FEATURED IN TECHNOLOGY AND COMMUNICATIONS
I hear on a regular basis from both senior management and front-line police officers negative comments about the use of social media by law enforcement. When I dig deeper into their concerns, I discover that their fear or concerns are based not in fact but in perception.
Many people equate social media with what they hear and not what they know. “I don’t care what someone had for breakfast or what they need on their farm,” they say.
But a lot has changed in social media’s short lifespan. Three years ago, MySpace was all the rage. Today, that once-powerful tool is starting to fade. The fact is, not only have the platforms changed, but how they are used is radically different today than just a few years back.
I’ve found an incredibly effective way to address concerns from people who don’t accurately understand what social media is: Replace the term “social media” with “conversations” or “engagement.” That’s exactly what social media is—another tool to communicate and build relationships.
It’s no secret that social media in one form or another is here to stay. It’s quickly becoming the choice of private-sector industries for marketing and sales. Little to no overhead, 24-hour access, global voice and ease of use make the ROI incredibly attractive to business. It’s no different for law enforcement. The only real difference is what we sell or market. And make no mistake: We sell and market every day.
Public safety, law abiding societies, agency successes, people and our agency reputations—all are commodities that we believe in. We must support and promote these for all to see. Capitalize on your resources, market them to the public and monitor what people say about you. You can raise your profile and promote your goals exponentially.
Some agencies I’ve looked at are superb at spouting information that has immediate value to their communities. But that’s it. Once an event has ended, so does the information. Example: An automatic Twitter feed such as: “Mugging at the corner of 123 Street, police are investigating.”
People reading this probably think: “Good, I hope you are. I mean, that’s what you are being& paid to do !”
The question I ask is this: “Why are you using social media?” If the answer is to inform the public, then write a press release. It doesn’t require conversation.
I assume that if you’re using social media, the main reason is to increase your voice in the community, to let them know what’s going on, to help them with their lives and to give value to them. Just telling your community that an event is occurring doesn’t add a lot of value. The value is in making their lives better. Static messages just get ignored by your community.
Here’s a better way: Take that same event and write a community safety message about how to avoid becoming a victim of crime, including situational awareness and what to do if confronted by an assailant. Let the community know about similar crimes in the area. Then ask for the public’s thoughts and input. Show that you value their opinions and comments. Build a relationship with your community. Doing so, you begin to empower your community and let them know that you’re working with them, not just for them.
Then you build ongoing value for your customers—yes, customers. You provide a service, remember? You want them to buy your safety messages, believe in your service and market your brand to the rest of your community.
Places where law enforcement can easily and effectively engage the public include:
- traffic safety;
- crime prevention;
- personal safety;
- cyber safety;
- reputation management;
- volunteer assistance; and
- emergency preparedness.
The bottom line: You need to be social, not do social media.
Instead of asking if your agency should be using social media, ask yourself if you can improve your present communications strategy. What do you want to tell the public and your officers? How do you want to tell them? What kind of voice and how big of a voice do you want to have? Then see if the use of social media fits into your strategy. Chances are it will. You’re now well on your way.