Feeling Myself — Understanding My Emotional Attachment to Social Media Engagement

Posted on July 10, 2019

Katie Nelson discusses media efforts at the Mountain View Police Department.

Today’s Morning Buzz is brought to you by Katie Nelson (LinkedIn)

What I’m Listening To: The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers

What I’m Reading: Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered

What I’m Watching: Schitt’s Creek

Moira Rose of Schitt's Creek gestures animatedly.

“What I hear when I’m being yelled at is people caring loudly at me.” – Leslie Knope

Never have I ever found a more cogent, comprehensive phrase to describe how it feels to be a social media manager in local government.

We all know what it’s like, to see the tweets come in from people you’ve never met, who are passionate, persistent, and proud of the knowledge they have regarding specific topics about what you do and why you do it.

Some would think that an immediate reaction would be to let it go, to perhaps not engage. Or, you may be like me, where for every impassioned point played out in a digital space, you feel a visceral need to engage because, that’s like our job, right?

YOU WOULD BE RIGHT. Glow up, government. Strap on those social media strategies and get ready – it’s time to engage.

I have found that for every fervent follower who has perhaps gotten a bit zealous with their vast (and truly, it is) knowledge of topics ranging from the California Vehicle Code to off-leash rules to law enforcement efforts, I have learned something new. And I’ve not just learned something new about the other person, I have learned something new about myself.


I have learned that they’re not talking to me, per se. They’re speaking to the agency, they’re attaching an emotional connection to a badge or a star or a long-standing memory of an experience that has forthwith overshadowed every subsequent experience they may have had with any public sector department.

And quite frankly, for a vast majority of folks who have had it up to “here” with poor experiences involving government, or who have only been informed by what they see on TV or in the news, could they really be so wrong?

A Twitter poll conducted by Katie Nelson suggested nearly a third of people did not expect government to be responsive on social media.

I have also learned that when they shout at us, their communication style may not be great, but by golly, they need something. So for every fiber that screams to just let it go, what would happen if every fiber of our being instead screamed: “Respond!”

This is the biggest leap for me, as a local law enforcement social media manager. I fear that our agency’s  word choices,  our voice and tone, could somehow, despite all efforts to the contrary, deteriorate the situation further. But, I also don’t want people to ever feel like we aren’t present in their space in which they prefer to communicate.

As we all struggle to fight back against the misconceptions about what exactly we do in our roles, and how we serve our communities, one of our primary champion efforts should be to understand, accept, and assimilate into the social media spaces where our communities interact.

Take a look at just how many people have a cell phone at their disposal. Better yet, take a look at how many people use the Internet to be updated on the world around them.

If you wait to make communication decisions based on your comfort level of what ‘has been’ for so long, you will become exactly that, a has-been. Your story will instead be defined by the national narrative out there right now about government, or about police, and it will consume you whole. People will hear over and over from outside influences assumptions about what you do and who you are and, if they hear it enough, they will begin to believe it. You haven’t countered the assumptions, so it must be true, right?

So here’s my third big lesson – even with all of these awesome efforts, you may never change that one person’s mind, and that is ok. I’ll be honest, it’s still hard to write that.

But know this — your responsiveness is not meant for just that one person. It is meant for the silent majority, sitting, watching, and waiting to see how your customer service meets, or perhaps exceeds, their expectations. The more you build that understanding, the more people will know that not only are you present, but that you are willing to pursue a higher level of conversation than what many assume to be the norm – no response.

Look at it another way – this is your prime opportunity to tackle misinformation and the rumor-mill head-on. Yes, it will be more work, it will be exhausting, and it may invite a few more trolls in than you would like. But, you are showing your followers, and their networks who are watching you, that you are protecting the authenticity of information as it comes from your wheelhouse, and that you are not going to let others take away your narrative simply because a tweet picks up steam.

Highlighting positive relationships in your community help alleviate issues surrounding negative attitudes toward government.All this to say is, yes, I’m emotionally invested in our social media management and our engagement efforts. But it’s not out of obsession to change everyone’s mind to be super pro-Mountain View Police all the time (though that would be awesome), nor is it about going into DEFCON 1 defense mode when someone trolls your social media accounts because they, quite frankly, are simply looking for you to react. We’ve all been there at least once.

Rather, I feel a deep connection with people who are looking to find pathways of communication with government agencies who may seem impenetrable, who are frustrated with the process of robotic responses when they are genuinely looking for human conversation. I truly feel their need for answers, their desire to have a deeper understanding of what we do, even if it doesn’t come off that way at first. I may not feel like I can change everyone’s mind, but I can certainly feel out opportunities to exchange knowledge.

So yes, I feel emotionally attached to our social media posts and responses, to our GIFs and our emoji usage. And that’s how it probably should be – because those who wholly believe in the mission and the message of your agency will be your greatest advocates, both online and in-person. And I think we could all use a bit more of that love. So shout away, social media. I’m ready for you with a big hug and a big chance for a better chat.

Close window