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What administrators need to know about police social media managers

It is our mission to make our departments look like the finest law enforcement officers (and people) on the face of the Earth — you have nothing to fear

There are still chiefs and administrators out there who are reluctant to get into social media. They read the horror stories about officers’ actions on social media, or negative news reports about what someone wrote or did on their personal social media page.

For some reason, these same administrators tend to discount the numerous times social media has made a department or officer shine, solved crimes and saved lives. They would rather take heed to the small percentage of negative articles than the overabundant amount of positive ones.

Hopefully what follows will convince those administrators that they can put some faith in the new communication channel of social media.

First Things First
I had the fortunate opportunity to go to the SMILE (Social Media, the Internet, and Law Enforcement) conference in San Jose (Calif.) put on by Laurie Stevens, a leader in the social media community.

One of my captains — not an Internet-savvy, web-technology type of cop — accompanied me to the conference. By having him attend the conference and hear from other administrators, social media managers and authorities on the topic, he quickly gained confidence in the positive power of social media.

He may not have understood everything about “retweets” and “likes,” but he gained a quick understanding:

Law enforcement and the world of social media can help each other out at a moment’s notice
The passion for social media by those involved will most likely prevent any intentional harm to the organization’s reputation
Social media can make a department stand out as a professional, competent organization, even through its darkest hours

The shared stories of how agencies thought “out of the box” when it came to creating videos or posting information on social media were quite valuable. We saw a couple of videos produced by the Tampa Police Department that were definitely different than most law enforcement videos.

If I had returned to my department after this conference and tried to explain to my captain what I wanted to do, he’d probably laugh and think I was crazy.

Since he was with me and saw these example videos in a conference setting — and heard firsthand the feedback these videos received — he was able to keep his mind open to new ideas.

Facing Your Fears
When it comes down to it, administrators get fearful of social media because:

They lack knowledge about social media and how it works
They can’t approve everything that is published on social media, and therefore are fearful of what might be published
They think their department will somehow get a negative reputation

An administrator’s schedule will most likely not permit those individuals to spend time managing their department’s social media accounts. If you don’t know about social media and how to use it, maybe you shouldn’t be too quick to shoot it down. Do you know how to use the license plate reader software in your department’s patrol cars? No? Then what’s the point of having it if you don’t know how to use it? When using this example, this way of thinking doesn’t make much sense.

Become familiar with social media, and let your people become the experts.

As far as not knowing what will be published, you simply need to have faith that those who are posting items on the department’s social media pages have your best interest, as well as the department’s best interest, in mind.

Your community will love you going online and becoming “approachable.” They want to see their police officers at work. They want to get to know the police officers, the equipment, the K-9s, and the department in general. Your efforts will be looked upon favorably.

Empowering Your People
Every department has someone who is knowledgeable in social media, or at a minimum, computers. In a recent class I attended, it was revealed that a department’s social media success rises and falls on one to three people. These few are usually, if not always, very passionate about social media, the Internet and technology.

With these people, you generally have nothing to fear. By approaching these individuals about doing the department’s social media, you will essentially be giving them their “dream job.” Trust me when I tell you they will not do anything to risk losing that assignment, and will only work harder to make you proud.

Your Popularity Will Soar
As a social media manager, there are several goals I have established for my team. Of these goals, there is one which closes this article nicely.

As a social media manager, it is my obligation to maintain and constantly improve my department’s great reputation. Simply put, it is my mission to make my chief, captains, lieutenants, sergeants, corporals, and officers look like the finest law enforcement officers (and people) on the face of the Earth.

I am their PR agent. Even though we preach in law enforcement not to take anything personally, I take my department and each co-worker’s reputation personally.

It all boils down to this: Either you can manage your department’s reputation online, or someone else in the community at large will do it for you. Which would you rather?

Have faith in your social media managers. They’ll do you right.

Officer Mike Bires has been a police officer for more than 20 years in Southern California. Along with working assignments in corrections, SWAT, bike patrol, and as a field training officer, Mike is currently a university resource officer for a large university. Having a background in website design and development, he is on the Azusa Police Department’s Social Media Team and is the developer of their website. He is also the founder of LawEnforcement.Social, which is a law enforcement social media resource website.”

You can follow Mike on Twitter at @iSocialCop.

Contact Mike Bires