Social media engagement is like casting a pebble in a pond: Networks grow in concentric circles. For any organization  looking to build its online presence, the networking and socialization should begin from within, and start at the top.  This is particularly true for organizations that interact with the public as front line service providers.  Police organizations fall into this category.

For a police force exploring social media, whether it is simply a question of populating its Facebook page or jump-starting a Twitter account, the place to begin should always be with its staff, sworn and civilian.

Enlisting your staff to be part of the conversation has a number of advantages. It allows you to tap into their networks and synergize ongoing conversations to help project your brand and amplify your message. It will serve to bolster internal communications and create an organization-wide sense of empowerment and ownership of the new strategy.  It will also help staff internalize and articulate the key organizational values, ethics and goals that make up your corporate brand.

This exercise can be formal or informal. Anything from training workshops to “lunch and learn” sessions will do as long as these provide the time and space to freely discuss the organization’s strategy, its benefits and costs, and everyone’s role in its implementation.   While technical know-how is important, online social engagement is all about the capacity to engage and converse.

Most importantly, these sessions should be opportunities for the organization’s leadership to share and discuss their objectives and vision for the organization and how social media can facilitate achieving these.

An interesting study released today  by Austin-based PulsePoint Group, illustrates the importance of the “C-suite” in fostering organizational buy-in and excellence in social media use and engagement.  Notably, it finds that:

  • Two-thirds of the  organizations  achieving the highest returns reported that their  C-suites are active advocates– that is, they commit to social engagement  as a strategy and they reallocate resources to make it happen.
  • However,  a full 28% of C-suite executives still don’t believe in social  engagement. And the number one reason? The inability to gauge ROI (45%).  For engagement to work, the C-suite has to believe in it and see  measurable returns.

In hierarchical organizations a disconnect from the leadership can cause uncertainty and a fallback to the safety of the status-quo.  And while in the past organizations embraced a tightly controlling spokesperson policy in the name of message discipline, today’s real-time social environment requires investing in engagement and conversations.

Effective social media engagement  requires a more horizontal, less hierarchical, and more trusting approach to external communication.  A critical part of this approach must involve bringing your  leadership into the social fold, and into the conversation–internally and externally.

In addition to helping to maintain message discipline and unity,  internal engagement will allow the organization to leverage its all of its networks, further amplify its message and extend its reach, and most importantly build buy-in.

If a police force wants its members–sworn and civilian–to become brand ambassadors it must empower them not only with the technical tools–from training, to the narrative, to PDAs–but also with the trust and support of their leadership.

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