Date: Saturday, October 17, 2015
Last year, IACP conducted a survey of law enforcement agencies and 95% stated they used social media (most for investigative purposes). That's a great metric and a huge change from a few years ago. There's no question social media is mainstream, not only for the public but also for law enforcement. Yet, even though your agency is "on social media," are you missing out on a great opportunity to grow trust with your community?
There is a distinct difference between using social media for notifications (one-way communication) and using social media for engagement (two-way conversations). Both are needed and are actually two sides of the same coin. Used correctly, it's a powerful tool to reach and engage your community. Used incorrectly and your audience will ignore or mock your efforts. Here are some tips to look like a pro in the digital world:
Using social media channels for community notifications is fairly easy for most law enforcement agencies. In our business, we're used to sending/receiving teletypes, bulletins, and BOL's so it would make sense that we would use Facebook, Nixle, or Twitter the same way right? Not quite. A random sampling of law enforcement social media posts from across the United States would show agencies WRITING IN ALL CAPS (aka NCIC teletype style), using police jargon or codes, or blasting out non-critical Nixle SMS alerts at 1:00 am in the morning. To avoid these mistakes, consider the following:
• Always imagine your posts or content from the perspective of your followers. If it’s interesting to them, they’ll share and multiply your message.
• The number of people using their smartphones to connect with you are growing exponentially. Consider how your content looks on mobile.
• Unless you're purposely yelling at someone online, never write in all caps as it's considered shouting.
• Avoid cop jargon or police codes and instead, write in plain English.
• When possible, include photos or a screenshot of a map highlighting the area you are notifying people about. Visuals stand out and increase the odds that your followers will stop and read your content.
• It's not email so don't treat it that way. Social posts need to be interesting, shareable, and eye-catching (you are posting to a digital world and competing against hundreds of other posts and content).
Whereas notifications are key tools for you to reach your community in crisis, consistent online engagement is the other side of the coin that will ensure your audience stays connected with you and will hear your messages during critical incidents. Social media is just that, it's meant to be social. Any time you post or tweet, expect people to comment, like or share. If you’re not getting any likes, favorites, or retweets, that’s a clue that your message is not effective and it’s time for a shift in strategy. After any post or tweet, you should be ready to respond to any comments that result from your post. Also, consider "liking" or "favoriting" people's comments. Why? Replying to comments and liking/favoriting shows that you're listening, helps drive up your engagement, and it's a nice thing to do. Consider these additional thoughts for successful online engagement:
• Be human. Avoid sounding like a boring government drone. Instead, professional use of humor and showing some personality goes a long way in connecting with your followers.
• Understand that you're not just replying to one person. Rather, your audience includes your followers and that person's followers. These are opportunities so make the most out of each one.
• Add value. Our "product" is our "service." How well our officers and staff treat the public is a measure of how people feel about our service. We expect this from our officers as well as front counter staff. We should expect the same from our online interactions too.
• Negative comments? Those are opportunities to showcase your agency's professionalism and transparency. We handle negative comments on the streets every day and do so in a professional manner. We must do the same online.
Successful social media is not difficult. It requires a balanced strategic approach, using both notifications and engagement. Using only one side of the coin (notifications) is equivalent to an officer driving down the street making announcements on his/her PA but leaving their windows rolled up so the public isn't able to walk up and ask follow up questions. That's not nice in person and it's certainly not nice in the digital world.