The C.O.P.P.S. social media method for officers

This approach to social networking includes citizens, objectives, planning, policies, and scheduling


Article originally appeared on ConnectedCOPS.net

It’s my job to make sense of things in the world of social media so that law officers who want to use these tools can concentrate on being officers rather than having to be social media experts themselves. It’s no easy task even for me, a person who makes it her priority and considers it a big part of her job in higher ed. While I read everything I can find on the topic, I haven’t been able to find a succinct method, already created, that I would recommend for police.

Even Forrester Research’s method is problematic, at least for law enforcement. Forrester calls its method P.O.S.T. for “people, objectives, strategy, and technology”. The main reasons for which I won’t recommend it is because of what it leaves out. And that’s policy and schedule. Policy is an absolutely crucial element to law enforcement because it addresses a big part of the “how” and “why”. It’s crucial for business too, but I won’t go there. The other missing element is schedule, the “when”. Deciding what you want to do is a big part of the job, but knowing exactly when each element will happen, will go a long way towards keeping the plan manageable.

So I’ve developed my own social media method and I think it’s a good one. It’s easy to follow, isn’t missing key items and reflects exactly what I do when I’m working with clients.

The C.O.P.P.S. Method answers the who, what, when, where, why and how.

Citizens (Who)
Objectives (What)
Plan (Where & How)
Policy (How & Why)
Schedule (When)

1. Citizens. Regardless of any cool tool or social media method, don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s all about your constituents, the citizens. Who do you want to communicate with? As you answer that question, remember to include those who you already are communicating with, and keep them on your radar. In your plan, include every demographic that’s important to your communication plan, whether you feel like you’re already communicating with them or not at all.

Your citizens are already talking about you. As you develop this part of your social media plan, listen to the key public figures in your community. Keep your ears open for mentions of your agency whether online or off. Go into online newsgroups and blog and run some Google alert searches to “hear” the mentions of your department.

Consider developing personas to represent the members of your target audience. Personas aren’t real people, they are demographic descriptions of the people in your audience. Sit down with your team and discuss the character traits of each persona. This will help you to understand their personalities, online habits, attitudes and opinions of your law enforcement agency specifically as well as law enforcement generally.

In my workshops with government employees in both the U.S. and Canada, the task of developing personas has proven to be the single biggest generator of conversation and deliberation. There’s more to it than you think. So do it! The process of developing personas affects every other step in this process. Take it seriously because it’s very helpful.

2. Objectives. As you develop this section, resist the urge to do anything other than to address the “what” in your goals. DO NOT worry about anything other than WHAT do you want do achieve.

Do you want to:

a. Build better relationships?
b. Raise awareness of your services?
c. Increase public safety?
d. Increase website traffic?
e. Inspire people to take action?
f. Raise funds?

To gain further insight, ask yourselves:

a. What attitudes define us and our issues?
b. What sites have the most activity related to my organization?
c. What kind of people do the most posting (and where)?
d. What other organizations are issues are these people connected to?
e. What kind of negative comments or misconceptions exists?
f. What are the positives?

You might discover:

a. Online communities you should join;
b. People you should engage;
c. Values you should promote;
d. Attitudes you should change;
e. Better understanding of your “brand” (reputation),

When you’re done examining your objectives, you should have a clearly defined message. Going forward, adhere to this message in all your online (and offline) dealings. Keep your message easy to grasp by people with short attention spans and keep yourselves focused on the message. You should by now have a really good handle on your target audience and at least have begun to determine what changes, if any, are needed in your agency’s communication strategy.

3. Plan. The four crucial parts of the plan are:

a. Technology
b. Content
c. Personnel
d. Training

I’m half tempted to call this step #3 “parts”. This is the nuts and bolts. What are the social media tools you’re going to actually deploy? What technology, software and hardware do you need, whether you already have it or not, to deploy. Think back to the personas you created in step 2. Figure out what social media platforms your constituents are using, and include them in the PLAN.

a. This is where you decide if you’ll be on Twitter (oh yeah) Facebook (most likely) a blog (quite possibly) YouTube (maybe) Bebo (Gang members in your world?) LinkedIn (your own professional life). There are several hundred more, depending on your target demographic(s) what part of the world you’re in, and your ultimate goals.

b. What content do you already have that you can reproduce? Do you need to create any? What are your ideas and goals and how do they relate to the tools? What’s your message?

c. One of the crucial parts to the plan is personnel. What people do you have? Don’t rely on the intern. The local college student might know how to register you on Twitter about 10 seconds faster than you could do it yourself, but s/he does NOT know your objectives like you do nor can an intern articulate your message at the same level of quality than you. Even if s/he could come close, s/he is leaving at the end of the semester. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t let them in on it to learn the ropes. I’m all about that. Just stay in control. A really great role for an intern is to research the platforms your constituents are on, especially if they are their peers. Don’t underestimate the person-hours involved. Social media isn’t a “ten minutes a day” thing in spite of what you hear.

d. Take into account the staff person’s knowledge level. If you want success, make sure they’re technically competent, comfortable and trained. They also need the hours allotted to them to work the program and the desire to do so. Don’t underestimate the value of professional training. There are many online resources but they are best used as supplements to a good fundamental grounding provided with professional training.

4. Policy. EVERY law enforcement agency in the world should have a social media policy or should address it in its current communication/media policy. The agencies who never intend to deploy social media tools are the ones most in need of a policy.

As I wrote in an earlier article on the blog, “The Ingredients of a solid social media policy for law enforcement” all basic social media policies include such things as,

a. Taking personal responsibility for the content a person publishes
b. Identifying oneself in all transactions
c. Using disclaimers to absolve the department of responsibility
d . Respect for the audience
e. Being factual
f. Copyright
g. Fair use
h. Privacy

But policies specific to law enforcement should also include, at a minimum:

a. Integrity
b. Disclaimers
c. Identity
d. Department-sanctioned tools
e. Competence
f. Command Staff responsibility
g. Training

For more on the topic, see the ConnectedCOPS article on social media policy for law enforcement. I’ve been thinking lately that agencies need all the above within their policy for their communication program and another policy altogether for investigative practices. But I’m still working/thinking on that.

5. Schedule. The absence of a schedule can be the biggest reason humans begin to feel overwhelmed and projects get derailed. Do yourself a favor and create a schedule depicting what “parts” (go back to #3) will be rolled out when. Factor in required training, technology procurement and etc. Start by rolling out the simpler pieces of the plan. Ask yourself where you want your agency to be in three / six / nine months and work back from that. If you’re a project manager by training, put it into Microsoft Project or something similar. If not, an Excel spreadsheet will suffice as long as someone is managing it.

The biggest time consumers are anything to do with blogs, podcasts or video. Be hyper-sensitive to those pieces of the plan if, in fact, they’re part of it.

This five-part plan – C.O.P.P.S. – is a fool-proof method for devising a social media strategy for your agency. It answers all the pieces – who, what, when, where, why and how. If you follow it, it will work. If you something needs clarification, please let me know.

About the author

Lauri Stevens has over 25 years experience in media: social media, interactive media, web, television, radio, & high-tech market research. She is the Founder and Principal of LAwS Communications, a media consultancy for law enforcement. LAwS specializes in media management, with an emphasis on social media. LAwS lectures widely and provides consultation in social media strategy, policy and implementation as well as training. Lauri is also the Producer & Creator of the SMILE (Social Media the Internet and Law Enforcement) Conference™ and the C.O.P.P.S. Social Media Method™.

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