Date: Wednesday, June 08, 2016
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.