While conducting our research on policing and social media at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, we interviewed numerous experts from the fields of criminal justice, social media, advertising and communications. As a result, we have identified the following four guidelines police departments should follow when engaging in social media activities:
Localize - Social media allows users to handpick information that is relevant to them, therefore they expect messaging to be tailor made to their interests and location. Luckily, police departments have a lot of relevant information for their communities, and social media is the perfect venue to share it.
Humanize – Studies have shown that on average, residents with informal police contacts had more positive perceptions than residents with formal contacts. Using a personal, natural tone in social media, as well as exposing a personable side to the police profession will help departments connect better with their communities.
Interact - Social media culture is driven by two-way conversations. Engaging in discussion and with users in the community even on a limited basis can go a long way towards establishing legitimacy among residents, and making sure that the Department’s message is well-received rather than discarded as marketing.
Amplify – The power of social media is in the ability of one message to reach a wide variety of people. Departments should identify online influencers in the community and develop relationships with them to increase the chance of the Department message being amplified among a larger and more diverse audience.