4 ways social media can help police departments

You can’t measure the quality of your department by your social media presence, but you can change your community’s perception of your department

Everyone understands that the quality of a police department, its officers and its command staff is in no way reflected by the number of Twitter followers and Facebook fans the department has, or any other unit of social media measurement.

With budget cuts and understaffing of departments happening left and right, it’s hardly justifiable to consider social media a top priority. So why are more and more departments turning to the internet community, even designating department members to overlook their social networking accounts?

Frank Domizio, a 16-year veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department, and the department’s social media manager, knows the benefits of having a social media presence.

At this season’s Social Media, the Internet and Law Enforcement (SMILE) conference, Domizio explained the benefits of maintaining a Facebook page, a Twitter account, or any other platform that allows public communication between police and their community.

Having a social media presence can benefit your department and community by:

1. Building a trustworthy relationship and a sense of community by engaging with each other

2. Gaining control over the department’s reputation with the community

3. Providing a forum for people to ask questions and for you to share tips you otherwise wouldn’t share

4. Spread knowledge quickly and with minimal effort that could protect your community, help catch suspects, find missing persons, etc.

It all starts with content. As Domizio reinforced, the most important thing about providing information to your readers is that you provide value within your content. Use what you already know and do in your daily work as an officer, and apply that to your content. For example:

Departments produce press releases about upcoming events, holidays, and guides.  A post that says “Tips to securing your home on vacation” is not only information people can use year-round, it’s information that you could probably rattle off effortlessly, and in an instant. 

Now, this doesn’t mean rattle off every tip in a Twitter post. You’re only allowed 140 characters in a Tweet; embrace that.  Give your post a title, a link, and an image, and you’re done.

Steal from Your Local Fire Department
You heard right. If the fire department or town hall or some other agency provides tips on their page that is useful to you and your readers, steal it! Domizio, for example, wrote a Facebook post on the Philadelphia Police Department’s page titled, “Barbeque Safety Tips” and linked to the Philadelphia Fire Department’s website, where they had created a press release depicting just that. Information like this can be reused each season, and will live on as long as it’s shared.

The most instrumental use of maintaining a Facebook or Twitter page is getting the word out in an emergency, whether it be a storm warning, a missing child, or a criminal on the loose.

During his presentation, Officer Domizio explained a situation in which a man had been suspected of attempting to abduct a child, and his mug shot and name were spread throughout the town because of the post the department made.  The abductor turned himself into police, telling them that his face was everywhere, and he felt like he had no place to go.

In a similar situation, a 10-year-old girl was abducted, and the only piece of evidence was a description of a suspicious vehicle.  A man in Germany who studied vehicles for a living saw the post, and sent a 45-page PDF file of vehicles similar to the one described to police – which resulted in the suspect’s capture.

“He helped from halfway around the world, and he did it because someone shared that story with him, and he had a 10-year-old daughter,” Domizio explained.

When you’re writing, think about the way a person is going to type a question into their search engine.  Leave the police jargon out of the article, and speak like a civilian — that way your blog or press release will be easy to find. This is known as search engine optimization.  For example:

                User: “How do I know if there are sex offenders in Huntsville?”

                Police blog title: “Know the sex offenders in Huntsville”

One of the most important aspects of having an account—for Twitter more than Facebook – is remembering that it is a social network.  Interact, and don’t let a large amount of time lapse between responses. 

Twitter is conversation-like, whereas with Facebook you can get away with a post a day. They will understand that you don’t have time to talk back and forth all day, but remember, you don’t have to fix their problems – just show them to the answer.

Don’t Have an Answer?
Domizio illustrated a situation he ran into once when someone on Twitter asked, “What do I do with a hypodermic needle I found on the street?”  He didn’t have an answer then and there, so the next day when he had free time, he did some quick research of his own and made a blog post about it, and tweeted the link.

You can’t measure the quality of your department by your social media presence. But you can have an effect on your community’s perception of police through social platforms.

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