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4 social media lessons from NZ Police

The New Zealand Police have some great advice on the use of social media in marketing. Here's what they had to say about how they best connect to their audience, as well as shedding light on the future of social media in emergency services.

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With over 136,000 followers, NZ Police have one of the larger social media presences in New Zealand government. They shot to global attention last year with their running man video, which went viral with emergency services across the world taking up their own running man challenge.

They recently shared a few lessons (and fails) from their social media journey at a Marketing Today conference that the SilverStripe marketing team attended.

Here are a few of our takeaways...

1. Empower your staff

With only one full time staffer dedicated to their social media accounts NZ Police are still managing to generate a significant amount of content across multiple channels. Their success has come from harnessing their workforce to deliver and curate the content for them. Simon Flanagan, their Senior Social Media Advisor, says this was about directly teaching other staff what works on social media - he's covered training on capturing the right videos and photos - and some of their most popular content now comes directly from officers out in the field.

Steal this idea: set guidelines so staff know what the boundaries are and offer training to those who might become advocates for the platform. Remember pictures and videos don't always have to be professional, the 'real' touch can often have a bigger impact than the professional shots.

2. Humanise your brand

Karen Jones and Simon Flanagan shared their motto of 'going beyond the blue'. This strategy is about showing the real people element to the police force, which garners more empathy and understanding.

A great example of humanising their brand was their #NZPoliceInk Instagram campaign where they shared posts of different officer's tattoos and the story behind them.

New Zealand police Constable Toria Adamson on Instagram post

Source: New Zealand Police Instagram page

Steal this idea: consider how you could show a behind the scenes peek of what your brand is like. Examples could include personally introducing a new staff member or posting pictures from any team building activities that happen. As part of this strategy you could also consider banning or culling stock images in favour of ‘real’ images of your customers or staff.  

3. The golden rule: cats and dogs

If you've already taken a peek at the NZ Police social accounts, then you may have already spotted their not-so-secret social media weapon.... dogs, dogs and more police dogs.

They have the advantage of being able to share stories of working dogs and those graduating - all generating the 'aww' factor from their audience. They’ve also expanded into other quirky animal stories that officers send in, including cats, guinea pigs and even a hedgehog sensation!

Police dog and handler graduation Instagram post

Police dog firework safety message Facebook post

Source: New Zealand Police Facebook page

Steal this idea: so you may not work for a zoo, or have the inbuilt advantage of having a troop of cute police dogs for footage... are there other animal pictures that you can occasionally seed into your content? Many companies are moving to allowing dog friendly days at the office, perhaps you have an office mascot you could share, or a volunteer cause that your company supports related to animals.

4. When things go wrong

The viral success that NZ Police have experienced has come from taking more creative risks with their content. And of course with every viral running man sensation, comes the risk of a fail.

For NZ Police this fail came in the form of a tweet. The post was about telling someone that a family member has died in a crash, and it was accompanied by an unfortunate choice of GIF.

Despite quickly being deleted, it still made international news outlets and gathered a fair share of criticism. Speaking at the conference about these types of mistakes their advice was to admit it straight away and front foot it. In this case they followed their own advice and were up front in their apology.

New Zealand Police apology Tweet

Source: New Zealand Police Twitter page

They also admitted that after these types of mishaps it's important to sit down as a team and learn from it. In this case they asked themselves if they have the right content and channel strategy and as a result decided to direct more of their light hearted content towards Facebook rather than Twitter.  

Steal this idea: if you get something wrong on social media and you have more than one follower, then you'll know straight away. Most communities are not shy about telling you when you've missed the mark. If this happens to you then admit you got it wrong as soon as possible. Trying to explain it away or worse, blame it on user misinterpretation often causes even more damage.

I like to think of this as the A. A. A. approach to crisis communication (which adapts well to any channel). If you get it wrong then you should acknowledge, apologise and amend. The amend part will often mean offering an action so your community can see that you'll take tangible steps to ensure this won't happen again.

What comes next?

The above strategies are all about how NZ Police are using their social media channels to grow their brand awareness and build up trust and recognition within their community.

In the future this distribution and sharing strategy could shift to become a much more important part of the way audiences can directly interact with Police and other government services.

For example, the speakers commented on considering how they could deliver emergency support (such as 111 calls) through social media. They also recently announced a new amber alert system set up with Facebook to help members of the public find missing children. The system means that Facebook users in the targeted search area will receive an alert with key details that they can share across their own networks.

Now that social media is the norm for mass communication, it will be interesting to see how government services can further leverage its power. So that in the future Facebook is not just for animal memes but crucial emergency support when people need it most.  

Background and links

Thanks to the New Zealand Police Speakers: Karen Jones, Deputy Chief Executive Public Affairs and Simon Flanagan, Senior Social Media Advisor, for delivering an insightful presentation.

About the author
Claire Hodds

As Campaign Manager Claire leads our marketing team and creates integrated campaigns to attract and connect with our customers.
With qualifications in marketing, communications and journalism, Claire has more than 10 years experience across a range of industries. She is passionate about continuous improvement and applying insights from behavioural economics to marketing strategies.
When she's not at SilverStripe you'll find her obsessing over pug dogs, on the netball court or nurturing her inner book nerd.

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