How Queensland Police Service gets 60,000 likes on Facebook posts
Queensland Police Service is a socially savvy force, with the most amount of fans on a police Facebook page in the English speaking world. The ‘likes’ boom started off during the 2011 floods and the page has since grown to nearly 700,000 fans. About one in 10 residents in the state ‘like’ the page. Queensland Police’s social strategy is entirely organic and it is paying off – with amusing posts attracting up to 60,000 likes (such as when they trolled the band Nickelback). Senior digital media officer for Queensland Police Service Media James Kliemt is adamant that engaging content is the way to succeed on social, by simply being human. In this interview, Kliemt takes Michelle Herbison behind the scenes of the successful operation.
Marketing: Why is it so important for Queensland Police to have a presence on social media?
James Kliemt: A whole bunch of reasons. The primary starting point was actually emergency management and the realisation back around 2010, seeing that this new social media stuff was playing a pivotal role in a lot of emergencies and disasters and things around the world. And seeing that there’s a real danger if the authorities aren’t in that space and are leaving it up to anyone else to report on it. Things like the Mumbai terrorists that really make us realise that we didn’t really have a choice, that we had to do this stuff.
M: Just quickly to go back, talking about disasters, what was the strategy prior to social media and how has that changed? I’m thinking for example tuning into your local emergency radio station…
JK: In some ways quite a bit and in other ways not really much at all. Essentially police and emergency management media departments would send information out to the media, then the media would forward that onto the public. Essentially we do the same thing, it’s just that we put it out on social media, which obviously the media and the public get simultaneously. We still email out the media via the blogs but that simple change basically completely changed the whole landscape. Our social does a number of different things simultaneously. we are actually talking to different audiences at the same time, and one of the main audiences is the media, who at the time it was this incredible novel thing but they appreciate it just as much as everyone else, to actually get this content via social media, because they’re all on it themselves anyway, so instead of having to go to different sources to get their content they’ve started getting it all from the one place.
M: Who are the other different audiences?
JK: It depends, it’s different segments of the public. We might do things specifically related to one area or one group of people, or just the general community, it’s very effective for directing to different parts of the community. We don’t say, ‘alright everyone ignore this, we’re only talking to these people’. I remember during the 2011 floods we had a Skype account and would call police in different areas and get them to tell us over Skype what was going wrong in their area, and we’d record that on Skype and put that out on Facebook. That was for local radio stations, that was their content, they could then chop that up, and rather than us as a media department having them say, ‘can we organise an interview with the local police’ and then the local police ringing them then another station in the same area wanting the same content, we just pushed it out to everyone.
M: You’re saving a lot of time, and you’re getting out to a bigger audience.
JK: We never really tally up the pros and cons but we think it’s levelled out. It gave us a lot more exposure and cut down on a lot of back and forth work, but it also increased where we had to monitor it. There’s give and take.
M: Tell me about some of these challenges. I’m imagining as a police department you’d have a lot of people coming to you with complaints, maybe tip offs about events and things like that?
Absolutely, enormously challenging events. Particularly after the floods grew to the size where there was a huge percentage of the population that actually get information on our page, and we deal with incredibly complex and incredibly dangerous situations sometimes. Our challenges are very similar in some ways but very different to a lot of industries in that we deal with, say, if there’s a road fatality or something like that, we put that information out, but we can’t tell people a range of information about that incident, say the make or model of the car or something like that, because the family of victims may not know yet, and if we say it was model xyz and it was this colour and it was in this area, people start to figure it out, and the messages go like lightning among these different groups of friends, and all of a sudden people think, sometimes correctly, that it’s one of their loved ones. So we’ve got to be very cautious with all those issues. We’ve had a lot of practice at this and there are lots of rules and limitations on what we can and can’t say in a lot of different areas, but that said we also have a lot of freedom because we’re not trying to sell anything.
M: Just going along with that example that you gave about the road fatality – what if somebody goes onto your page and posts a comment with more information, the kind of information you’re not ready to release to the public? How do you deal with that – do you delete their comment?
JK: We delete it as quickly as we possibly can. Because more than one in 10 people in the state follow our page, nothing can happen in Queensland without multiple eyewitnesses popping up on our page saying, ‘I was there, I saw that happen’. I remember one road fatality where someone jumped on and said, ‘yes it was a blue cortina’ or something like that, they described the car. We deleted that comment within two minutes of it appearing, and two minutes after that someone came on saying, ‘thanks for scaring the crap out of me because my sister lives in that area and drives that make and model of car’. It wasn’t actually her sister, but within two minutes and it was still enough time for that message to ping around. Those sort of issues we have to deal with on a daily basis.
M: Have you got a team monitoring your Facebook page 24/7?
JK: We do now, yes.
M: What does that look like in terms of how you manage it? Is it police that are in charge of that or have you hired social media experts?
JK: It’s a mixture, and we managed it ourselves for a long long time because we have a 24/7 room here, it’s staffed by usually one person overnight but we have staff here to do that. It’s now completely the comms, the contact police section, Policelink, they actually handle the monitoring of that now, and they just have people who are rostered on and check for those who are trained to check for those sorts of red flags. It’s really, really challenging. Ultimately, there were lots of discussions and lots of arguments about this all back when this was started, and the argument that wins through is: yes, there are plenty of challenging situations this is going to put up, and plenty of times we’re going to have less than ideal situations that you don’t have control of; you have to relinquish some control – we can’t turn comments off and we wouldn’t want to, but the benefits we get outweigh those problems that it causes. It’s a bit like saying: we have road fatalities, but that doesn’t mean that we say we’ve got to stop having cars and roads from now on. There are positives and negatives, and the positives just vastly outweigh the negatives.
M: Is it mainly facebook that you’re focused on?
JK: We’ve got everything.
M: So how do you balance the different channels; how do they compare? Which ones are most successful for you and what are the differences in how you have to manage them?
JK: We use them for different things. We’re approaching 700,000 likes on the Facebook page, which is in a state of 4.5 million is quite amazing really. But the media are far more interested in Twitter, because it’s much more immediate and it’s this chronological dump of everything that happens. A lot of the content’s similar that goes on both of them but they’re not really doing the same job. It’s a bit like that with all the different accounts; YouTube and Livestream and Soundcloud and all of the different accounts we have. The engagement is very important to us, but it’s not actually as important as some of the official police-y things that we need them for.
M: You have the largest police Facebook page in the English-speaking world, and it started off growing so large because of the floods. Was that growth active from your point of view or was it just what happened because you were doing a good job?
JK: We started off six months before the floods, so we’d had quite a bit of practice leading up to it, then we had a massive explosion. We were approaching I think 8000 likes in six months, and we were pretty happy with that, this was back in 2010. Then it started raining in central Queensland and we suddenly jumped up to about 18,000 likes in two weeks, and that was incredible. Then the big floods happened, the big huge downpour in Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley, and the realisation was that the water was coming towards Brisbane, and then in one day we went from 18,000 likes to 100,000 likes and then like three days later I think it was 160,000 likes. The floods were certainly a very large event in our social media, and we were very lucky that we had six months of practice leading up to that. I always say I wish I could say we did something particularly amazing during those floods or we had this brilliant inspiration or something like that, but we really did what we’d been doing for those six months leading up, and all that core foundational work for that event had been done in the build up to the flood.
M: Tell me about that foundational work. Do you have a content strategy, approvals process, planning and things like that?
JK: As I say, we run very differently than how most accounts seem to be run. We’re tremendously interested in the narrative of the page. We’re very much aware but not absolutely fixated on the post-by-post day-to-day week-to-week performance of the page. It’s very important to us that we’re telling a story and that our fundamentals about who we are and how we deal with people are right. The rest of it kind of takes care of itself. We don’t sit at the end of every week and analyse all the insights data and vacillate over how we can word things differently to get more reach or engagement or something like that. We throw stuff up there and see if it sticks. And if it sticks, that’s great, we’ll just go with it. It’s almost like a creative project – like we’re recording a song or writing a book or something like that. We’re not analysing and micromanaging every step of it, we just let the overall story develop itself.
Then of course there’s approvals and things like that that took us a little while to work out about the levels of our comfort with different scenarios. Say a tree could fall down on the road and that road could be closed and there’d be terrible traffic jams. Senior management didn’t need to sign off and approve a post that talked about that. The police at the scene have described it to us, we know that’s going to create an issue, so junior staff can quite happily put that up on our social without any higher approval. Then scaling that up along different items that happen everyday, and their sensitivity, up to things that have to go to the commissioner and have to be discussed at great length before anyone moves a millimetre on anything. But a lot of that day-to-day stuff, the commissioner’s not going to be able to impart any great wisdom the junior media officer doesn’t have. Then we realised after some time that the junior person may actually say something funny. And that doesn’t need the commissioner’s approval either. We’ve really had lots of fun on the page – as long as it’s not offensive or sensitive or controversial, our staff have got plenty of freedom to have fun on our social media.
M: Do you have any examples of anything particularly funny?
JK: Oh my god, where do you start? There are too many. I think putting the pictures of Nickelback and that we wanted to speak to them about crimes against music; ‘be on the lookout for Nickelback’ i think was probably the pinnacle of the fun we’ve had. That made the news all over the world. since that event we have from time to time been contacted by major artists and their representative asking if we could actually tease their bands on our social media.
M: Have you said yes to any of them?
JK: No, it has to be organic. We’ve been contacted by very, very large brands asking us if we could tease them.
M: So you’re trying to stay impartial, trying not to get too involved in that stuff?
JK: I don’t think it works for us, to be in marketing campaigns and things like that. All of our stuff is organic. Again, on the NIckelback thing, we do a Secret Santa in the office and someone got the boss a Nickelback CD for Secret Santa. And it was, ‘oh, we can put it on Facebook’ so we threw something together and threw it up, said we got a suspicious package at the office and we think we’re going to destroy it – those sorts of things. That’s just completely our office schtick – we haven’t done millions of dollars worth of research and we don’t have huge teams of people coming up with these amazing strategies. It’s that old cliche, social’s about people, and you just do stuff that’s about people. We did a post the other day that was a very, very tall copper standing next to a very, very short copper. It’s just a fantastic, human thing, I think its reach was like 3.5 million people or something like that. Again, I don’t think there was any sort of approval process around that, it’s just the staff and our media team do this sort of thing all the time and are trusted to use their judgement.
M: A lot of marketers have been quite badly affected by the changes facebook has made to its algorithms, decreasing organic reach and trying to get brands to pay for ads. Do you find that’s something that’s been an issue for you?
JK: We’re 100% organic reach. It absolutely works. It’s a huge bugbear of mine – I think marketers really have to understand that people don’t go on Facebook because they want to see ads, they want to see stuff they like. I might like Cornflakes, and I might like their page, but I don’t necessarily want to see ads for Cornflakes. If Cornflakes can post content that can cut through and really speak to people just the same way that Queensland Police can, and Queensland Police are not the first brand you have in your head on ‘who can have really fun engaging content?’ – if we can do that, then other brands can do that too. And we don’t pay a cent. A couple of times we’ve had people come in with campaigns and they’ve insisted they wanted to spend money – it’s happened three times, and it’s had negligible effect. We put out plenty of content that’s of very low interest to most people, it’s important we put it out for our openness and accountability and it doesn’t reach many people. If we put out really funny, really engaging content, it has incredible reach.
M: It’s just a matter of putting out something that people are willing to share and as soon as they start sharing it you get the reach?
JK: They engage with it, that’s what drives the reach – if they comment on it, if they like it, if they share it, if they click on it – all those things, that’s where your reach comes from. We come at it from a media perspective and not a marketing perspective, so rather than trying to quantify these things, we just tell a story. And if we tell a story that’s a really good story, like ‘aren’t people different sizes and they can be police too’ – that’s just a quirky little human story, that’s where we get incredible reach from and we haven’t spent a cent doing it.
James Kliemt is speaking at Swarm Conference 2015 in Sydney on 2 and 3 September.