It's little wonder that so many law enforcement commanders want their employees to avoid using social media. After all, social use, publicly sharing fact and opinion, effectively makes you a member of the media. And because social statements never go away, that means you are accountable for your—and your employees'—statements both right and wrong.
And yet, citizens increasingly expect to be able to hear directly from your agency, not just in times of crisis but also when they have basic questions or comments for you. The companies they buy from already do this, so why shouldn't their governments?
Remember, public trust in government is on shaky ground. Police represent government power. So the willingness of the powerful to humble themselves reinforces the “of the people, by the people and for the people” idea of a republic.
And yes, “humbling yourself” can go too far. That's been covered. Less frequently mentioned are the ways a law enforcement agency can adapt its new media role and make it something that works in its favor.
How content serves your social (and your broader) goals
If public relations exists to establish a dialogue about an organization's image in its stakeholders' eyes, then marketing exists to change those stakeholders' behavior. Content marketing serves both goals, for better or worse.
A business uses content marketing to show customers how its product or service meets the customers' unique needs, with the end goal of turning those customers into buyers (or more loyal buyers). Whether they are marketing to consumers or to other businesses, a blend of words, images, video, email, special offers, and so on is designed to respond to customers' tastes, “pain points,” budgets, and seasonal needs.
A police department may not be looking for buyers. However, just as a business should not assume that customers know its product or service is their perfect solution, a police department should not assume that citizens understand how police will serve them—or how they in turn can help police.
A Content Marketing Institute post from earlier in December, “How to Climb the Engagement Pyramid with Public Sector Content” (find the link in the “Recommended Reading” section below), describes a three-tiered approach toward better constituent involvement in their community:
Information. “Most government bodies have an obligation to provide information about their operations or, at the very least, provide instructions to the public about their obligations,” wrote Rahel Bailie. “To be useful, content needs to be presented in ways that cut through bureaucracy. To move constituents up the engagement pyramid, content needs to go further; it needs to create contexts.”
In a police context: You're the lieutenant in charge of the traffic division, and you have a problem on Main Street. Its collision-with-injury rate has been steadily climbing over the last five years, and because your officers are responding there more frequently, it's hurting their ability to respond to calls in other parts of the city. Drivers are complaining on Facebook and Twitter, to the extent that the local paper ran a story about it. In it, reporters interviewed business owners who complained that the traffic tie-ups hurt their sales.
You've decided to use your agency's blog to inform the public about the problem. You and the patrol captain have recorded a video explaining your agency's side, and you plan to blog weekly about calls for service to Main St. collisions compared to calls in other parts of the city. You also plan to write about those collisions' causes.
Transactions. “The goal here is to explain the context and instructions of the transaction [such as submitting an application or making a payment] clearly enough that every person who needs to complete the transaction can do so with success,” wrote Bailie. “The larger the numbers of constituents unable to complete their transactions online fewer of them will associate with the website — and the agency behind it — with frustration.”