How do you translate a broad mission statement & a global department philosophy into rapid fire messages for the social media arena?

Editor’s note: The SMILE (Social Media, the Internet and Law Enforcement) Conference provides officers with all the technical hands-on skills and the practical knowledge to utlitze social media platforms for public outreach, crime prevention and forensics. The conference is a great opportunity for those involved in social media efforts to share suggestions and stories on this ever-changing topic.

I remember distinctly when my captain called me up one day in 2011 and said I needed to start a Twitter account for the PD. I had no idea what a Tweet was, let alone how to be the 140-character or less spokesperson for our agency. My sergeant-manager brain was pondering, “How am I supposed to translate a broad mission statement and a global department philosophy into rapid fire messages in the real time social media arena?” However, the more influential side of my brain that liked a paycheck was thinking, “How do I do this without getting in trouble?” I was all alone back then, but time and a lot of begging eventually led to our current social media team of 10 dedicated sworn and non-sworn staff members. Here are the best tips I can offer to folks starting out for their agency.

1. Be honest and sincere. Remember: Fear of the uncontrollable is your worst enemy and there’s no OPS plan or ICS structure that covers how to talk to the public. If you’re an executive, pick a lead person you trust and who’s a department cheerleader, then let them go. If you trust them with a gun and arrest powers, give them the freedom and support to find the best voice for the organization with your input. If you’re selected to be a “content manager,” know from the minute you go live you’re going to make mistakes.

2. The best way to learn is to fail. So when you fail, learn from it and then let it go. Typos, bad grammar, lack of region knowledge, not responding or breaking site-specific culture rules will generate haters, so try to control the things you really do have some power over. However, if you do upset the apple cart, apologize and move on.

3. You’re not alone out there so reach out and network so you have mentors.You’ll never learn more than when you hear what other agencies have found out the hard way. Shared policies, pitfalls, wins, losses, best practices, legal issues, best vendors, collaborating with private companies. Yes, there’s great strength and wisdom in numbers.

4. Never be afraid to respond to postings on your own sites–see rule 1 and respond. Yes, people will post angry, sarcastic and judgmental messages. Find some way to respond respectfully so they know the message was received and that you’re not afraid to respond. Have a cache of innocuous and neutral messages ready to use or search the Internet for an appropriate quote to send.

5. Relax and have some fun because the community really does like law enforcement. I have to admit that my social media adventures have been the most fun I have had in many years because the vast majority of the exchanges are positive. Hearing the community support and showing our staff how they feel is very rewarding and reminds me every day of why I chose this profession.