Have you ever been to a conference and left disappointed because you just didn’t find the information you were hoping for? Have you ever felt empty because you took time to attend a session based on the description of it and it just didn’t deliver? I have and it is upsetting especially considering the cost you sometimes have to cover.
This year the International Association of Chiefs of Police 119th Conference in San Diego was nothing like I just described. In fact, it was the polar opposite! I found myself wishing that it were longer because there were so many great sessions happening at the same time. It didn’t matter which information track was happening… you just couldn’t go wrong with your choices.
Executives, IT personnel, public information officers, chiefs… there was something for everyone and if you left feeling empty, it’s only because you didn’t really pay attention.
One of the packed sessions I sat in on was, “Social Media: Challenges and Opportunities.” This was a fantastic panel presentation that represented small, medium, and large agency issues by bringing together Chief Billy Grogan of Dunwoody, Georgia
, Chief Susan Manheimer of San Mateo, California
, and Lieutenant Colonel Robert Northern of the Virginia State Police
Each agency talked about their presence on social media, the platforms they use, and how they use those platforms. We all know that Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Nixle are solid components of any social media program; that’s all a given. So what I was looking for was not what they use, but how they use them, and more importantly, as the session title indicated, the challenges they each face.
Chief Grogan is one of the trailblazers of social media for police and he is personally active both from a community standpoint and also as one of my fellow bloggers for the IACP Social Media Beat
. Chief Grogan truly “gets it.” From reaching out to his community, marketing the department, building relationships with his citizens, and ensuring that there is a two-way communication continuum, the Chief understands the power of social media as a time multiplier and virtual beat forum. The Dunwoody Police recognize their biggest challenge is negative comments from the community, but instead of knee jerk reactions or ignoring concerns, the Chief has ensured that they plan ahead for the negative and have the right personnel in place to answer criticism professionally and timely. That is a great move!
Lieutenant Colonel Northern’s agency does not have an enviable task. The VA State Police don’t have the luxury of speaking with an individual community or a small population. Their presence has to be suitable for an entire state and all that comes with it. Small communities that they police, interstate patrols, rural and city infrastructures, are all part of their make up and so their presence is broader and less specific, but nonetheless, they are doing a great job of speaking with their state. One thing that they have latched onto that so many other agencies are just plain missing the boat on is their defined and potential audiences. Potential hires, their own personnel, and those who have an interest in what the police are doing. They use their content to help ‘control’ the facts of an issue that involve their world of public safety and employee recognition. As Northern said, “The real side of the story.” They don’t just do something for the sake of doing it. They are strategic in their content and the timing of their content. That is a great move!
Chief Susan Manheimer, in my opinion, stole the show! Sorry men, but this one goes to the lady. Being the third presenter on a 3 person panel is never fun. Your fellow panel members have taken most of your content so you usually bore the audience of flash through. Not this time. Chief Manheimer delivered!
Interestingly for me, San Mateo Police have adopted a different approach to their engagement and their entrance to social. I will tell you, it is not one I agree with, but when we are talking challenges, they are meeting them in a very measured and practical way that has to be respected.
San Mateo hasn’t fully embraced two-way communication in some of their presence, but they also represent an incredibly tech savvy community which means there is a great potential for negative reverberations that they can’t handle with their limited resources. I get that. Don’t agree, but the fact they have recognized that speaks volumes to how smart they are approaching their presence. One of the other great moves they are making is Beta Testing their presence before jumping feet first. This isn’t four or five years ago when many jumped right into the deep end. There is a lot more knowledge and understanding of the platforms now so agencies like San Mateo can take more time and really get to know their platform, their audience, and their best methods for engaging. A real bonus is the smarts of their program. SCALE. With their Beta perspective and a sound strategy they know what they want from each post. The content is vital, the community wants to know what their police are doing and the police know what they want their community to do. That is a great tri-fecta for solid success.
All three agencies have the same challenges. Personnel, time, platform choice, relevance. In fact, every agency will face those same four challenges in social media. How you address them is critical:
• Scale your program to your resources
• Consider your audience first
• Don’t try to be 24/7 if you can’t be 24/7
• Have a strategy in place before you start
• Monitor your presence
Finally, the fourth member of the panel was the IACP’s own Nancy Kolb who moderated the session and also introduced the 2012 Social Media Survey Results
. This is gold for anyone who is looking for justification or the potential that social media can bring to their agency. I encourage you to click on the link above to see the results and share it with your team.