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What to consider when setting up PD social media accounts

There are dozens of networks your department could join — how do you make the most of your limited time?

If you are just embarking on a social media strategy for your department — or are relatively new to it — you might be scratching your head trying to figure out which ones to use. I recently found a list of more than 150 social media websites.

On the other side of the coin, you may just be familiar with Facebook and Twitter.

Traditionally, law enforcement officers hate change. When we do change, we’re usually 20 years behind everyone else. As a social media manager for your department, you are going to have to change frequently, whether you like it or not.

Don’t Spread Yourself Too Thin
I recently read an article on Mashable, in which a young person explains how her generation is moving away from Facebook. They know parents and grandparents can see what they are up to, and the kids don’t like that.

So where are they going? If we are going to be posting messages about cyber bullying, or getting “on their level” to receive tips or information on crimes, then we need to go where they go, right? After all, isn’t that the whole ideology of social media and law enforcement?

Until I spoke with some mentors and received some training in social media, I was guilty of thinking I would sign our department up for any social media channel I heard about. I was proud of my long list, because I was going to have every angle covered — or so I thought.

I was on a mission to have the “Binford 6100” model of social media programs.

In truth, I was on course for disaster.

What I had failed to account for was the simple ratio of the number of social media managers my department had versus the amount of accounts we had. Since the answer was one (me) versus 10 social media channels, my plan could possibly be a detriment to our program.

Each social media channel you manage requires your dedication and passion in order for it to thrive. It needs to have your full attention and constant interaction to make it a success. As with other things in life, if our attention is split, things start coming apart.

What’s a Safe Amount?
Currently, I have selected Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, and Nixle for our social media channels. I carefully selected these because they all work together seamlessly, which allows me to attend to one channel while working on another.

Although you have to make some changes to the default settings in your profile or options area, you can integrate the channels. Here are some examples:

If I do a press release on our website, it automatically “pushes” that press release to our Facebook Fanpage. Facebook then automatically pushes the information to our Twitter feed. I just took care of two social media channels with one entry on our website.
If I take a photo at a public relations event using Instagram, it will not only publish on Instagram, but will be displayed on our website, Facebook page and Twitter feed. In this scenario, I was able to update four channels at once.

Since Facebook and Twitter are essentially the only channels where I have interaction with our followers and fans, it is very easy to communicate using these two channels.

Know Your Tools
As a social media manager in your department, it is going to be assumed you know everything about every social media channel. This may not be possible for anyone, but at a minimum, you really should have above average knowledge for the social media channels you use. This knowledge should include:

• Settings: Know all of the security, privacy and administrative settings.
• Public Access: What does your channel look like when viewed by a visitor? For example, you may find pictures that should be private appearing publicly to anyone.
• Options and Features: Learn everything! Sooner or later, someone’s going to ask you what it is or how to use it.
• Investigative Information: Can this particular channel tell me a person’s location? Can I view a person’s history if I log in using their credentials?

Who Benefits From This Advice?
A large agency, with people assigned to full-time positions monitoring social media, would certainly be able to manage and interact on several different channels. Large agencies have the staffing and budgets to make this possible.

The majority of departments in the United States are comprised of small to medium agencies. When I wrote this article, I took budget cuts, lack of staffing, and the fact that many social media managers do this as a collaborative duty, into account.

Remember, it’s easier to expand than scale back. Start your program out small and expand when you feel you can handle it, and when your public demands it.

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