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Chicomm Blog

5 Benefits and Challenges of Social Media & Public Safety

Posted by Kendra Newlon on Wednesday, November 27, 2013

socialmediaDevastating storms across the Midwest this past week gained national recognition through social media, ranging from YouTube videos, to Instagram photographs, to live tweets updating the status of the hardest hit towns. It’s no question that’s where most of us turned to hear the latest updates. So it only makes sense that our public officials, those that we can trust to relay accurate and timely information to us, stay up on the trend, right?! Here are some pro’s and con’s to our officials taking the streets in the social media realm.




1)      Social media allows inbound information to flow to public safety officials from social media users. Officials can’t be at every place at any given time, so this allows for the public to be the ‘eyes and ears’ of the community. Plus, information posted onto social media sites via public safety officials is easily shared amongst the social media community.  One word – VIRAL!

2)      Tracking possible criminal activity is available through social media. The whole idea that public safety officials should be on social media is because there is such a vast audience! Many don’t realize the virtual paper trail they leave when they post pictures, statuses, check-ins, etc., aiding officials to possible suspects.

3)      Instant access to information allows for response times to increase. That means that fire, police, and ambulance teams can respond in a much more timely fashion than before. Tips sent to social media accounts of public safety officials could be easier than ever now that we are in the age of the smartphone and tablet craze.

4)      The idea of the large World Wide Web encompasses the ability to reach a large audience in a relatively short amount of time. The few minutes it takes to create a status update that is shared throughout your community, then reposted by others to extend your viewing area allows for an infinite number of eyes reading your post. Imagine the positive ramifications this could have during a missing child case!

5)      Social media puts a face to the name. Showing pictures of your hard working employees that normally wouldn’t get too much recognition can bring about positive PR for your agency. By doing so, it also presents a friendlier version of law enforcement to the public, which sometimes doesn’t carry a positive representation of what they do.


1)      Running social media platforms is a lot of work. Many agencies are already fighting the battle of having enough staff for daily operations. If you’re going to dive into the world of social media – it needs to be effective and constant. Having someone specialized for that specific purpose is key to being successful online.

2)      Social media sites open the door to clutter of unusable information. We’ve all seen the ump-teen amounts of baby photos, engagement announcements, and so forth, and trying to find useful information amongst all of that could be a time challenge for public officials working with social media.

3)      Simply having a social media presence isn’t it enough. In order to be successful, it needs to be maintained and updated frequently. Content is very important…what you post must be relevant to the audience in order to gain a following. If you post things they aren’t interested in, people will be less inclined to jump on your social media bandwagon.  

4)      Social media allows for you to hide behind the computer screen. Many people see social media as a way to create anonymity, not allowing for one person to be held credible for what is posted on the site. Older generations especially aren’t too keen on this concept or social media in general for that matter.

5)      Although good for rapid information, social media also stems the circulation of false information. Especially during times of crisis, people are easy to jump onto speculation claims that may or may not be confirmed as true. People post based on emotions and mainly word of mouth, so if false rumors are spreading you bet they’ll end up on social media. This is why having a crew dedicated specifically to your online presence is crucial in successfully implementing social media. 

Public Safety Communication Checklist