Trending Topics

5 tips for taking your PD’s social media to the next level

These days, it’s not enough to just have a social media presence – the public expects much more than the basics


Social media can be a powerful tool for police agencies to inform and connect with their community.

Photo/Cole Zercoe

PHILADELPHIA — Social media can be a powerful tool for police agencies to inform and connect with their community. But it’s not enough just to have a social media presence anymore – the public’s expectations are much higher now than they were a few years ago. At the 124th Annual International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference, three members of the NYPD’s social media team broke down how your agency can be a strong competitor for eyes in the ever-expanding world of social media.


Yael Bar-Tur, NYPD Director of Social Media and Digital Strategy

Scott Glick, NYPD Detective

Jeff Thompson, NYPD Detective

1. Be intentional and analytical.

You need to be intentional and analytical when using social media. First, define your mission. Everything the NYPD puts out on its social channels – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat – must accomplish one of two objectives: protecting (keeping people safe) or connecting (strengthening relationships with the community). They use dedicated hashtags in their posts to promote those goals (#nypdprotecting and #nypdconnecting).

Treat social media like you would any other law enforcement task. Cops train for success in the field by learning and adapting. Ask yourself:

  • How are people using their devices?
  • When are they using them?
  • How do you use social media during your downtime?

The NYPD schedules three to four posts every day during the morning commute as when people are on the subway, they’re virtually guaranteed to be looking at their mobile devices.

People pay attention to when you’re posting on social media, and if you have consistent scheduling, they’ll come to expect it. A social media management platform like Hootsuite can greatly ease the burden of scheduling out content. But if you’re in the middle of updating the public on a crisis situation, be sure to move your scheduled posts (a humor tweet that pops up in the middle of updates on a critical incident is not a good look).

How do people communicate on social media? Love it or hate it, we live in a world of emojis – use them. Avoid cop speak – talk to your audience in a way they can understand. Use hashtags – the NYPD employs the hashtag #happeningsoon for any upcoming important announcements, which attracts the media and the public to their page.

2. Use video and images.

As social media has grown older, the content focus has pivoted to video and images. If you’re not using video, you’ve already lost the battle for an audience – the NYPD’s top 100 posts last year consisted of 59 videos and 41 photos.

Think about how you watch videos on social media. Do you turn on the sound for all of them? How quickly do you click off? The NYPD found most of their users drop off within 12 seconds of the start of a video, so consider this “jump” when crafting your clip.

Keep your videos short (around a minute long) and make them compelling from the get-go. Create subtitles for them. The NYPD found 86 percent of users watched video of a press conference (that’s right, a person standing at a podium) with no audio.

Images to accompany text are also important. You won’t always be able to get a photo of the scene, so create an archive of generic images for different scenarios (breaking news, alerts, etc.). You don’t need to be a Photoshop wizard – you can do this in MS Paint.

An image is also a good way to get around character limits on Twitter. If you have more to say than what is allowed on the platform, type it up and upload it as an image in the post. Editing videos and photos doesn’t require a dedicated team or expensive tools – you can use cheap apps like ImgPlay Pro, FilmoraGo, PhotoGrid and Vont.

3. Go local.

A common theme at IACP this year was the importance of using social media to target your local community. While it’s nice to go viral, that shouldn’t be your primary goal.

The NYPD has social media channels down to the precinct level (120 Twitter accounts and 40 Facebook pages!). Each precinct’s social media presence is run by full-time beat cops working those areas.

Don’t limit your public safety posts to major incidents – post information about minor incidents that community members in your area care about (a flooded roadway, for example). Consider “meet the officers in your area” posts that highlight some fun facts about the LEOs working that part of your city. In New York, these posts have served as effective icebreakers, particularly for people who’ve had little to no prior interaction with police.

Another example of a good hyperlocal post is a breakdown of crime patterns you’re seeing in a neighborhood. Experiment with paid advertising. Facebook gives you the option of promoting posts targeted to a specific area, for as little as $20.

4. Tell your story.

If your partner does something good, snitch. In the age of social media, take pics or it didn’t happen. The impact you’re making in your neighborhood – big and small – needs to be known. Saved a kid from a burning building? Great! Post it. But post the small stuff too. Did you remove a roadway obstruction that was snarling traffic? Helped a woman carry her groceries? Share those moments. It’s not just about the officer who did the good deed – the public will associate those acts with the entire agency. For those in leadership positions, retweet, like or share these posts to acknowledge your officer’s good work and help spread the word.

5. Be a service.

Use of social media shouldn’t be one-sided. Answer private messages you receive or questions you see on your posts. Be helpful – if someone is asking a question about law enforcement or wants to submit information about a crime, direct them to the right person or place.

It’s not just about being reactive – you need to be proactive as well. Watch what your users are posting to your pages and look for trends. The panel gave an example of a precinct that responded to an incident they didn’t think was a big deal. When they checked their social media pages, they discovered what they viewed as minor had caused a lot of concern among the community. So they posted about the incident to reassure people everything was OK.

Acknowledgement goes a long way, and this applies to bigger events as well. When there’s an international terrorist attack, for example, the NYPD usually puts out a post letting the public know that they are prepared and protecting the city.

Cole Zercoe previously served as Senior Associate Editor of Lexipol’s and His award-winning features focus on the complexity of policing in the modern world.

Contact Cole Zercoe