Social media is the new norm for widespread communications—including for government agencies. It’s the avenue through which the majority of Americans get at least some portion of their news. And, as of 2021, over 70% of Americans are active on at least one social media platform , a number that only continues to rise. If social media is where your community members are, your agency needs to be there, too.
Social media can be an incredibly important and effective tool for disseminating information to your community. It can also be another avenue to foster community engagement and reach groups you wouldn’t often be able to engage otherwise. While it can be useful and effective, social media is not always simple. Social media management—especially in public safety—comes with unique challenges that require thoughtful and intentional preparation.
Social Media Policies
The first question: Do you have policies in place that govern your agency’s social media? As with every area of public safety operations, policies addressing and directing social media management are essential. Consider a few key areas when developing or reviewing your social media policies, such as:
- What is the purpose of your social media program?
- What are the expectations for your social media manager(s)?
- What is the approval process: Who needs to approve various types of content, from routine posts to crisis communications?
- On which platforms will your agency have a presence? What type of content will be featured on each platform?
- What is the protocol for responding to negative or inflammatory comments?
- What is the protocol for sharing information related to an ongoing incident?
These questions just scratch the surface of what can and should be included in your social media policies and procedures, but they act as an important starting point. First and foremost, consider what questions your social media manager has (or could have) and the challenges they might face. Your social media policies should set expectations for performance and help answer those questions, guiding their efforts. Set guidelines for content creation that include the type of content to be shared on social media and the frequency at which posts will be shared.
Will your social media managers have access to resources (free or paid) to create graphics or videos? Do they need to be trained to be on camera or speak to the media? Determine what makes sense for your agency and set specific goals for social media. As with any special assignment, distribution of social media responsibilities should be carefully considered. Social media managers should express a desire to work on the agency’s social media team and be selected and trained to do so effectively.
Social media management—especially in public safety—comes with unique challenges that require thoughtful and intentional preparation.
Understanding the Regulations of Social Media Use in Public Safety
One of the biggest regulatory concerns for public safety agencies on social media relates to free speech: As a government agency, your social media platforms are legally considered a public forum where people can freely express their opinions under the First Amendment. This can make community management challenging. What can you do about online “trolls” and negative comments? How can you maintain a positive and impactful community online? As with every other aspect of social media management, setting up policies and procedures to guide content moderation decisions is critical.
Questions of confidentiality can also come into play: What are you allowed to share pertaining to different incidents? Keep identities of juveniles involved in incidents confidential; keep patient information confidential under HIPAA; ensure any information you share protects the identities of victims. Most importantly, ensure your policies reflect state and federal law pertaining to confidentiality at all times and train your social media managers to recognize when information is not suited for sharing on social media.
Know the regulations that guide social media management for public safety agencies. Develop policies and procedures to create the framework for your social media program. Finally, don’t forget to train your social media managers. Train them to write quality content that engages your community. Train them to understand the different platforms your agency will be active on. Train them to recognize when content is within the First Amendment rights of the citizen and how to take legal, effective moderation steps. A social media program requires attention, policies and training to ensure it is effective for your agency and your community.
Watch the on-demand webinar, “Social Media in Public Safety: Does Your Agency Have It Right?” to learn more.
- Social Media and News Fact Sheet. Pew Research, November 13, 2023. Accessed 1/29/2024 from https://www.pewresearch.org/journalism/fact-sheet/social-media-and-news-fact-sheet/
- Social Media Fact Sheet. Pew Research, April 7, 2021. Accessed 1/29/2024 from https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/social-media/