Webinar presenter Katie Nelson answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Risk vs Reward: Being the Middle Man in the Digital Age. Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: For some of the more common comments that you see, do you ever use a standard response or is every reply custom-crafted?
Katie Nelson: That depends if we are seeing the same question asked over and over again. So if you are seeing a trend in your community where people are asking the same thing about… like let’s say, voter registration or notarizing a document, or what number do they call if it’s a non-emergency but they would still like a first responder respond. Yes, we do have things that are crafted that are built on a document that I just saved on my computer. I have columns that are delineated based on what questions we are seeing regularly and I just copy and paste it in there. However, if it’s a once in a while question and it’s not something you’re seeing every day. Sure, you can customize it. You can think differently about how you maybe want to phrase something differently the next time you respond to something like that. But if it’s a consistent question, not only should you have a standard response, think about a post for something like that on social media so that you can get people’s questions answered.
Audience Question: Do you always respond or engage with comments?
Katie Nelson: I would say ninety-eight percent of the time, yes, we do. I absolutely love negative comments in particular because that’s the ultimate way to showcase professionalism for our agency. That being said, some comments just do not warrant a response. We had a comment just the other day where they said to our department online; “We hope you guys fry in hell.” Well, that definitely does not need a response. Things like that, you leave it be. As we become more comfortable online or as you begin to see an increase in more engagement. You are all very smart. You will know what comments need a response or warrant a response versus ones you can just go; “Uh-huh, I think I’ll leave that alone.”
Audience Question: When responding to an antagonistic comment, are there questions you ask yourself before writing a response to make sure that your response is not antagonistic and at the same time you’re not boxing the agency in?
Katie Nelson: Yes. Absolutely. That’s a fantastic question. I would say, no response that I’ve ever written to a snarky or antagonistic comment would be my first draft or something. We call it “going to the koi pond”. At least on first blush, you will often have a very emotional reaction to something and you don’t want that and how it’s iterated back in whatever response you give to that person. We get up, we go and walk around a little bit, and we sit there and let our blood pressure come down a little bit. Then we will go back and write probably a couple of drafts worth of responses until we ultimately get to something that we feel best exemplifies the values of the police department without coming across as anything other than approachable, transparent and willing to engage further if need be. I believe it was Abraham Lincoln who used to write letters. When he was trying to draft a response to something he found to be offensive or didn’t agree with or whatever and he will always set them on fire after because he knew that wasn’t the response he wanted to give. And so, four or five iterations later, with ultimately the response he would provide to whatever person that was asking the question. So we kind of employ that in Mountainview PD.
Audience Question: We don’t monitor our social media platforms 24/7, so do you recommend responding if the conversation is old and has already died down?
Katie Nelson: That’s an excellent question and I, too, come from a relatively small agency. While you should not be necessarily monitoring comments 24/7 know that social listening is huge. If there is a question or a comment that warrant an immediate response you are available to tackle that. That being said, if you see something online and it’s after hours, and by the next morning, there’s really no point in responding because either the conversation has completely died down or they’ve had their questions answered by somebody else, or what have you. I would say it’s okay not to respond. But, if you see something in that conversation where there is a legitimate question, comment or concern and you are willing to follow up with the understanding that perhaps it will reignite the conversation, go for it.
Audience Question: When additional research is required to respond such as a “theft suspect incident” discussion, do you typically talk with the involved officers or just check the Records Management System?
Katie Nelson: That’s a great question. It totally depends on who’s at the office at the time. I think anybody in this webinar would know that people are constantly moving around. There are people who are in and out of their offices all day. If I could look up and see through the Records Management system the synopsis of the incident and get enough information from there, I will. However, if there’s an ongoing investigation and I just want to make sure, I would go and try to speak with the officer in person, just to make sure perhaps that I might not be revealing something that I shouldn’t. That being said, when these types of comments arrive and you need a little bit more research, maybe that person isn’t in that day and you know they will be in the next, people on average think that roughly a 24 hour turnaround period for a response is acceptable for the government. So if you’re not ready to respond that day but you know you can get a response the next day, that’s just fine.
Audience Question: Do you have a good resource or example of an official departmental policy for social media?
Katie Nelson: I absolutely do. If you guys actually would like to read ours, our policy is readily available online. It’s at MVPD.gov or if you would like me to send it to this group after the fact. I can do that as well. Our social media policy not only incorporates professional use in terms of defining how we use social media within the department, it also discusses personal use while off-duty. It is a great holistic view of social media policy for public sector employees both when they’re on the job and when they’re off the job.
Audience Question: If there is a persistent person, always negative, never on topic, and comments on every single post that has nothing to do with the post and they’re very angry, what is your opinion on blocking this person?
Katie Nelson: That is an excellent question and I’m so glad you asked. There is case law that says that if you are in an agency page, you can technically comment about anything on any post. That being said, if this person is inciting or encouraging violence or for someone to commit a crime, if it’s completely unrelated to the post, have no relation whatsoever, if it’s spam, or if there’s… there’s one other thing, you can actually hide those comments and after a time that you’ve actually established a pattern of this persistency, you can block them. However, if it’s only been a couple of times or on one post or this is the first time they’ve ever shown their face, if you will, on your social media site, let them be. Let them go. But if they continually violate your terms of service on that particular site, be it Facebook, Twitter, Nextdoor or whatever. You can then follow up with a conversation to them saying; “This repeated behavior is not tolerated. If it continues we will have to enact the following…” But before you do any of that, make sure that you talk with your City Attorney or your County Counsel to ensure that they are in agreement with that. There are some legal experts that differ on what can or should be done in terms of deleting or blocking people. The Supreme Court has also handed down decisions that said for example, “Public agencies or public people cannot block unless it’s A, B, C, or D.” Technically, legally, yes, you can block them if this has been a consistent behavior for let’s say several months. But before you do anything, because I’m no legal expert, definitely consult with your City Attorney just to make sure.
Audience Question: Is that something your departmental policy on social media, that it talks about in there about the blocking or is it something that you recommend that agencies do address when they’re developing their policy?
Katie Nelson: Yes. Both. Our terms of service especially on our Facebook page and our Nextdoor page discuss that specifically. Twitter doesn’t allow it because you only have a finite amount of space in their bio section to do it but it is also available on our website for people who have questions about our terms of service and it’s also addressed in our policies. Definitely consider including that if you’re just building a social media policy.
Audience Question: Do you post something on departmental social media every day?
Katie Nelson: Excellent question. It totally depends on what platform I’m using. For example, 6,000 tweets are sent every second. I can probably post a couple of times a day on twitter if I’d like and people would not have user fatigue where they would like; “Oh, my god, Mountainview PD please stop posting.” Facebook? Maybe five times a week, maybe. If we’re jamming, every day of the week something’s going on. Nextdoor has a high user-fatigue rate. It’s probably better a couple of times a week there. Again, unless there’s something pressing that your community needs to know. But it really depends on what platforms you’re using. You will see less user fatigue in places like Twitter and Instagram because those feeds move so fast. Facebook and Nextdoor perhaps you might want to step back a little bit and go; “Okay, what worth posting every day of the week or can we maybe space it out a little bit. Maybe post only three times a week.”
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Risk vs Reward: Being the Middle Man in the Digital Age.