Building a Larger than Life Virtual Community in State and Local Government

How a Police Department established an online following more than eight times the size of their city’s population

Brimsfield OH Police

It’s not every day that a small police department makes an impact in their community and across the world through digital communications, but that’s exactly what’s happening in Brimfield, Ohio. The Brimfield Police Department (PD) has a city population of only 10,000 people, and yet their Facebook page has nearly 89,000 likes. That means that an audience more than eight times the size of the town is engaged in the day-to-day communications of the local police force. This robust social media following is causing a wider effect on the town with housing up 30 percent over last year at this time. Digital communication is putting this small town, and their police department, on the map. That’s the kind of success any government communications team would dream about.

So how can you replicate the success of the Brimfield PD through your digital communications plan for social media, email messages, website updates and more? After comparing a recent interview with Brimfield police chief David Oliver with our own government clients’ communication success stories we think we have it narrowed down to three key communication principles: be consistent, be relevant and be engaging.

Be Consistent

The message I’ve always said is if you’re going to do it, do it. You have to be consistent — and we are. Between 6:30 and 7 a.m., we have a good morning message with weather and traffic and we poke fun at people with birthdays. People rely on it. If I miss it, you see the messages — “Where’s the chief today? Can’t go on without the message.” It’s been comical on that end. But the expectation of our followers has built quite a relationship. Our followers know that good news or bad news, we’re going to tell you the truth.

One of the keys to any digital communications strategy is consistency. The Brimfield PD has a social media schedule that they stick to every day. They post entertaining “good morning” messages with daily updates about the town. The police chief also posts up-to-date information with the latest news (good or bad) from the police department.

The positive impact of consistent content scheduling is clear: by posting frequently on social media, sending out regular newsletters, or routinely updating online content, your followers will know exactly when and where to expect information from you—increasing the odds that they will see your messages. Additionally, by consistently updating these digital channels you provide more opportunities to drive traffic to your website and your information.

Be Relevant

I think like a citizen instead of like a police chief. After almost 20 years on this job, one of the things I see are public officials who tend to think from the perspective of their responsibilities instead of thinking about Mrs. Jones on Breyerwood Lane who wants to know why she’s hearing sirens. If a huge crash delays traffic, I can post what to use as a detour. We’re becoming an information-now society. People don’t want to wait until the 6 p.m. news and chances are it won’t be there anyway. When you tell people what happened or what’s going on, it gives them a sense that everything is okay.

The Brimfield PD is giving their followers timely information that they look for from a police department. They also pepper in some humor to keep the content fresh and interesting. They know “Mrs. Jones on Breyerwood Lane” wants to know the scoop on local police-related disturbances, so that’s what they provide.

Government organizations, like Brimfield PD, have the benefit of being able to offer information no one else can. When you are writing online content, think about what your unique information is in relation to what your audience might be looking for. And don’t forget to reference any and all analytics you can get your hands on to ensure you’re broadcasting the messages that are relevant to your audience’s actual needs and interests—not just what you think their needs and interests are. One of the great tools GovDelivery provides in its digital communication management tool is the option to allow subscribers to pick the categories and topics they are most interested in learning about. Data like this can help set the stage for the theme of updates this audience is most interested in.

Be Engaging

…All of this has helped the community understand that we’re a team. If we’re going to reduce crime, the people have to be willing participants. People have become very protective of the department, and that’s huge for us. Some people use the private message function to leave a tip or to tell us about a nuisance in their neighborhood. We wanted to have any means of communication available so our department is the most functional operation it can be. I think the paradigm is shifting a little bit toward using social media as an outreach tool rather than just picking up the phone to call the police department.

The Brimfield PD is using digital communication as a two-way street. Getting their message heard is vital to the Brimfield PD’s mission, but hearing from their community is an important component to that mission.  Instead of just spewing out facts, they are encouraging interaction with the community by allowing members to leave a tip in a Facebook message or starting a conversation.

By encouraging your stakeholders to not only listen, but talk back, you provide an opportunity to build a relationship. Another police force, Stearns County’s Sheriff’s Office, embedded multiple options for citizens to submit tips to the Sheriff in all their email communications with County residents.

Through social media posts, email messages, blog comments, website forums and more—you can provide an opportunity for your audience to participate in your mission. Just don’t forget to broadcast those engagement opportunities out to your stakeholders.

Learn More

You may not be able to amass an online community on the same scale that Brimfield has overnight, but the basis of their marketing strategy is something that can be applied to any local, or broader, government organization to improve outreach and citizen engagement. Just remember to keep your digital content consistent, relevant and engaging and you are well on your way to developing a more robust relationship with your stakeholders.

If you’re looking for further reading on digital communications in the public sector, take a look at our white paper on integrating social media in government communications here. And if you have any suggestions, comments or questions about successful digital marketing tactics you’ve seen in government, comment below!

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