The Social Media Beat

Let's Talk Platforms

Let's Talk Platforms

By: Chris Hsiung
Date: Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Chris Hsiung

Captain Chris Hsiung commands the Field Operations Division at the Mountain View Police Department in California. You can follow him on Twitter @chMtnViewPD.

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Effectively communicating with the communities we serve is the foundation to successful policing. Social media, which will never replace our day to day interactions with the public, has now become an integral tool in building trust and passing on timely information to the public and media. Yet, not all social media platforms are the same and it would be a mistake for us to consider them so. Each has unique advantages and disadvantages. Knowing the differences will maximize your time and limited resources in reaching your community and increase the effectiveness of your messaging.

As popular as Facebook is for us to keep in touch with friends and relatives, it has some significant challenges as an effective communication platform for police departments. If Facebook is your department’s only social media communication tool, you need to understand the factors at play which prevent your followers from seeing your posts. This is because your department Facebook “Page” has to compete with thousands of other Pages and unfortunately, those businesses willing to pay or “boost” their posts win… every time. After that, Facebook’s algorithm looks at a number of factors to decide if your posts get shown to your followers. Businesses and police departments alike have noticed a significant decline in “reach” over the past few months. If you post boring content or there’s nothing in your photos or videos worth “liking” or sharing, industry standard says only 3-6% of your followers will see your posts. The private sector has long bemoaned the challenges presented by Facebook's page rank algorithm. What do to? Make your content shareable, engaging, and interesting. Educate yourself on the Facebook algorithm (links in this section are a great start) and follow private sector’s advice on how to maximize your reach so your department voice is heard. Look at your posts and gauge the likes and shares. If no one is liking or commenting (and even worse, if you’re not commenting back), the time spent invested on Facebook may not be worth it.

Because of its speed and culture of instant information, Twitter is an ideal platform for police departments to use for breaking news and critical incident communications. Almost all media outlets are active on Twitter and timely police department tweets during a crisis can instantly result in messages being magnified (and retweeted) by media. This, in turn, puts your department (not the media) in the driver’s seat of information. In ideal circumstances, your department needs to be tweeting about significant incidents within the first 15-30 minutes (if not sooner) of a crisis. If that sounds like a challenge, consider the fact that witnesses and victims in a crisis will be posting photos and commentary from the scene within seconds. Without your department’s digital command presence, rumor and misinformation will run rampant and you’ll end up spending more time and resources putting out those fires.

Although Twitter instituted its own version of an algorithm earlier this year, it's not nearly as restrictive as Facebook’s algorithm mentioned above. Outside of a crisis communications situation, having interesting and shareable content in your tweets is key to successfully getting your message out. The lifetime of a tweet can be measured in minutes but if your tweets are funny, engaging, or compel followers to retweet it, your tweet can live a much longer and fruitful life, informing the public.

Nextdoor is a hyper-local social media platform where neighbors can talk to each other about events, crime and safety, neighborhood news, or buy and. sell items. As part of the registration process, residents must verify their address. This fact makes it very compelling for police departments to invest time and resources in using this platform as a means to communicate. Having thousands of followers on Facebook or Twitter could be meaningless if the majority of those followers reside outside of your jurisdictional boundaries. Growing social media followers can be fun and intoxicating but at the end of the day, the metric that truly matters is how much of your community you’re able to reach (not how viral your post or video can go worldwide). 

Nextdoor for Public Agencies, which Nextdoor has pledged to keep free for public safety, is a portal that city governments and police departments can use to engage with residents or neighborhoods within your jurisdiction. Successful agencies using Nextdoor typically have area commanders or personnel dedicated to responding to specific neighborhoods. From a resident’s perspective, it can be a very quick and responsive way to reach not only their police department, but also their neighborhood watch commander or designated officer. If this sounds a lot like community policing, it should. Nextdoor’s neighborhood centric design and ability to communicate with specific residents or neighborhoods makes it an ideal platform to engage your communities. Even better, there is no feed algorithm like Facebook. This means ALL of your posts and content reach ALL of your residents, every time.

Wrapping it up
So what does this mean for your social media strategy? Knowing the pros and cons of each platform will help you manage your social community, both in times of crisis or during routine online community building. Never forget that all social media platforms are different, reach different audiences, and have nuances that will really make you shine if you know how to capitalize on them. Posting something on social doesn't guarantee anyone will read it. Understanding current events, memes, and trending humor will help your digital voice which in turn, will make your posts and tweets more engaging and shareable. 
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    About This Blog

    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.

    Social media is taking the world by storm. Social networks, blogs, photo and video sharing sites, and virtual communities are changing the way people live, work, and play. These tools present unique opportunities as well as challenges to the law enforcement community.  The Social Media Beat brings together a team of bloggers who will speak directly to you about hot topics and current issues.

    Bloggers include IACP staff and practitioners in the field who can provide a unique front-line perspective. Our team cares about social media and wants to ensure that law enforcement across the country are knowledgeable and well-equipped to incorporate this technology.

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    About the Authors

    Dionne Waugh

    Dionne Waugh is the Digital Communications Manager for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, which is the largest, full-service sheriff’s office in the state of Colorado. Prior to that, she spent more than six years creating and leading the Richmond, Virginia, Police Department’s social media efforts, which led to international acclaim and recognition.

    She has spoken about law enforcement and social media at more than a dozen conferences across the country in addition to four IACP annual conferences. Waugh is a former newspaper reporter who wrote about crime, police, and the court system for several 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 @JeffCoSheriffCo.

    IACP Center for Social Media

    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.

    Leon Robertson

    Officer Leon Robertson is the Social Media Coordinator for the Hampton Police Division. Robertson has developed internationally recognized public safety messages, including the Jingle Bells “Holiday Safety Remix” in December 2013. He has extensive experience in graphic design, video & audio production, and managing various social media platforms. You can follow Officer Robertson’s efforts with the Hampton Police Division on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

    Tracy Phillips

    Tracy is a Senior Project Specialist with the IACP. She is responsible for managing the day-to-day operation of the 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.

    Zach Perron

    Lieutenant Zach Perron is the public affairs manager for the Palo Alto (CA) Police Department. Zach was a 2014 visiting fellow at the IACP in the Center for Social Media. He serves on the steering committee for the Bay Area Law Enforcement Social Media Group (BALESMG), and is a member of the US. Department of Homeland Security's Virtual Social Media Working Group (VSMWG). He holds a bachelor's degree in American Studies from Stanford University and is now pursuing a graduate education at the Naval Postgraduate School's Center for Homeland Defense and Security in Monterey, California.  You can follow him on Twitter: @zpPAPD.

    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 was a sworn police officer for 25 years with experience in front line operations, primary response, traffic, detective operations, and supervision. He has training in a broad spectrum of policing responsibilities including IMS, Emergency Management, computer assisted technology investigations, leadership, community policing, and crisis communications. Tim left policing but has remained involved through consulting with law enforcement on the advancement of communications and social media. Tim runs #CopChat on Wednesday nights at 9pm ET, to allow police and community members to connect and break down barriers. To learn more about him you can follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook or click here to contact him

    Guest Blogger

    The Social Media Beat periodically features guest bloggers who share their perspective on the topic of social media and law enforcement. These individuals are law enforcement professionals; sworn and civilian personnel from agencies of all types and sizes throughout the world. If you are interested in guest blogging, please send your request to All bloggers must be affiliated with a law enforcement agency or educational institution. We cannot accept blog entries from vendors or others working in a for-profit capacity.

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