Does your agency have social media skeptics? How to win them over

If you are trying to grow your department’s social media program and are met with resistance, point to other agencies’ successful efforts — and be patient

Whether or not they like it, police officers will have photos and videos taken of them that’ll be posted to social media, print media, and television news sources. We don’t have any control — nor do we really know — when this happens. 

A key way to get out in front of these scenarios is to proactively address them with your community through social media. The question that often comes up is whether or not officers have — or should have — a say about their involvement in their department’s social media program. There are too many individual state laws and department policies to try and cover, so I can only speak from my experience as a social media manager for a police department in southern California. 

I encourage other Police1 members to post your own experiences in the comments area below.

Don’t You Want To Control It?
When we first started our social media program, officers were somewhat skeptical and leery as to what the program was about and how it would impact them. 

Many of our officers were not really up on the subject of social media; they could only rely on what they knew — and unfortunately, what they knew were the horror stories of criminal threats, online bullying, and promiscuous photos being posted on social media. They rarely heard anything about the positive side of social media, so it was no wonder they weren’t too quick to jump on board.

However, my department — as well as other departments in my area — witnessed a change in officers’ enthusiasm about the use of social media in law enforcement. Once they saw how the positive posts, comments, photos, and videos have rallied the community to support their departments, the “buy-in” was increased. 

If you’re trying to grow your department’s social media program and are met with resistance, point to other agencies’ successful efforts — and be patient. 

Forward thinkers in the police associations realize the impact a positive social media program can have on their association’s image, especially in times of contract negotiations.

Arguably, having hundreds of photos of your department making a positive impact on the community is far better than the negative posts by “keyboard commandos” out there. 

If officers don’t want the department to post articles, photos, or videos of us doing great work in the community, remind them that there is only one way the community is likely to form an opinion about the department and its officers:  what everyone else is publishing.

For a lot of departments, social media has turned the tables and has given law enforcement the greatest media tool ever conceived. 

Brass Has To Be Understanding and Tactically Wise
Understandably, the mission of department administrators — when it comes to the purpose of social media — is to engage and unify the community with the department, and to provide the best possible image of the department on the Internet. 

However, one of the worst things that can happen in social media are administrators, company owners, and business leaders, who have no training — or limited knowledge — about social media engagement orchestrating the day-to-day operations of their social media programs. 

It doesn’t happen just in law enforcement, but happens in the business world too.  Businesses that have become incredibly successful have learned to empower and trust their program’s operations to those they have selected to run it.

It’s important to have a sworn police officer on every department’s social media team. If not, then an experienced — and proven — civilian PIO will do. You want someone who “gets it.” 

They must understand cops, policies, procedures, sensitivities and egos. They must know when to take a picture and when to turn and walk away. And if they don’t, they still know to listen to their instinct and run it by someone else before publishing whatever it may be.

If there are officers on special assignments — or about to go into a special assignment — we have to be smart about how we include them in social media. I learned very quickly that our SWAT guys weren’t going to have anything to do with our social media program, outside the normal posing with kids at National Night Out. 

I had to learn that it didn’t matter that some of the biggest SWAT teams in our area were posting cool pictures or videos. I had to respect my officers and what they wanted. I didn’t get to have cool SWAT pictures, but by understanding and respecting their position, I did get their support. 

Don’t Let Social Media Go Undone
Social media is here to stay — it may even be the future of community policing, neighborhood watch, and press releases all rolled up in one. If you are an officer whose identity does not need to be kept secret, I encourage you to participate in making the public image of your PD the best it can be. After all, if one day you are portrayed negatively by the media, there will be plenty of evidence online indicating otherwise, as well as a supportive community. 

Administrator should take into consideration officers’ concerns. Through communication and understanding from both the top and the bottom, social media can be a positive experience for both the officers and the department.

The end result should be the community’s relationship, communication and impression with and of your department and officers, which matters the most.

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