Do You Speak Digital?

This blog series highlights some of the top Social Media Beat posts from the last couple years. For more information about IACP’s Center for Social Media visit the project webpage. This post was originally published on Monday, January 11, 2016. 

Guest Blogger: Chris Hsiung, Captain, Mountain View, California, Police Department

There’s a new language sweeping the land. The younger generations speak it fluently. The masses are quickly adopting it. It sounds a lot like English but there are subtle nuances to it that are linked to pop culture and current events. Does your department speak it?

Many of us serve diverse communities that speak a number of languages. In the last few years, a new “community” has emerged across the globe. That community is digital and although English may go a long way in reaching that audience, the dialect is “digital” and it’s important that your department knows how to speak it.

Social media tweets and posts will never replace face-to-face communication. Visual cues like body language, eye contact, and even voice inflection help provide contextual cues for our day-to-day “in person” communications. When you take those cues away, it can be easy to misunderstand texts, tweets, and posts. In addition, our industry is famous for speaking in a “just the facts” voice and tone online. Is it any surprise that many like to paint our industry with a broad brush and stereotype us as robotic and insensitive?

Enter hashtags and emoticons. Both can help provide context to a tweet or reply. Like many things on social media, effectively using hashtags and emoticons are more “art” than “science.” For Twitter, one or two hashtags are acceptable while Instagram culture is more tolerant with 5+ hashtags. For more on using hashtags, SproutSocial has a great article that breaks down everything you need to know along with great tips on how to use them.

Do You Speak Digital 1

Hashtags can provide context when trying to respond in a humorous fashion

With emoticons, less is definitely more. Use them very sparingly, if at all. As a public safety agency, your voice and tone should be professional and relatable. For more on emoticons, check out this article from wikiHow on the do’s and don’ts you should follow.

Do You Speak Digital 2

Using a holiday themed pun along with emoticons can provide color to an otherwise boring tweet

As our world becomes more interconnected through social media, it becomes increasingly necessary for our police departments to know how to speak “digital” fluently. Read your tweets, posts, and content from the perspective of a follower. Get away from “cop speak” and strive to have your department “voice” be relatable. Followers want to have two-way conversations with you. Knowing the digital nuances of how you sound goes a long way in having those positive interactions.


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