Getting help with social media’s day to day

Consider hiring an intern for day-to-day social media tasks

Consider hiring an intern for day-to-day social media tasks

In the last few weeks I’ve explored why more law enforcement officers and agencies are not jumping on board the social media bandwagon; the dangers of official or unofficial officer use; and the importance of a good social media policy, whether or not your agency is officially using social media.

What now?

Social media is overwhelming. The number of sites, the numbers of people, the amount of information. Even administrators who want their agencies involved may be unsure of where to start. This may be why so many departments focus on Facebook and Twitter: they make it easier to manage it all, make interactions one-way.

But agencies need more. As I’ll explain in the next few weeks, Facebook and Twitter don’t make an entire social media program. For one thing, agencies have to be able to hear what’s going on in the community—not just use a new medium to reach out. And they have to know how to build a strategy, not just rely on the latest tools.

Whether you’ve found a good, reputable social media consultant, or are reading the best social media blogs and learning as you go, at some point you are going to have to implement the strategy. When it comes to day-to-day maintenance, because many law enforcement agencies no longer have the personnel to commit to extra duties, what can they do?

Professor Carter F. Smith has an interesting idea: use interns. While this idea has met with criticism in corporate circles, Smith proposes supervised social media outreach. In effect, this would make the intern part of a social media team rather than “in charge” of a program:

Under the guidance of an experienced academic, and directed by the agency itself, interns would:

  • promote the police department using a variety of social media such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Yahoo!Groups, etc.
  • maintain the Twitter account with posts reflecting arrest trends, wanted persons, Amber Alerts, and other police information needing immediate public assistance.
  • maintain the department’s Facebook Fan page, to include promoting events and monitoring communications
  • inform the department representative of any problems exposed in the social media domain so the department can determine how to respond appropriately.
  • monitor police-related communications (comments regarding the department or criminal activity in the jurisdiction) may also be included.

Fit the intern to your agency

Smith’s plan follows the formula many law enforcement agencies have begun to follow, but a wide variety of possibilities exists according to an agency’s needs—including the need not to be directly involved in social media just yet.

Some of the most important takeaways from this particular article:

(Social) Media Research: Which social media platforms are your main media contacts using? Are they blogging? Using Twitter? Do they want to be contacted through any of these by your company? This is a long term project, but might be really helpful to some of your colleagues who are apt to “pitch first and ask questions later.”

(For police departments, “main media contacts” doesn’t just mean reporters—it means the community, too. If you’re concerned that only a percentage of your citizens are using Twitter, find out what else they might be using.)

RSS building: I’ve said before that an RSS feed is one of the most important tools for any communications professional. If you’ve never taken the time to set up an RSS reader to monitor social media activity around your brand, your client or your industry, this is an awesome task for an intern. Once it’s set up, though, you have to use it! Here’s a good place to start.

Blog monitoring: There are hundreds of millions of blogs, and probably hundreds that reference your brand or industry. So how do you choose which ones to follow? I’ve written about this before, but perhaps your intern can conduct some research and report back about the most important blogs in your niche.

These two items have to do with “listening” to what is being said about the agency online. The foundation to social media success, it means the ability to communicate with citizens about what concerns them the most—not what you only think are their biggest concerns.

Social media doesn’t have to be overwhelming, and neither does finding someone to help you implement it. It also doesn’t have to be costly or add too much to someone’s workload. If you can find the right intern from the right college, putting an intern on a department’s social media team makes sense—for the intern, the college, the agency, and ultimately, the community too.

Image: NIOSH via Flickr

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5 thoughts on “Getting help with social media’s day to day

  1. Lauri Stevens

    Hey Christa, great article. I have to say I agree with the criticism article (your link) about hiring an intern. I saw Professor Smith’s article too. Interns come and go and social media efforts need consistency. Interns also aren’t going to be the ones who can post the best content like the real cops. An agency’s social media plan would ideally have real cops providing real content and managed by the consultant or a PIO if they’re SM savvy. You look at all the agencies doing the best job at SM, I’ll bet few if any have interns handling it. Just my two cents. I know you like a friendly debate. ;-) ~Lauri

  2. Christa Miller Post author

    Lauri, I could not agree more. I brought up many of the same concerns in comments with Carter. He was able to clarify his thoughts on the idea, namely that using interns is 1) heavily supervised — so that the intern’s postings are in line with agency strategy — and 2) a springboard for more sustained social media efforts.

    That concern was also behind the second half of my posting here — having the interns monitor rather than engage, if nothing else than to show admins how to monitor, measure, etc. so that they can move toward committing resources rather than simply “experimenting.”

  3. Pingback: Day-to-Day Solutions for Law Enforcement Social Networking « The Crime Map

  4. Mike

    Many PDs create a Facebook page or Twitter account and they think they have a social media strategy, and they don’t even know what RSS is. Police must realize a social media strategy is not just keeping up with Twitter and Facebook, but an overall plan to enhance communications with the public over the interent. Also, like any strategy there are many pieces to the puzzle and Twitter, for example, is just one piece. Time and resource constraints may thwart the efforts of some PDs, but eventually they will have to undertake some sort of social media strategy and it better to be proactive than reactive. Christa, I look forward to your further exploration into this subject!

  5. Christa Miller Post author

    Mike, I swear I JUST saw this on Twitter: “I think “strategy” is overused. Strategy defined = “we have a vague idea of how to do it, we’ll work out details later.”

    I have been spending a lot of time strategizing — with details — with a client this week, and there are many many pieces to wrap our heads around, as you point out. Yes it’s a for-profit operation, but as we move from brainstorming “Hey, great idea! We should try that!” to “Great idea! How do we make sure it really works for us?” we find ourselves on yet another steep learning curve….

    I think most important to remember is that if one thing (say Twitter) doesn’t work out, that doesn’t mean the whole thing should be scrapped. It just means it didn’t work for that agency in that community at that time. Also, no one is an authority on this stuff. Some “get it” faster than others but even they are the first to say it’s a fluid situation, constantly changing. Given the nature of technology over the last 10 years or so, that should be something everyone is used to by now!

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