With funding and staffing on the line during a downturn in the economy, connecting with the public is as crucial as ever.
What makes social networking more appealing than traditional methods of communicating to your community? You can use social media to establish a two-way conversation between your department and the public with instant feedback. Using Twitter and Facebook, you can reach anyone with a smart phone or computer.
Departments can raise awareness through public safety ads posted to a YouTube channel. Through a blog, your chief can directly address the community about local incident trends, emergency planning, and more.
Sergeant Tim Burrows, of the Toronto Police Services, identifies five resources that all public safety agencies need to consider before and during implementation of a social networking plan.
Time: Decide how much time you want to spend on social media outlets before committing to them. Once you start putting information out there on a regular basis, your public might develop expectations. Plan on meeting those expectations.
Money: Social media can cost you nothing, or it can cost you thousands. You can decide to forge ahead on your own, or you can hire a PR consultant to develop a social media plan and train your information officers. Don't dismiss social media just because it can be free — in fact, you should be embracing it because of its flexible nature.
Equipment: Social media uses simple, inexpensive tools that your department often already has available. Computers, smart phones, and cameras can all cost you under $500.
Knowledge: Your department needs to develop policies that help, not hinder, social media interaction. Officers engaging with the public need to listen, communicate, and network so that they know what their public is after.
Two-way communication: One of the pitfalls of social media is that some departments use it as a mechanism to self-promote. Recognize that communication has to be genuine and two-way. Ask yourself, "What are we putting out there? How will we respond to backlash or questions?"
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