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Entries » Blog » Top 10 Tips for Public Safety Social Media Author: Julian Foster

Top 10 Tips for Public Safety Social Media Author: Julian Foster

Created May 19 2017, 8:33 AM by Paul Jeffs

The evolving world of social is always presenting new challenges (such as ever-changing algorithms), but opening windows on new opportunities for Public Safety too.

Last month, I was fortunate to attend the Social Media Internet Law Enforcement conference (SMILE) – hosted by Chief Luna from Long Beach Police Department. The event saw law enforcement professionals from around the world share their experiences of social media in community policing, intelligence, and emergency management.

Here’s my top 10 tips for effective use of social media in Public Safety:

1. Engage. Engage. Engage.
Think of social media as a conversation with your community. Remember, it’s not just about outbound (no one likes the person at a dinner party who only talks about themselves). Read every comment, it’s important to people – even a “like” is acknowledgement. Being on social and being active on social are quite different things.

2. Build up credit with the “Community Bank”
Building trust is absolutely vital, but takes time, and it’s something you have to earn. It’s important to back up your words on social media with actions in the community. You have to interact physically, emotionally, and socially.

3. Controlled transparency
A lack of transparency breeds mistrust. So open your doors and share behind the scenes tours of the great work that Public Safety professionals do every day. Of course you can’t share everything, citizens understand that – but that’s what makes the moments you do share special.

4. Create a connection
You need to build relationships to rise above the noise of social media.Tell a story that people can relate to, in conversational language people can easily understand. Don’t be afraid of using humour. We’re all human after all.

5. Authenticity trumps production any day
Authentic content will always resonate more strongly with your community than highly polished “Steven Spielberg” masterpieces. Keep it real – you simply don’t need expensive cameras and advanced editing skills to communicate effectively on video.

6. Establish a social media policy for your agency
There’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to social media policy, but key considerations should be; citizen conduct, employee conduct, employee access, acceptable use, content, terms for engagement (when would you delete, hide, leave alone, or engage with a post?), security, data storage, account management, monitoring, listening, measurement, legal issues, crisis escalation, trusted media influencers. It’s also useful to define what success looks like (don’t get hung up on follower numbers, shift your focus towards engagement). But don’t force people to use social. Use willing volunteers.

7. Make friends with social media algorithms
There’s no point in trying to fight against the algorithms that control content display on social media platforms. Adapting is the only option. The subject of social media algorithms is vast, but my top tips would be; always share relevant, high quality content, actively engage with followers, tag relevant accounts in your posts, pay attention to analytics to learn what types of posts are working, seriously consider how you’re hosting video content.

8. Release your inner data scientist with a multi-purpose intelligence hub
Social media has changed our perception and understanding of what intelligence is and who’s responsible for it. Intelligence is useful information that can help inform a decision. But it’s also non-useful information that can help form an opinion. With social media being so immediate it’s essential that you stay in front of the “story”.

Listening and monitoring is absolutely key. Set up passive monitoring (e.g. general keywords such as “riot), and active monitoring (e.g. specific keywords such names of gangs). Set alerts when thresholds are met. Clearly define social media roles for times of crisis. It’s also important to set up listening streams to identify the topics concerning your community.

9. Silence isn’t always golden
Don’t go dark in times of emergency. You must keep the conversation going with your community – even if you explain that the information you’re sharing is preliminary. Get in front of the message, and don’t let negativity build.

10. You can’t win them all
There’ll always be some people where you can’t change their mind in 140 characters – no matter how hard you try. Don’t take it personally! For every negative interaction on social, there’s a 1,000 positive ones around the corner. And not every post will be applicable to everyone. The harder you “try” and create something that will go viral – the more unlikely it will happen. Learn from your experiences, and always be prepared to publicly admit when you make a mistake – people will thank you for it. There’s no room for egos on social media.

I’d like to leave you with one “bonus” tip, check out this road safety video from Indiana State Trooper John Perrine. It’s living proof that humour and authenticity will always come out top:


Julian Foster is Global Co-Lead for our Social Media Centre of Excellence.

Connect with Julian on LinkedIn


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Useful Resources for Social Media in Public Safety

One Million Tweet Map (real-time crisis mapping)

College of Policing “Use of social media to monitor large scale events”

International Association of Chiefs of Police “2016 Law Enforcement Use of Social Media Survey Report”

Association of Chief Police Officers “Guidelines on the safe use of the internet and social media by police officers and police staff”

College of Policing “Engagement and Communication”

IACP Center for Social Media

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