Today’s guest post comes from Sergeant Dave Norris who has been with the San Mateo, California, Police Department since 1993. After serving in a variety of positions including Field Training Officer, Narcotics and Vice, and Investigations, he is currently assigned to Community and Media Relations. The position oversees SMPD’s Police Activities League, Civilian Volunteers, Neighborhood Watch, Plan Review for CPTED, School Resource Officer Programs, and “other projects as directed by the Chief.” He also handles Public Information and Social Media, having expanded SMPD’s Community Alert outreach from an email list of about 300 to over 13,000 direct subscribers across a number of social media platforms.
In Part One of this blog
, we discussed the Research and Direction Phase – subscribing to other agencies and evaluating their content for reference; and the Policy, Procedure, and Scope Phase, about how to take your time preparing and starting your venture in public messaging when you are ready, and ensuring that your agency understands the level of exposure and its permanence in the media world.
This part of the series provides a couple of helpful hints and processes as you start building your multimedia base and will take us into developing an articulable purpose behind use of social media. I believe that it is critical that a law enforcement agency has a good idea of what it wants out of social media exposure before actually taking that step.
Establishing the Online Persona of your Agency
Currently there is a lot of talk in law enforcement social media about “Building Your Brand” as an agency. This part requires the Ad Exec in you or at least some creativity from your team. Research online and find out whether your agency’s nickname is unique. For example, I quickly found that searching “SMPD” online yielded a bit more “Santa Monica Police Department” than it did “San Mateo Police Department”. We always refer to ourselves as “SMPD”, but clearly our bigger cousin down in Southern Cal had the upper hand. A try with “San Mateo PD” was much more accurate for us, so that became our “Screen-name” - @SanMateoPD on Twitter, and YouTube, Wordpress, HootSuite, and Instagram all got the “SanMateoPD” nickname.
I also ultimately asked our city IT person to create for me a city email under SanMateoPD as well – this comes in handy in identifying your social media presence as “Official” (in other words, it allowed me to get that cool little badge and checkmark on our Twitter Profile).
Consistency and identity is important. Why? For three reasons:
* It helps your audience. They will know where to find you, no matter what medium they are looking for. It will probably be just as helpful to you and your agency – it will be easier for you and/or your team to locate and to refer new followers.
* It helps your contributors. This is your agency’s identity. It serves as a constant reminder to the contributors that everything coming from these social media sources is representative of your law enforcement agency.
* It helps your legacy. At some point, you are going to be leaving this responsibility to someone else, or at least sharing it. Having a consistent user name makes this a whole lot easier.
Develop a Mission
One of the first things that I did as I began researching is I held conversations with a number of our command staff, including our Chief, to get a firm idea of what our agency’s mission was.
“Cut the media out of the loop,” was an early battle cry from command staff. Obviously, we can’t truly do that – the media will always be inquiring of us, helping us shape our report to the public. The media will always be there to help us get our information the maximum audience.
However – we do have a golden opportunity with the ability to get information straight to the public. The way the public seeks information is changing – social media is becoming an ever-increasing part. We can provide not only information, but safety tips and resource numbers to our public audience. The media may choose to run or not run with a story, but with structured, homogenous community alerts in parallel with our press releases, we can ensure that our unfiltered content can reach a broader audience.
“Getting in front of the story” and being “transparent” are big priorities in our high-liability business. Timely community alerts sent in parallel to the media will feed them enough information to at least show that our agency is being "up front" and setting boundaries as to what is confidential pending investigation.
* Provide credible, direct, and unfiltered timely information
* Brand agency and build trust – Write our own story
* Engage the next generation of neighborhood safety partners – Neighborhood Watch 2.0
* Expand our education and prevention capacity
* Safety Tips
* SMPD and External Resource Information
* Provide BROAD AND DEEP ONE-WAY COMMUNICATIONS
* Prepare a strategy for handling two-way communications
* Use social media to engage the public as an active safety partner and help us to stop and solve crime!