How to boost engagement on your agency's Facebook page

If you're not engaging your community, maybe it's time to take a step back and re-strategize


Sgt. Anthony Landato of the Mesa Police Department in Arizona spoke at 2015’s Social Media and the Internet in Law Enforcement (SMILE) conference to unpack how their department transitioned from a “lackluster” social media page to an active outlet with an engaged user base.

As was echoed throughout the first day of the conference, Landato’s department was fairly inexperienced with social media at the outset. Through evaluation and experimentation, the agency was able to transform their page into what it has become today.

Your Facebook Page Is Not A Crime Blotter
In a city of nearly 450,000 people, the page had only managed to garner 888 likes over a year after it had been created. Step one to creating a solution was a top-to-bottom evaluation. From this, the department identified problem areas. They found:

  • The page consisted solely of crime bulletins giving off the impression that “Mesa has a lot of crime” and not much else.
  • The page had a “lackluster” appearance its banner, for instance required an overhaul.
  • There was a need to interact with users on the page. Members had posted questions that had gone unanswered.
  • There was a need to monitor the page; there was a large amount of foul language and verbal attacks on the page.

Before implementing any changes, Landato found resources the department could use to help them along. This included training, using online resources such as majorcitieschiefs.com, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police for guides to best practices, comparing their page to what they considered to be successful police department Facebook pages, and asking their audience what they would like to see in version 2.0. 

The Transition
With the problems identified and a staff that was more social media savvy, the department began to roll out their change in strategy. Some changes were simple, such as adding a ‘terms of use’ section to explain to users what actions would result in a comment deletion or being blocked from the page. Implementing Facebook’s language filter helped moderate and clean things up, and the department became responsive to questions the community directed at them. Posts alerting users to fugitives, missing persons, runaways and the like would be updated when there was a change in the case. 

The PD then moved to aesthetics. Their banner was changed to a collage of pictures capturing different aspects of the department. Landato took a step back and asked himself two things: what did the public want to see and what did the department want to show them? The agency has its own academy, for instance, and Landato wanted to make the public aware of that. This, in combination with the obvious “cool stuff,” such as a shot of SWAT operations, combined to make a more striking first impression that helped tell their story.

The biggest change — and arguably most important — was in content strategy.

The department came up with the idea of featuring their chief in videos they would then post for the public on their Facebook page. The series, “5 Minutes with The Chief,” was a huge success and helped the community connect to the department.

They started filming PSAs on trending topics. When incidents involving the synthetic drug bath salts started making the news, “We had people throwing out their [literal] bath salts, they didn’t understand that was just a term for the drug.” A video was shot explaining the drug to the community.

They also made a concentrated effort to get the word out on positive interactions with the public. When a girl’s stolen bike was recovered by police and taken into evidence, the officer took the heartbroken child to a store in order to pick out and purchase a new bike. The PD posted the story to their page and saw unprecedented success with over 15,000 people reached and high engagement.

Landato told the audience at SMILE, “We don’t sell ourselves. We take a beating on social media constantly. What are you doing to let people know about the good things cops do?”

Tips for a Successful Page
Landato ended his part of the session with tips for the audience on creating and maintaining a successful page:

1.Make a plan with specific goals - have a social media strategy.

2.Identify and never lose sight of your true audience. “It starts with the citizens. This is for your community.”

3.Review, review, review before you post!

4.Monitor your page frequently.

5.Involve and educate your leadership. (Here, Landato asked the audience if they had ever received resistance or questioning from brass over what they were trying to do on social media. Many raised their hands. Landato urged the crowd to show their command staff the good that comes out of what you post.)

6.Humanize your content as much as is appropriately possible. “I was writing this stuff like I was trying to write a Hallmark card. I wanted people to be moved.”

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