Using Social Media to Reach Your Community and Beyond

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 Tuesday, March 15, 2016.

By: Ann Stephens, Captain, Criminal Investigations Commander, Public Information Officer, and Social Media Coordinator, Apex, North Carolina, Police Department

In the past 10 years, the use of social media and the number of social media platforms has skyrocketed and everyone from the greatest generation to millennials is using some form of social media. Right now this is one of greatest resources to not only share information with our community but it’s also a great way for agencies to gain insight into their community and grab ideas from other departments.

How far can a single social media post reach and what impact can that one post have on another community? Well, we recently learned that very thing!

We received a Facebook message from someone with a picture of an Internet Purchase Exchange Location sign and said they thought it would be a good idea. I researched the program and found that it was simple. Provide a location for people to exchange items they purchased off sites such as Craigslist or Facebook so they didn’t have to provide their home address to a stranger. We thought: we can do that! We purchased two signs, used two pre-existing parking spots in our parking lot and then sent it out via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We were shocked at what happened next… we went viral!!! A small town in North Carolina with 4,700 Facebook followers, with one single Facebook post, reached more than 3.7 million people in two weeks and gained over 2,000 likes to our page.

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Our post generated talk between residents of other communities and their police departments about starting similar programs in their communities. I have spoken with agencies from as close as next door to Daily City, California; to Palmer, Alaska about the program and how to start one. We were also tagged in a Facebook post from the McCraken County Sheriff’s Department in Kentucky giving us credit for the idea when promoting their new program.

The great thing about social media is it doesn’t have to be a big program or serious event to get your department national coverage. Our agency was recently in USA Today because of a tweet about our local peacock. Yes, a tweet about a peacock put our agency in a national newspaper!

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We tweeted and posted a picture of our local peacock crossing the street and that was all it took. Over 78,000 people reached, our population is only 48,000.

When using social media have fun! We are human just like everyone else and the public likes to see that. We have embraced emojis and responding to tweets. For example, we enjoyed the Super Bowl as much as the next and mixed safety messages into our tweets.

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And sometimes we just have fun!
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One student compared his lunch to jail food with #schoollunchmatters… Well we couldn’t let that slip by.

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Find your local celebrities (news anchors, weathermen, sports figures, and teams), school systems, local businesses, and follow them. The more people you follow and interact with the more exposure your agency gets.

We post information about safety, crime tips, and press releases but posts like the Internet program and the peacock brings more people to our page than anything else. More people to the page means more people see those safety tips. Embrace the fun of social media!

The power of social media can have on your department is amazing. Use it to your benefit. We regularly look at what other agencies are doing in community outreach, crime prevention, and just for fun posts. Social media is a great way to reach your community and beyond.

 

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