Mountain View Police Department’s Social Media Strategy 2.0 in the Heart of Silicon Valley

The Mountain View Police Department serves a community of 75,000+ residents with a population that doubles in the daytime as commuters travel from all over the Bay Area to work at various high tech companies like Google, LinkedIn, Symantec, VeriSign, Microsoft, and a host of startups.  As such, the people who live, work, and pass through Mountain View are arguably some of the most tech-savvy and connected people in the world.

Previously, MVPD relied on a traditional model where social media was an extension of the Press Information Officer’s office and the main content sent through our Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ pages were press releases and occasional community announcements.  In this model, information was being pushed to the public and there was minimal two-way engagement with the community.  In the fall of 2012, MVPD changed its social media strategy to focus on providing rich, photo centric content for the community and to effectively engage our community in two-way dialogue. What resulted was a dramatic increase in followers across all social media channels and an outpouring of support and appreciation from the community.  The data and metrics are very compelling.  In the first six months alone, the new social media strategy has grown MVPD’s followership at remarkable rates; Google+: 58%, Twitter: 44%, and Facebook: 331%.  Even more compelling are the positive feedback, comments, and support we hear from the public and how they appreciate learning more about the department and being notified about breaking public safety incidents.



("Zeus", MVPD's very own social media celebrity) 

While social media channels served as an effective means to broadcast public safety information, MVPD recognized that the community wanted much more than a summarized blotter version of the department’s daily activities.  Department trivia and historical photos spurred interest and discussion among the public while mini biographies on department members or specialized units helped introduce and personalize the faces and units behind the badge.  In an effort to showcase the professionalism of the organization and along the lines of “a picture is worth a thousand words,” added emphasis was placed on using high quality photos for every post or tweet (most of which were done with a smartphone and free photo apps).  A few minutes spent cropping and enhancing a photo goes a long way in representing the organization as a professional and competent agency.





Success Stories

After a number of unfortunate high profile traffic fatalities, MVPD social media channels were highly effective in communicating our efforts by putting the department “in the driver’s seat” of the message of what we were doing to address the issue. Directed traffic enforcement locations and photos were posted daily along with safety tips and messages.  The public responded favorably, thanking the department for its heightened enforcement efforts and setting the stage for dialogue with our traffic unit to explain traffic laws and misconceptions.

Instead of an interview with the media where our message might get lost or misquoted, social media ensured that accurate information was being published about our department’s traffic safety efforts. In a change from previous years, the media no longer requested information from the PIO.  Rather, they obtained all of their information from social media posts and in turn, used that information for their articles or broadcasts. 

Likewise, when a SWAT search warrant for a drug lab was executed in a close-knit downtown community, social media became the ideal medium to keep the public informed and the media supplied with adequate information.  After ensuring that the scene was contained and all subjects accounted for, live updates were posted via Twitter and Facebook.  What resulted was an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the community and elected officials, thanking the department for the timely information and for its proactive approach to crime.  

What about negative comments?  Overall, the vast majority of comments posted on MVPD social media sites are positive and supportive of the department.  When a negative comment is posted, we obviously respond and explain the department’s actions but more so, it is a unique opportunity to communicate MVPD’s professionalism, ethic, and focusing goals.  The public appreciates this and consistently affirms our responses with praise.

Without question, social media is a vital component to the law enforcement mission.  In the same way that community policing positively changed the relationship between police and the community decades ago, social media has provided our profession with a unique opportunity and medium to connect, engage, and communicate with the people we serve.

The Mountain View Police Department has 97 sworn officers and serves a diverse and technology driven community located in the heart of Silicon Valley.  MVPD has an active social media presence on TwitterFacebookGoogle+PinterestNixle, and Foursquare.

About the author: Lieutenant Chris Hsiung is the social media manager in charge of strategy, community engagement and growth through the police department social media channels. He created the department technology cadre which is tasked with researching and instituting best practices for law enforcement technology within the department. Chris holds a bachelor’s degree in Behavior Science & Sociology from San Jose State University and a master’s degree in eBusiness Management from Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, CA. Twitter: @chMtnViewPD

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