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  • Tim Burrows

Dear Chief...Fire Your Social Media Manager

The time has come the expert said, To talk of many things: Of friends and shares and Facebook Likes, Of vanity and pings Why humanizing is so hot, And to never care of these things again.

Thanks to Lewis Carroll for the inspiration of that opening.

Perhaps firing your social media manager is a little extreme but you need to take a long hard look at what is happening with your social media. More specifically, and of a greater importance, what is not happening with your social media presence.

Your social media manager is stuck in the mentality of 2013. In Internet years, it’s comparable to the 19th Century Industrial Revolution.

Having a 2013 mentality was amazing in 2013 but that time has passed. That mentality is a liability.

New technologies, better methods of doing things and the realities of your current financial times and the national reputation of policing have made it necessary to do things differently.

In 2013 there was a great deal of importance in letting your community know you had a social media presence. That meant you ha to do things that introduced you to your community.

Your social media manager probably found creative ways to do that then. Sadly, they are still doing that.

A lot of attention was paid to growing your presence and ensuring that your community could receive social media updates. Unfortunately, those updates held little value to your community and even less to your agency.

The early adopters and teachers of law enforcements’ use of social media preached that you needed to be entertaining, informative, educational and topical to keep your community coming back for more.

For some this meant. “humanizing” your presence and your organization in the social space. As a way to stand out from the crowd, it worked. Every one in the industry will remember Dover Delaware’s ‘Shake It Off’ cop.

It was unique, fun and original.

It spawned a bunch of copy cat attempts, some worked, most didn’t.

When you were trying to get your community to find you on social media it was a good move as long as you were in the handful of firsts.

In 2016 the Running Man Challenge swept through law enforcement social media platforms. Everyone was jumping on the bandwagon doing their own version of the Running Man (most very badly). Hundreds of hours of dancing police officers, support personnel, dogs, horses and more gleefully danced around.

What was forgotten with that challenge was it’s humble beginnings. A police department in New Zealand doing it as a recruiting effort and a challenge to other recruitment units.

What it became was a bunch of police dancing in full blown multi-unit productions with no purpose.

Literally no purpose other than to challenge other agencies and of course, to show that police could have

fun too. Just like the college kids that made it popular.

The Mannequin Challenge was next.

I was teaching a class of social media managers when this one hit and we explored it at length with everyone agreeing that even things without purpose could have purpose when done strategically.

The challenge this class was given was simple. If they were going to do the Mannequin Challenge, tell a story and teach your community using this pop-culture movement.

The result; some great videos that did just that. Finally some semblance of change was occurring.

And then it came. The next big challenge video for law enforcement.

The Lip Sync Challenge.

In a nut shell police agencies went crazy trying to out-do each other lip syncing. Over the top productions that would rival the stage production of Hamilton exploded on the social media landscape.

Videos on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and more were coming out daily. Good, bad, ugly and unspeakable all occurring.

First point of order. If you are going to make a lip sync video, make sure your participants know the words to the song selection.

Second point of order. When you use a song, look at the lyrics and make sure they appropriate. For some reason agencies got to thinking that words don’t matter if they are in a song. Swearing, racial slurs, sexual overtones…. Apparently all ok as long as they are in a fun challenge video.

Quick question.

Did your social media manager look into copyright issues or did they just think, “Everyone else is doing it. Must be ok.”

Why does your social media manager think that this has value in 2018?

Is it because someone else did it so it must be a good thing?

Is your social media manager trying to be relevant with tweens and D list celebrities? (The only other segments of society that are doing lip-sync challenges.)

Is your social media manager so lost for relevant content that this is the only way they can think of growing your following?

In the inspirational words of Ricky Bobby, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

The departments that started the Lip Sync Challenge in Texas get a pass on this since they were first. The rest, the ones that decided that a “Me Too” mentality was the best they could force the question that needs to be answered, “What were they thinking?”

But, even having said that, I would ask the first departments, “What was the purpose.”

Here are the preemptive answers to my rhetorical questions.

1) Engagement

This will be the most popular answer. “It’s all about engagement.” The easiest thing to say is engagement because it’s a really popular term on the interwebz. “We need to engage with our community.” 

Please, challenge your social media manager to define the value of engagement without using the terms likes, comments, GIFs, emojis, shares, retweets or favorites. 

I’ll warn you now, don’t hold your breath waiting for an answer without those words. It’s all your social media manager knows.

Most social media managers in law enforcement only know the term of engagement as a buzz word, which is fine. It was a solid beginning in 2013. Times have changed though and your social media manager hasn’t.

PS on this one. If your social media manager hasn’t responded to and or acknowledged every single comment, (the good, the bad and the ugly) then don’t you dare let them tell you it’s all about engagement. A social media manager that cherry picks comments isn’t worth their salary.

2) Humanizing or Showing The Human Side Of Law Enforcement

If this is how you want your agency to be seen; dancing, singing and without reason, then you have the right social media manager.

I believe you want to be seen as more than that. Using social media for this purpose makes me ask one very important question. “Are you in-human the rest of the time?”

If you asked your community I’m willing to bet that at their core, they want your agency to be relatable, empathetic, understanding and professional. They want you to be fiscally responsible. They want you to be there when they call. They want you to provide a great service. They want to feel safe. They want to be assured that you are doing everything possible to ensure community security.

As a tax payer, I don’t see singing and dancing anywhere in the requirements of my police department and if I was to see them doing it, my sense of their professionalism would be questioned.

3) The Community Loves It

True. Most in your community will think the video is cute, fun, unexpected and different.

None will think, “Wow. I was going to break ________ law today, but that video has made me think differently about being a criminal.”

No member of your community suddenly became safer, more situationally aware or had their personal safety increased because of your lip sync video.

Your community would also love it if your agency didn't issue citations... sometimes your community doesn't know what's best for them in the long run.

4) We Were Challenged

Too bad your self esteem is so slight that you need to answer a challenge like this without being able to say, “No.”

I have seen some great videos by agencies.

Well thought out. Music selections that go with what they were doing. A reasonable number of people that didn’t make me start looking at 7 figures of salary ‘volunteering’ to dance and lip sync.

Has your social media manager ever said,

“We need 40 volunteers to make a video about crime prevention.”

“We need to make a video highlighting the work of our __________ unit. 

When all this lip sync hysteria happened I was with my family in Arizona and one early morning when I was out for a walk I ran into a traffic officer doing some speed enforcement.

We got to talking and this subject came up. 

“I would love it if our social media people would come out and document what I do when I’m investigating a fatal crash. I’ve asked but they say it won’t work for social media.”

I gave him five instant answers for how to tell that story on social media. He’s taking it back to his boss to push for it.

I’ve talked to several front line officers about the lip sync challenge on social media and they all shake their heads. It’s not that they don’t ‘get it’. They do for the most part but they tell me that the road and the social media team are so disconnected.

Even most ‘tweetalongs’ don’t tell the real story.

But they can if your social media manager can get beyond the vanity metrics they use to make themselves look relevant.

Chief, did you know that every single metric that your social media manager will use to wow you with their work can be bought or manipulated?

Everyone except the most important metric. The metric that your social media manager either has no clue about or doesn’t care about.

Want to know what that one metric is?

Ask your social media manager what the most important metric is.

Then email me for the right answer and see if they are the same.

Chances are, unless I’ve taught them or they’ve followed me for a long time, they won’t know.

How can I be so sure of myself that I’m right? Simple. I’ve been doing it since 2009.

Way back when I was criss-crossing the country trying to get agencies to adopt using social media, I used it. 

When I transitioned to getting social media agencies to get beyond joining social media and actually using social media properly, I used it.

When I transitioned to teaching the finite points of social media that becomes effective, I used it.

Your social media manager is stuck back at somewhere between 2013 and 2015 and can’t transition because they don’t look beyond the next big metric bump or algorithm manipulation.

I still believe that your social media manager should be creating content that is entertaining, informative, educational and topical to keep your community coming back for more but it absolutely must serve a purpose beyond simple vanity metrics.

As I write this, only a few social media managers come to mind that really get all this. They are probably the only ones that aren’t going crazy at this point. 

 The majority of your front line officers are more than likely in full agreement. 

You need to have a social media presence. Your community needs to have a social media presence that has value and purpose that compliments the front line officers.

You could ask your social media manager to start telling their stories better. 

What about looking at Peel’s Principles and figuring out how to equate those time tested and solid core values of the modern 1829 police agency to today’s tech centric agency.

You don’t need to do much more than take community based policing and digitize it to have a real impact in your community.

You are the CEO Chief.

For years policing has been asked to think more business like to manage all of its available resources.

This has meant business case management for each and every aspect. 

Would you ask an officer to collect DNA samples without proper training in the handling, history and rationale for how and why DNA collection is an effective tool in investigation and crime solving?


So why do you have a social media manager that has no idea what they have at their finger tips? Or in many instances, has no idea how to use the technology to its full potential?

As one of my mentors says, “I can cook a steak and grill vegetables that my family loves but it doesn’t mean I have any business working in a 3 Star Michelin Restaurant.”

Just because your social media manager can type and take a picture doesn’t mean that they have any business doing it for your agency.

The time has come for you Chief to make a business case decision on the type of work your want representing your agency.

Social media isn’t the silver bullet or magic pill that will give you the relationships, trust and credibility that you must have for public support of your agency. Social media as a collective is an incredible group of tools and platforms that can exponentially improve your communications and provide your community things that are truly of value to them:

  • Quality of life.

  • Personal safety.

  • Awareness of issues.

  • Property protection.

Your social media communications can be fun, light hearted, emotional,

When your toys are broken, you either fix them or throw them out.

Chief, fire or fix your social media manager. The more irrelevant they become, the more irrelevant your agency becomes.

Your social media communications can be fun, light hearted, emotional,

When your toys are broken, you either fix them or throw them out.

Chief, fire or fix your social media manager. The more irrelevant they become, the more irrelevant your agency becomes.

#socialmedia #professionalism #communication

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