Connecting with the Community & Media via Social Media

Guest post for www.ConnectedCops.net

So your agency has decided to participate in social media. You’ve sent out a couple Tweets and Facebook updates but there’s been no response. Is anyone listening?

Many law enforcement agencies use social media as a one-way, notification tool, but Screen shot 2013-02-04 at 3.40.55 PMthere are other agencies that are successfully using social media as a communication tool. The three keys to law enforcement communication through social media are:

  • content
  • consistency
  • sharing

Content 
Content is the most important factor in your social media efforts.
Content can include traffic alerts, breaking news, event postings, department news, press releases, crisis communication, photos and videos from in the field and responses to questions or comments from the community and the media.

Once you decide what you’ll be saying you need to consider how you’ll say it. As a former reporter, I can tell you that I wanted and needed frequent communication with my sources. Social media has become a place where reporters can get information and ask follow-up questions. Think about it: instead of fielding a dozen phone calls from local reporters, post a link to a media release and answer a couple questions. This saves you and the reporter time and energy. And, it’ll build your credibility with the media and show reporters that you care about getting out timely information and fielding their questions.

Also, don’t be afraid to become more personal with reporters via social media. If they ask a question or post something interesting, don’t hesitate in responding. This gives your agency a human face and makes you much more approachable for questions or media requests.

And while you’re answering questions, make sure to post a few of your own. Setting up polls or posting questions or quizzes will drive discussion and will encourage feedback. Agencies should also be prepared for unwelcome communication. Lynn Hightower, communications director for the Boise (Idaho) Police Department, says being prepared for any type of question or comment is key in your social media planning. “Even if you don’t ask for interaction, citizens will have questions and comments on community issues and they will try to reach out to your agency for answers and feedback,” she said. “To ignore those inquiries would not send a positive message. Agencies using social media should plan ahead for the types of interaction likely to come their way and be prepared.”

Dionne Waugh, Marketing and Public Relations Specialist for the Richmond (Virginia) Police Department, said her agency has gotten a lot of positive reaction to their Daily Good News Item and the Officer, Sergeant and Civilian of the Month videos and notes. “I think this is because they give people insight into the department and the great work of employees they normally wouldn’t hear about,” she said. “On the flip side, we’ve seen a lot of debate when we post mugshots from our prostitution stings. Depending on the operation and manpower, we post both the prostitutes’ and the johns’ photos. I don’t consider this a negative reaction. I think it’s a good thing when we can generate debate between people about the best way to reduce crime.”

Consistency
Almost as important as content is the frequency which you post to social media. As Waugh said above, Richmond PD gets a lot of great response to their regular features and Boise Police Department has gotten great response from its daily Twitter traffic tip. People come to rely on these daily, weekly or monthly nuggets of information. And, as you can see, they don’t need to be huge, breaking news stories. They can be something as simple as a profile of an officer or a construction update. Each of these regular postings leads to increased agency visibility and better recognition as a trusted source of information.

Also, think about the timing of your messages. If you have a message you really want the community to read, make sure to send them at peak social media traffic times – 7 a.m., noon, 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. These are the times people are waking up, eating lunch, winding down at work and settling in for the night, and they are much more likely to see your message at the top of their news feeds, instead of wading through hundreds of messages before seeing your hour-old alert.

If you have a really big story you want covered by the media, try thinking of when a reporter is most likely to need a story to cover – at the end of the week. On Thursdays and Fridays reporters are trying to find stories to fill the weekend editions.

Sharing
Retweeting on Twitter or reposting information from reliable sources will help your cause two-fold – you’ll be seen as a consistent, reliable source of interesting information and the community will start coming to you for updates. You will also be seen by those who originally sent out the information and your information is more likely to be retweeted and reposted by those people. It’s another important tool in the social media toolbox for communication and information sharing.

Eat Local Challenge: Week 1

My Week 1 column was posted at Eat Local Challenge. Here’s the first few paragraphs. Check out the full story and photos here.

When I started my Eat Local Challenge, I knew it would be challenging. Boy, did I underestimate how much.

This past week has been interesting and difficult, but very fulfilling. With only one exception (chips and queso at a neighborhood restaurant), I’ve eaten only local, organic or all natural foods for the entire week!

My breakfasts have consisted of eggs, toast with locally made preserves or organic granola. Lunches have been mainly salads and dinners have been a lot of chicken, steak and baked potatoes. For this week, I haven’t strayed very far from my comfort zone. Read more…

Locavore challenge news!

This Friday I start my “locavore for a month” challenge and I couldn’t be more excited! My first piece for Eat Local Challenge was posted today and I’ve already gotten some great feedback. Take a look at it and share your experiences in the comment section! I’ve put an excerpt below. Click the link to read the full story and to keep up with my challenge!!

The journey to try an Eat Local Challenge for a month came about five months ago when I was developing my “30 by 30” list – a list of 30 things to do by the time I turn 30-years-old. I knew I had goals – some silly and some meaningful – and I wanted to write them down and accomplish them.

One of my goals was to become a locavore. I didn’t know for how long or when, but I’d do it. … Read more!

Next stop: Locavore!

The next stop on my 30 by 30 journey will be to become a “locavore” for the month of April.

Locavore: Those who are interested in eating food that is locally produced and not moved long distances to market. The locavore movement spawned as interest in sustainability and eco-consciousness become more prevalent. -Wikipedia

As this gets closer, I find myself getting really excited but also very nervous. I’ve done a lot of research these last few weeks about local farmer’s markets, dairy farms, the difference in free range chicken, community support agriculture, etc. It’s exhausting!

My mom helping me pick local produce at the Gilbert Farmer's Market.

I want to be a locavore for a month because sustainability and buying local are extremely important to me. As soon as I heard about this movement I knew I wanted to do it, but also knew that it would be challenging – I just didn’t know, and still don’t know, how challenging.

I started out thinking, “Sure, I can do this. I’ll eat salad and chicken and beef from local farms. No problem. It’ll get boring – but I can do it.”

Then I started thinking of the specifics:
-What am I going to eat for breakfast? Eggs everyday?
-What am I going to eat on my salad? Do they have locally produced salad dressing?
-What about drinks? Water 24/7?
-Side dishes? All produce all the time?

I found some guidelines from Locavores.com that were very helpful.
– If not Locally produced, then Organic.
– If not organic, then Family farm.
– If not family farm, then Local business.

I have also been toying with the idea of participating in the community supported agriculture group through Desert Roots Farm – For the spring season, I would pay a set amount (about $18/week) to get a half share of produce harvested that week. The advantages of this is that I’m guaranteed to get a hefty amount of locally grown produce each week but the disadvantage is that I can’t pick and choose which produce I get – so I might get something I don’t know how to prepare. Which may end up being a learning opportunity and another advantage! It also makes me feel more connected to the community and involved with this whole process. So I think it’s a go.

All-in-all I’m really excited to start this part of my journey. When I was telling a good friend that I was nervous about this, she said, “I think it’s good that your nervous. Isn’t that the whole point of this list – to step outside of your comfort zone?” Very true! So, while I think it’ll be a learning process and will be challenging at times, I’m extremely excited and confident I’ll complete this!

Oh! And I found out some great news – In my research, I found that I’ll have no problem finding dessert and beverages. Arizona produces some excellent wines and beer and a nearby dairy farm has a store about a mile from my house that sells the most delicious ice cream! SCORE!

What do you guys think? Could you ever be a locavore? For a day? Week? Month? Forever?

Stay tuned for more updates!!

Here are some articles written about locavores:
Time magazine
Time (again)
NY Times

What’s wrong with auto-posts?

ReadWriteWeb posted a really good question on it’s Facebook page today:

What’s wrong with auto-posts?

We’ve all seen them: An automatic Twitter post or Direct Message and is generic and impersonal.

Here are my thoughts on auto-posts:
Anytime you can, you should be engaging in real, authentic, “social” media conversations. Auto-posts for blog entries, or Facebook pages isn’t bad. It gets sticky when you get into auto-replies that are masked as authentic conversations. My rule of tumb: Be real and authentic as much as possible.

What do you guys think? Do you use auto-posts on Twitter? Should people steer clear? Join the conversation.

This month’s e-newsletter discussion: Who’s your favorite SM “expert?”

Convince & Convert is one of the social media sites that I visit daily. Social Media Consultant Jay Baer, founder of Convince & Convert, is a well-known expert in the social media field, so I felt it necessary to make him the first Social Media Minute profile.

On the website, his bio starts out, “I’m a tequila-loving, hype-free social media strategy consultant, speaker, and authro that helps leading companies and PR firms harness the awesome power of the social Web.” Sounds like a great gig to me!

On Convince & Convert, Baer share great tips of his own about using social media to build your business, and he also links to and interviews other experts in the field.

Especially interesting is his Twitter 20 interviews. He asked influential people in social media 20 questions over Twitter and posted it on his site. The topics range from branding to public relations and blogging.

Baer is also extremely engaging on his Twitter and Facebook sites.

He recently launched his 3-2-1 e-newsletter. Everything he shares is extremely informational and entertaining, so I’m sure the e-newsletter will follow suit.

What blogs to do you read? Who’s your favorite social media “expert?”