Webinar presenter Kate Kimble answered a number of your questions after her presentation, "Humanizing Your Agency through Social Media: Humor and Heart." Here are a few of her responses.
Audience Question: Some agencies have more of the radio morning show feel that doesn't necessarily push public safety, instead they post football scores, Game of Thrones memes, etc. I'm curious of Kate's opinion on the followers' post fatigue over posting and relevancy of messages. With agency reputation and building legitimacy in mind, how do you intentionally engage with the community that your agency serves and how much time do you dedicate to social media?
Kate Kimble: I think the radio talk show kind of approach is not a bad thing, because if you think about it, what are people coming to social media for? They're coming there to be entertained and be social and so we have to speak the language that people are speaking. We need to engage in a way that is authentic to the platform and to ourselves. So, I think it's up to every agency to kind of gauge what that right balance is. I think talking about sports, the weather, various communal kind of topics — that's a great way to be on the same page. Tell them, "Hey we're just like you, we're here in your community and we care about the same things". I think within those you can work in public safety messages in a way that is natural and it is important to do that. We try to put in things like our Thanksgiving post. We could've just posted a picture of the cop hugging the turkey. That would've been great and people would enjoy it because it's a cop hugging a turkey, who doesn't love that? But we go that extra step of, "Ok, how do we make this relevant?". How can we look at our goals — and for social media that includes being the preferred source for information about public safety in our community. What does preferred mean? It means we're accurate, we're timely and we're engaging. People in our community have different preferences when it comes to that and so as long as we're fitting in, being compassionate, professional, and timely in our communication. If we can do it while being entertaining, you reach a whole lot more people that way.
Audience Question: When you post stories and receive negative comments or even snarky comments, do you end up removing those comments? Or do you leave them in to be more authentic?
Kate Kimble: This is a big conversation in government social media and social media as a whole as far as First Amendment Rights. Is this a public platform? Can you remove people's comments? How does that work? We have a #dontbecomecaselaw hashtag. We really don't want to end up with a lawsuit regarding this kind of thing.
What we have in place is a policy that is clear about what is permissible on our page. We do not allow profanity. You can set up on Facebook and Instagram profanity filters so that it automatically hides comments that contain profanity. That takes care of a lot of them and as justice organizations, you know that there are some less than nice words about our profession that may be unique to our profession that wouldn't be considered profanity by an average search engine so you can customize those. If you put in things like 'pigs', that comes up a lot — that's something we put in as derogatory. We'll put that in our profanity filter. Then we also see that people can't make comments that are threatening or encourage violence. Those we go in and manually hide.
Beyond that, there are a couple things, some are off topic, like someone who is clearly trying to spam everything. We have an app that can remove those. But if it's just negative commentary about our organization, we just leave it. Part of that is, it's been gratifying to see our community jump in to defend us and say, "Hey, they actually work really hard", or "You just seem like having a really bad day". It kind of takes care of itself. If there's an opportunity for us to correct information or to professionally put them in their place, we'll take it. If they're saying I think it's on one of our posts about drug take-back day, where we had the prescription drugs, we took them and contacted the DEA for safe disposal. Somebody said, "Oh you probably just take those and use them yourselves or sell it on the black market". And we were able to jump in and say, "Thanks for your question, we appreciate your interest in this. In fact, we turn them over to the DEA and they dispose of them safely", and we just had a bunch of information in there. The original comment was really snarky and we responded professionally. Honestly, we probably didn't change that person's mind but everybody else who saw how we address the hater got to see that professionalism in play and also gave correct information. So, we leave it up there and respond when we can.
Audience Question: The policies that you talked about is that codified in like an official policy that you might be able to share or is it just kind of common dos and don'ts that you all have?
Kate Kimble: It is listed on our Facebook page in the About section. And also, 'Our City' on our city's website has kind of the fuller version that our city attorney has taken a look at. We just got the basics of here are the things you can't do on our Facebook page and then for some of the more nitty-gritty it's on fcgov.com
Audience Question: As a PIO, did you find it difficult to foster a level of comfort amongst the officers and other personnel so that they can feel like they can joke around and even share pictures like the one of the officer with the turkey?
Kate Kimble: Yes. When I first started, there were no feelings of great joy and excitement for someone asking for silly pictures and doing ridiculous videos and telling stories. In fact, there's a little bit of the opposite impression that they had before. I spent about the first six months of my job just getting to know people and that is critical as a PIO to have a level of trust with your organization whether you're Communications Manager PIO, whatever your job is, in relation to sharing the stories. You have to able to get the stories first and so I spent a lot of time doing ride-alongs, trying to understand their jobs. I can't tell their story if I don't know how their job works and how their stories fit in the context of what they do every day. So, it's a really important even if you work in an office, if you're going to be telling stories, try to make an effort to get out and understand what they do. Go ride with the midnight crew, ride with the day's crew just get a sense of the tone of their days. Connect with people authentically internally and you'll see they will start to send you stuff. You'll have that one person who's already a social media fan who'll be like, "Sure, I don't mind sharing my picture or story".
I'll connect with supervisors and try to get them to have that buy-in of here's what's really important that we talk about this stuff. If you have something that often happens on your shift or a great picture, please send it to me and they can kind of, they already got a little of the connection with the people that they work with. The best example I have is we had a new officer right around the time that I started. She just does an amazing job and at that time, she had encountered a group of kids after a call kicking around a deflated basketball, because they didn't have a soccer ball and it was just kind of a bummer. She's a big sports fan and she went out and bought a soccer ball for the kids and a basketball and came back and was kicking it around with them and spinning the ball and doing fun stuff. Her supervisor sent me the story and I really wanted to share it but I went to the officer and said, "Hey, Erin do you mind if I share this story?". At that time, she was really uncomfortable with it, she was like, "I don't know, can you not say it's me?". I said, "Well, I can call you officer E". Right now, I call them just by their first names, that's officer Erin. Until she got a little bit more comfortable with how's that going to look? Because if somebody hasn't been on social media before and they don't really understand how this is going to work, they may be a little less comfortable with it. So, I always go to the officer and ask, "Hey, do you mind if I share this? If I share your picture? This story?". If they say no, well I already built the connection so I can just guilt them to say yes, but I make an effort to ask and to respect their wishes. If somebody's really not comfortable with it, I'm not going to put it out there. If it's a fantastic story, there will be other stories, I would rather build that trust within my organization so that I can get those in the future.
On a side note, that officer Erin actually ended up, she's now on our media team and does all sorts of cool stuff on social media. So, she's gotten past that initial hesitation of should I put myself out there and has definitely bought into the extent that she's now willing to do on-camera interviews and all sorts of fun stuff.
Audience Question: Did you end up having to get some sort of release signed since you had a photo with the kids? Does staff have to sign a release in order to be shown on social media as well as the public? How do you handle that?
Kate Kimble: No. Not a release. Typically, if we have a photo of kids. All we have is a process, "Hey did you ask the parents if it's ok if I will share this?". We don't do anything written, especially when it's in a public place. If it's out at a park or something like that and they're doing that. We'll just ask the parents. If I do things in schools, I always ask the teachers if any of the kids have photo restrictions and I'll have things on file. But as far as the police go, we haven't signed anything. It's more of just a common courtesy to kind of ask them.
Audience Question: You touched on this a little bit earlier but when you miss the mark on a post, do you end up deleting the post or do you apologize and leave it up?
Kate Kimble: It depends on what the post is and fortunately, we haven't had this yet where we had a post that was so off-base in terms of humor and people are like, "That's really inappropriate". If there's an image or there's something that just really reflects on another person poorly, I would screenshot or archive it in some way and take it down. Now, knowing that, if it's really causing controversy or conflict, someone else's screenshot it so you can expect to see it floating around forever. But if it's really offensive or reflects poorly on someone we'll take it down, archive it in some way.
If it was on Facebook or something like that, maybe if it's just a small wording that really didn't work — you can edit it. That change will be tracked within the post but it won't be showing. So that's an option there but I would definitely consult with like a city or country attorney if you're looking at removing content permanently.
Audience Question: As a justice agency, how do you measure success in social media outreach? Is it just in the number of followers or do you use something more sophisticated?
Kate Kimble: This is so hard now because Facebook is kind of my greatest frenemy. I say that because when I first started we had 2,000 or 3,000 followers, about two and a half years ago, we would get amazing reach on posts. We would get a funny post or a heartwarming post would get thousands of likes and that was just normal. Now, we're lucky to get a couple hundred even though we have 18,000 followers. The algorithm on Facebook has made it very difficult to gauge the success of content in a way that is pure and not driven just by the algorithm. If only 300 people see it but 300 people like it, that's really successful. You can look a little bit at the stats. Look more at your big picture of social media. Kind of look at the snapshot of how does our reach and engagement look for the last 3 months.
Engagement I think is the better indicator of success than followers. If you look at how many people have a post reached because that number will show up when you're managing a page and then look at how many people commented and reacted and shared it. That's going to give you a better idea of how impactful it was on the people who actually saw it. Even with an ad, there's some caveats with Facebook because of some of their daily changes. And then as far as Twitter goes it's a lot faster moving as a platform. You can look into the analytics there and get a sense of how impactful things are. But I would look at it within the scope of maybe your last three months. If you have another city organization or county organization or even another first responder or justice agency that you can connect with and geek out about your metrics a little bit and say, "Hey, how's this landscape looking for you?". I do that with a couple of my really great colleagues in law enforcement and we'll talk about how's your reach and engagement look. It doesn't necessarily have to do with the number of followers we have but how we're connecting with people. It's not quantifiable but when I hear from officers that say, "I was arresting somebody and they mentioned as I'm like putting them into my car in handcuffs that they saw our post and thought it was funny". I'll take that as a measure of success because, at the end of the day, I want people to call us when they need us, trust us that we're here to help them, and I want them to have positive interactions with our officers on the streets, our records people, when they call our dispatchers. If I can impact the way that people interact face to face on the street, that is huge. Those are kind of less quantifiable but still indicators of success.
Audience Question: Do you feel like those deposits in your trust account did help when you had the controversial use of force incident?
Kate Kimble: Absolutely. I have no questions that they helped because we had online an enormous spike. The troll convention came to town and lived on our page for about a week. It was really unpleasant. They bombed every Facebook post we'd had in the previous month with their comments and things and that took a little while to die down. But in our community, the actual officers who are working on the street were telling me. There was a day or two that people were not super happy and there were questions and frustrations but after that people got back to business as usual because they know their cops here. And that's the biggest thing is that they know their police officers, they know that what they see on the internet is probably just a small snippet of what actually happened. On the street, things settled down much more quickly than they did online and I take that as an indicator of that trust bank success because you're going to have people following you online that aren't from your community. That's good in some ways and not great in other ways but on the ground, if you're seeing that resilience through controversy, that I think is an indicator that you've got a good relationship. We can't take full credit for it online because our cops, our record folks, and our dispatchers do an amazing job in their personal interactions. That plays into it quite a bit but I think that our online presence also really helped in these times of controversy.
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