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.
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