Having a policy is not the same as having a plan: a strategy that details how you will accomplish your goals. Especially in agencies with few resources, it is important to determine how social media will fit into other operations. This means that while the plan can overarch the entire department together with the policy, it will be even more effective if it permeates each of the department's units.
Investigators, for example, should feel free to follow up on leads wherever they are; policy should cover errant “Facebooking” on duty, so that commanders can focus on plotting the mix of proactive and reactive online investigation, intelligence gathering from both social and traditional media, and analyzing the results.
Meanwhile, social media's role in public information efforts takes similar planning. This is true whether the agency is large enough to have a team of PIOs, or small enough that the officer responsible for public information also wears other hats.
Either way, command staff should consider allowing individual units to tell their own stories, highlighting the best of what traffic enforcement, investigation, community policing, the chief's office, patrol, etc. are doing. These stories may not just include information that affects the community directly, but also information about how the units keep their skills fresh: innovative training, for example, or new additions to the team.
Depending on the agency's culture, these units can be trusted to share what is appropriate on their own, without violating citizen privacy or trust. Alternatively (and perhaps preferably), a PIO can coordinate with unit commanders to tell stories that fit the agency's overall message.
Finally, planning should take into account crisis communication. Just as the Incident Command System re-tasks officers during a major emergency, a crisis of any sort – whether ICS-related or in the media – should re-task communication. A crisis communication plan works even more tightly with policy, because it ensures that only authorized representatives talk (or tweet, or blog) on the agency's behalf for the crisis' duration. Further resources are linked at the end of this article.
The 4th & Final P: Play
Yup, you read that right. After you've instituted the foundation of a policy and the framework of a strategic plan, it's time to relax. Focus less on the word “media” and more on the word “social”; remember that the way people communicate and interact frequently goes beyond what's expected (for better or for worse).
Trust that your policy and your planning, having taken into account the people in your agency and community, will help everyone understand how to handle the “for worse” side of that equation. (Be sure to train for those situations, too.) Once you have those in place, experiment with different types of content and conversation. See what draws the most traffic to your website, generates the most discussion on Twitter and Facebook, what everyone seems to appreciate most. Be sure to track these numbers, so that you have data rather than subjective ideas.
Another important element of play: flexibility. Neither your community nor your agency will be the same a year from now. Social media use changes rapidly, and the truly social police department will be able to adapt on the fly. But rigorous SOP-like policy and planning won't help.
Appropriate social media use in law enforcement is complex. However, numerous resources are available to help commanders work out policies and plans that afford them the flexibility they need to communicate and investigate most effectively in their communities, towards the partnerships that all good community policing seeks to establish.
- Cops 2.0
- IACP Center for Social Media
- 3 Model Policies for Social Networking Support
- Ten Basic Steps to an Easy & Effective Crisis Plan
- Social Media Crisis Management
About The Author:
Christa M. Miller consults on public relations and marketing for the digital forensics and law enforcement communities. She is founder of Cops 2.0, the longest-running blog covering social media and high tech use in law enforcement. She resides in Greenville, SC and can be emailed at Christa@ChristaMMiller.com.