When the time comes for your agency to fill a social media collateral assignment or position, what attributes, skill sets, or experiences are important to look for? Is it better to have an outside candidate with real world social media experience or is it better to train someone up from within your organization? Granted, the vast majority of police departments across this country are still recovering from the belt-tightening recession era and very few, if any, have the luxury of creating or dedicating positions solely to social media. However, I truly believe the role of a social media coordinator in police departments will become mainstream in the coming years. Why?
Think about all of the promises social media has to offer: increased community engagement, organizational transparency, or controlling the message during crisis (to name a few). These are a perfect complement to community policing philosophy and have made social media an indispensable part of policing in the modern era. In the mid 80’s cops broke down barriers by proactively getting out of their cars and making positive partnerships with the community. Today, social media breaks down even more barriers, allowing us to instantly reach vast numbers of civic, business, and community members through their Internet connected devices. The secret sauce, if you will, is to overlay and integrate social media with your department's community policing centric mission and goals. When social media is only used to broadcast press releases or announcements, it's basically a glorified fax machine. On the other hand, when integrated with your department goals, it becomes a powerful force multiplier in your day-to-day efforts; solving crimes, engaging the community, and showcasing the professionalism of your agency. Your social media coordinator sits in this important driver's seat and must be adept at the technical side of social media and also have intimate knowledge of your department culture, operations, and mission.
Be wary of people who describe themselves as social media "ninjas, experts, or gurus" where the only advice or strategy they offer is for you to "get on Facebook or Twitter" and make sure to post something ever few days. The fact of the matter is, social media is a multidimensional ecosystem. It’s complex and constantly changing and you need someone savvy enough to navigate your department through it. Granted, knowing the basics of how to post or tweet is a must. However, the person(s) you select to take your agency's social media to the next level needs to know nuances of social media strategy which will grab the attention of your followers and skyrocket your interaction with your community. They must also be able to do this through the voice and style familiar to your department and community. After all, social media is an extension of your department vision and goals.
A few key attributes:
Technical skills: Knowledge of major social media tools and channels and the wisdom to know which is best for your organization to use. Knowing how to access stats and analytics from your social channels and interpret them is also a must.
Tactical skills: Competent to develop strategy to know when and how much to use social channels and when to invest in a new channel. Also, confident enough to change course on strategy when the current one isn’t working.
Trust: The person you select to run your social media speaks for the department and the office of the chief. During crisis situations, there is no time to approve messages, tweets, and posts up the chain of command. Their barometer for humor, voice, and tone must match that of the chief and department.
Communication skills: This role is the voice of your organization. How he/she says something on social media is just as important as what is said. Proficiency at handling good public feedback and bad is a must.
The task can be daunting but individuals with these skill sets are likely in your community and within your department. There are numerous pros and cons to training from within or hiring from outside (perhaps for another blog post someday). In the end, what’s important is the right balance of skills: technical, tactical, trust, and communication.