When a department is considering establishing a presence in Social Media, one of the first questions asked by administrators frequently deals with time commitment. Before answering that question, you need to determine to what extent the department involvement will be: Facebook, Twitter, a blog? As noted by Lauri Stevens in a previous post, The C.O.P.P.S. Social Media Method for Cops, develop a plan with objectives and have a basic strategy. Answer the questions of who, what, where, how, when, and why, and then you can begin to determine what resources your department must devote to create and maintain a successful Social Media program.

The size of your department combined with your objectives and strategy will be the biggest factors in considering the number of personnel devoted to the program and their time commitment. Larger departments may have multiple persons assigned, full-time, to the task of delivering a quality Social Media presence and Public Information program to their communities. Small to midsize agencies will not be able to dedicate full-time positions to their Social Media presence, but entrusting several persons with this as an ancillary duty is probably the best alternative. With a team approach, regular duties do not suffer, coverage to the Social Media effort is spread to more than a “9 to 5” approach and true timely communication can be established. For ANY agency to truly embrace and actively participate in Social Media, the effort must be genuine, responsive, timely, and considerate of the community needs and wants.

Active participation and monitoring is key to a successful program. Pushing information out is only a single element and is not a true participation in Social Media. One-way communication is fine in many circumstances, but limit that to your Nixle presence, crime mapping programs, or information posts on your website. Communication with your community will take time, comments will be slow at first, but once you begin to establish credibility and your community believes that your participation is genuine, the playing field will slowly change for the better.

During start-up talks, my original estimate to my Department was an hour per day devoted to Social Media. At the time, I based that on having simply run our Police Association blog for a year or so and felt, on average, this was a fair assessment. Six months later, I will double my time estimate and say that during my work day, about two hours are dedicated to furthering our Social Media effort. Fifteen minutes, 4-5 times per day, monitoring responses, @replies, various stories pertaining to our City, reviewing local news, are some of the usual tasks. Writing an activity related post, a tip, or similar, may take up to an hour or so; some days a bit less, some days a bit more. The time commitment is not huge for an agency like mine, but every department is different. Arcadia PD is a mid-size, Los Angeles County agency, serving a population of about 55,000. Location, crime activity, population, etc, are all considerations for what it will take to create a successful presence on-line. Captain Mike Parker heads up the Public Information Office, Sheriff’s Headquarters Bureau, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and coordinates the Social Media efforts for dozens of stations, bureaus, and service areas for the LASD. Imagine the effort involved with 18,000 budgeted personnel and a service population of over four million people. Large or small, all agencies can become involved.

One key to a successful Social Media strategy for all departments is finding the right people for the job. Find someone with an interest in the program. Interest and dedication also equate to better time management. Social Media has become a hobby for me, leading to the writing and communication being fun. Sitting down to author a post is not labor nor overly time intensive when the author is interested in the topic. I recently read a post on a government watchdog blog that claimed it takes about 4 hours to write and research a 500-word blog post. The article went on to say, “Depending upon an organization’s culture, even 140-character Twitter messages can require substantial amounts of time to craft.” These have not been my experiences. Keep in mind that writing simple blog, Twitter, and Facebook posts designed to communicate and interact with your community are much different than writing articles for a magazine, or even a website such as ConnectedCOPS.net. While accuracy and fact checking are important in any work we produce, most posts and contributions to Social Media take only minutes.

I hope to explore this issue of time and, more specifically, compensation associated with time spent on Social Media management in an upcoming post. This arena is ever changing and evolving, and it is important to discuss and consider current restrictions outlined in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as it applies to Law Enforcement. Can we potentially fall under the Administrative Exemption when it comes to Social Media participation time? Time will tell. Another angle dealing with time commitment deals with use of Social Media in emergency communications. Crisis and emergency communication is a topic that warrants an independent discussion.

Tom Le Veque

Sergeant Tom Le Veque has served with the Arcadia Police Department since 1987, promoting to Sergeant in 1991. Prior to that, Tom was a Police Officer for the City of San Marino Police Department from 1984-1987. Tom has been a driving force behind many of Arcadia’s innovative programs such as Video Parking Enforcement and Neighborhood Speed Watch. Most recently, he has taken the Arcadia Police Department to a new level of community interaction and involvement by developing a web presence with a Department Blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Nixle pages. Arcadia is one of the first agencies in Los Angeles County to truly enter and embrace S.M.I.L.E. Sergeant Le Veque sees the value in and enjoys sharing, learning, and interacting via Social Media.