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Facing the Facebook Challenges

Written by Cara Donlon-Cotton

Many agencies are finding their Facebook page to be a great tool for communicating with the public and for disseminating information. But these same agencies are finding some challenges accompany this mostly beneficial tool. Here are some of the more common challenges and ways to alleviate the problems.

Nuisance Comments Clutter the Page

Remember that your Facebook page is a public meeting space that encourages free speech. Make that free appropriate speech. You cannot censor stupid and you cannot censor ideas you don’t agree with, but you can address the people who don’t follow the rules of appropriate speech in a public forum.

The same behavior that wouldn’t fly in a city council meeting won’t fly on Facebook—cursing, profanity, vulgarity…all comments that can be hidden from the page. And if the person continues to spew such language, they can be escorted out of the city council meeting and not let back inside the room, correct? Apply the same rules of thumb to your virtual meeting space.

Staffing and Work Overloads

We only have one person supervising the page and he/she is tired. Most agencies began a page that required very little maintenance and the one officer who monitored and posted was able to be the Facebook guys as well as continue with his many other job responsibilities. And then the page got popular. Good for you! Until that one officer winds up having to stay up all night—again—to deal with a social media situation that required constant interaction/supervision.

This officer needs a back-up. You can assign one back-up officer. Perhaps better yet, you even configure an SMOD (Social Media Officer of the Day). Just remember, whoever the back-up is needs to be kept up to speed and know how to handle a situation on the Facebook page without having to call the primary guy at 0300.

No Updates to the Page

We haven’t updated the page in two weeks because we ran out of ideas. Pshaw! There are always things that can run on your page—good news, crime prevention tips, a photo of the K9 in training. Some agencies send out e-mails to all officers and ask that they forward bits of information or photos that might make a good post. Take advantage of your people and their ideas and do not let that page go silent.

Lack of Executive Support

My chief or sheriff hates the idea of Facebook. You can try to convince with statistics, with positive stories, with peer pressure, with begging. It is not going to work if the chief or sheriff is truly dead-set against the idea. There’s one last trick that has worked for some: just do it. Sort of.

Go ahead and create the page. Set up a government agency page complete with a Facebook policy clearly shown, with awesome photos, with great information, with a really professional appearance. Then, and this is key, do not activate it. Show the chief or sheriff just how good it could look … sometimes seeing is believing.

The advantages of an agency Facebook page have proven to be worth the minor headaches to many, many law enforcement agencies. You’re not alone in experiencing the growing pains—don’t give up on your social media presence and throw the baby out with the bathwater. If you nurture it and get through this stage, it will grow into a productive young adult some day.

Cara Donlon-Cotton is the former media relations instructor for the Georgia Public Safety Training Center. She can be reached at cdonloncotton@yahoo.com.


Published in Law and Order, Oct 2013

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