using the space to "connect" with your community? You could lose a lot more great interaction than minimizing the perceived damage of a few.

Facebook and some other platforms do allow for profanity and spam blocks assigned right in their platforms.Other platforms, you can't control or moderate in any way from stopping the people from saying what's on their mind in the words they chose to say it.

Here is the comment policy for the Toronto Police Service available from their Facebook Page.
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    So you have found, or perhaps stumbled upon, The Social Media Beat, the blog for the IACP Center for Social Media Web site. The Social Media Beat is about three things: social media, law enforcement, and perspective. Here you will find a fresh outlook on the issues that are affecting law enforcement agencies and their personnel when it comes to social media.

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    Dionne Waugh

    Dionne Waugh is the social media guru for the Richmond Police Department. As a member of the Department's Public Affairs Unit since September 2008, she created and developed the agency's successful use of social media and continues to try and find new ways to improve the way Richmond Police communicate online. She has spoken about law enforcement and social media at more than a dozen conferences across the country in addition to the past four IACP annual conferences. Waugh is a former newspaper reporter who wrote about crime, police, and the court system for six years. That experience and an ingrained curiosity for what makes people tick has fueled her desire to improve communication between people. Follow Dionne on Twitter @RichmondPolice.

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    IACP's Center for Social Media serves as a clearinghouse of information and no-cost resources to help law enforcement personnel to develop or enhance their agency's use of social media and integrate Web 2.0 tools into agency operations. The Center is funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

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    Tracy is a Senior Project Specialist with the IACP. She is responsible for managing the day-to-day operation of the DiscoverPolicing.org Web site and coordinating the site's social networking plan. In addition, Ms. Phillips provides writing, editorial, and technical assistance on a variety of association projects and activities, including police management studies, job analyses, executives searches, federal grants, and various research projects and proposals. She has more than 10 years of experience in state and local government, including work as a management analyst, performance auditor, and crime analyst. Ms. Phillips holds a master's degree in public administration from the University of Georgia and a bachelor's from Clemson University.

    Want to hear more from Tracy Phillips? Follow her and the Discover Policing team on TwitterFacebook, and on the Inside Discover Policing blog. You can also network with other police recruitment professionals in the Law Enforcement Recruitment LinkedIn group.

    Dave Norris

    Sergeant Dave Norris is a 21 year veteran of the City of San Mateo Police Department. He has worked in a number of positions including Juvenile Detective, Field Training Officer, Narcotics Detective, and Patrol Supervisor. Dave is currently assigned to Community and Media Relations and oversees day-to-day functions that involve the relationship between the police, the community, and the media. Dave is dedicated to the increase of community engagement through the use of social media. Under his management, San Mateo PD's direct subscribers to community alerts and public safety messaging has grown from several hundred to over 22,000.

    Chris Hsiung

    Captain Chris Hsiung commands the Field Operations Division at the Mountain View Police Department in California. Through the department Community Action and Information Unit (CAIU), he manages strategy, community engagement, and growth through the police department social media channels. Chris has been serving the Mountain View community for over 19 years and has held a variety of assignments within MVPD. These include detective assignments in Property Crimes, Person Crimes, and High Tech Crimes as well as collateral assignments on SWAT and the Field Evidence Team. He also serves on the planning committee for the Bay Area Law Enforcement Social Media Group (BALESMG). You can follow him on Twitter @chMtnViewPD.

    Lynn Hightower

    Lynn is the Communications Director and Public Information Officer for the Boise Police Department and has served in that role since October, 2003. Lynn also serves at the PIO for the Boise Fire Department. Lynn authors and manages the social media outreach for Boise Police and often acts as media spokesperson. She advises officers from patrol to command staff on media and public communications skills. Lynn joined the Boise Police Department after 17 years as a television reporter, producer, anchor, and news director. Lynn regularly instructs new officers at the Boise Police Academy and has given media and public communications presentations to dozens of federal, state, and local emergency responder agencies. Follow Lynn and Boise Police on Twitter @BoisePD.

    Billy Grogan

    Billy Grogan is the Chief of Police for the Dunwoody Police Department in Georgia. Chief Grogan was hired on December 17, 2008, after serving 28 years with the Marietta, Georgia, Police Department, to start a brand new department. On April 1, 2009, the Dunwoody Police Department began operations with 40 sworn officers and eight civilians providing police services to the 47,000+ residents of the City of Dunwoody. Chief Grogan embraced the use of social media from day one of operations. The Dunwoody Police Department began using Twitter the first day and has added Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, and Vine to their arsenal since then as effective tools to market their department and engage their community. Chief Grogan has written about the benefits of law enforcements use of social media, participated in several social media focus groups and lectured at the IACP, Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police Conference, COPS Conference, and many other venues. Follow Chief Grogan on Twitter @ChiefGrogan and the Dunwoody Police Department @DunwoodyPolice.

    Mark Economou

    Mark Economou is the Public Information Officer for the Boca Raton Police Department in Boca Raton, Florida. His media and public relations background spans nearly 20 years. Spending nearly 15 years in radio and television news, Economou held many positions from assignment editor, reporter, anchor, and executive editor. After that, he served as the Director of Media Relations for Cote & D'Ambrosio, a Public Relations, Marketing and Advertising firm in Wickford, RI. He then served as head of Media Relations for Citizens Bank of Rhode Island, the 9th largest bank in the United States. Follow Mark on Twitter @BocaPolice.

    Frank Domizio

    Corporal Frank Domizio has been with the Philadelphia Police Department since 1997. He is currently assigned to the FBI’s Regional Computer Forensics Lab as a Forensic Examiner. Previously he was assigned to the Department's Office of Media Relations and Public Affairs where he was the Social and Digital Media Manager. Frank has spoke at several industry conferences and major universities on the topics of social media and content strategy.

    Tim Burrows

    Tim Burrows is a Sergeant with the Toronto Police - Traffic Services Unit. His primary role is the supervisor for strategic communications and media relations related to traffic issues within the geographical boundaries of Toronto. Tim was appointed to the Traffic Services Communications Office in 2008 with the mandate to raise the profile of traffic issues within the mindset of the general public. In an effort to enhance traffic safety and to control the timing and full scope of messaging, he has developed a targeted information stream using social media to expand the Toronto Police Service span of influence within the Toronto community and beyond with the goal of reducing collisions, injury, and death in Toronto. Using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Blogs, Tim has pushed information about traffic safety to the citizens of Toronto and has opened the lines of communication to allow for collaborative efforts with community groups, road users, and individuals.

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