Social media expansion helps sheriff’s office build trust, followers

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An increased presence on social media has helped the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office interact with more of the people they protect, as well as people around the country.

It started with a simple question: “How does the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office better connect with the community?”

The agency’s social media presence and outreach have been retooled and expanded the last two years to better address that question. And there are results to show it’s working.

Napoleon Bell, a reserve deputy, Columbus police veteran and the sheriff’s community outreach and engagement manager, said there were opportunities available when he joined the sheriff’s office in 2017 to expand the reach of the department within Franklin County, Ohio and the country.

“We wanted to focus in on Franklin County, but also understand that people around the country could be watching the positive and cutting-edge work we’re doing,” Bell said.

In a matter of months, the number of people engaging with the sheriff’s office social media accounts has grown.

The agency has gained more than 9,000 Twitter followers, attracted nearly 7,000 more likes on Facebook and grown its Instagram reach from 91 followers in June to more than 950.

Bell said the increased following has been a great way for the sheriff’s office to interact with those they have sworn to serve and protect, as well as to give deputies new perspectives on what is going on in the community.

“It gives us a finger on the pulse of the community,” he said.

The sheriff’s office has a small team of deputies dedicated to doing the social media postings for the agency. Those deputies do the postings in addition to their normal workload.

Great work by our Patrol Division today. A traffic stop yielded a stolen loaded firearm, cocaine, marijuana and $1200 cash. pic.twitter.com/nx7RJNnnEe

— Franklin County Sheriff’s Office (@OHFCSO) November 14, 2018

The accounts for the sheriff’s office have a mix of content, but that is intentional, Bell said.

“We want to humanize the people out there doing the work,” he said. “You would see humor and the chases, the arrests, the most wanted. You see things that touch your heart with what deputies do in the community.”

A post in late July introducing followers to turn signals garnered statewide headlines with its sarcastic take on drivers around the county.

“It just took off,” Bell said. “It really struck a nerve on the Facebook community.”

While the posts tend to lean to the humorous side or focus on overlooked positive stories about the work of deputies, Bell said the sheriff’s office isn’t going to shy away from posting about negative or difficult incidents.

“If we do something great, we put it out there. If we do something bad, we put it out there because it’s the right thing to do,” Bell said.

The sheriff’s office also used social media to boost the national profile of the department before it was featured for the first time on the popular A&E television show “Live PD” on Nov. 16 and 17.

Bell said deputies had previously live-tweeted episodes, interacting with viewers of the show from around the country and other law enforcement agencies.

That face you make when your friend tells you their (sic) not watching @OfficialLivePD tonight. We ride at 9! @danabrams @TomMorrisJr1 @Sean_C_Larkin @AETV #LivePD #LIVEPDNATION pic.twitter.com/HANsvRFTGe

— Franklin County Sheriff’s Office (@OHFCSO) November 17, 2018

Other agencies around central Ohio have also been working to increase their social media presence. Columbus police posts regularly about crimes, seeking tips from residents and sharing positive feedback people have given about their interactions with officers.

The Delaware County Sheriff’s Office also recently hired a social media manager to help increase that department’s visibility and engagement with residents.

Adam Scott Wandt, an assistant professor of public policy at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said the move to social media by law enforcement and government agencies is an international trend.

“Social media is where people are,” Wandt said. “They’re used to getting information through social media, and it’s just the natural progression.”

Wandt said he believes agencies will continue to use social media to help build relationships and provide information in a quick way, particularly to issue public warnings in moments of crisis, such as an active shooter situation.

“It won’t replace traditional means, at least not for a while, but you’ll start seeing social media being used for good PR on a regular basis,” he said.

Wandt said agencies will use the social media platforms they are on as a way to provide followers with information traditional news outlets may overlook. He noted how the New York City Police Department regularly tweets about gun arrests within the city, which carry mandatory jail time, to help residents feel safer.

Postings about swearing-ins and other events where residents can see the officers outside of a crisis situation will also be used more frequently, Wandt said.

Bell said it is easy to forget that officers are human, but building a rapport with residents can help enhance trust and relationships in the long term.

“We want to understand their perspective and we want them to see ours,” he said. “We want to try every means possible to connect with the residents we’re here to serve.”

The sheriff’s office plans to add additional social media platforms to their portfolio in the coming months, as well as introducing new features to introduce more followers to deputies.

bbruner@dispatch.com

@bethany_bruner