Updated: Oct 5, 2020
Social Media is like trying to drink water from a fire hose, and now you have to add this stuff to your plate? Luckily, there are a few very simple steps you can take.
No one knows what the coming weeks leading up to the elections hold, but there’s one thing we can all agree on – we’re heading for choppy waters.
By now you’re probably well-aware of the power of social media to highlight encounters with police, rally communities to action and heighten existing tensions. Around the elections we can be sure that the mass online activity and polarization will likely result in some form of protests, marches, demands for action and likely even violence throughout the country.
I recognize that as a police leader, social media may not be high on your to-do list right now. However, the thought of political pressure resulting from online negativity, danger to your officers or a viral incident may be keeping you up at night. So where do you start? Luckily, there are 10 simple steps you can take:
1. Log in: Don’t have social media? Open a Facebook page and Twitter profile, it’s easy and takes 5 minutes. Don’t worry right now about filling them with content, but have them ready to use in case of an incident where all eyes are on you. You may have accounts that are dormant – now is the time to track down those passwords and dust off the log-in. When push comes to shove, you want access at your fingertips - and not to have to track down the retired community officer who opened it 10 years ago.
2. Secure: Change passwords to something secure (lower case, capital, symbols) preferably using a random password generator (just google "random password generator".) Consider also turning on 2-factor authentication for the accounts, which makes them harder to hack. Just go to the app and follow the simple instructions under security or privacy settings.
3. Deputize: Find your guy. You know who I mean, the guy (or girl) on your force who is good with this stuff. He or she is responsible, has a quick tongue and – this is very important – is a good writer. Deputize them to be prepared to help with social media in case of unrest and guide you through it. They may want to already start thinking of posts and ways to create engaging content.
4. Line up information: Identify sources of information and pick up the phone now to get in touch and prepare. If it’s the city council, community leaders, state or federal agencies – anyone who you think you may need information from in case of civil unrest. You want to make those connections now so that when you call during an incident, they answer.
5. Chain of command: Who do you need to go through to put out a message? Who needs to go through you? Is anyone in your agency currently posting on social media that you don’t want posting during an incident? Answer these questions sooner rather than later to make sure you are speaking in a unified voice when the time comes.
6. Prepare the troops: Social media can pose a unique danger to cops, and anything they post can be used against them (and you) even on a private account. Make sure they know that you expect them to conduct themselves online as professionally as they conduct themselves in uniform, period. Yes ,it’s their First Amendment right and they’re allowed to post what they want. They also don’t want to be the subject of a community petition calling for their firing, or on the front page of the paper for a stupid comment they made. Like it or not, in the public eye they represent your agency, and frankly the profession as a whole.
7. Create templates: put together basic language and images for anticipated events that you can use in a pinch. You can save it in your drafts to use when needed with relevant information. Some good examples below:
8. Curate your feed: Social media isn’t just about talking to people, it’s about listening as well. Follow relevant people and pages like local press, politicians, community partners, etc. and read what they have to say. I recently spoke to an agency that turned a negative situation into a positive one, partly because they were alerted to it early on by following a local social media page. A well-curated feed will help you keep your ear to the ground and understand what your community is concerned about.
9. Observe: Here’s a secret – you don’t need to like social media to be good at it, you just need to learn it, and you can do so by reading through your feed. At the NYPD, many of our top chiefs would personally log in and read through their social media accounts, even if they weren’t the ones posting. Get it on your phone and scroll through to learn the rhythm of it. Think of it as spending a few minutes each day among native speakers of a language that you're learning.
10. Train train and train! You wouldn’t use a firearm without learning how to shoot, right? Or get into a car with a driver who doesn’t have a license? You may know enough to get by, but at the end of the day you want to regain control of your story, not just get by. If you want to be effective you need to train, and also provide professional training for your staff. Consider reaching out to a professional to set you up for success.