Australia’s Queensland Police Service has ridden hoverboards coupled with an abiding hatred for Canadian rockers Nickelback into social media success.
The service’s Facebook page has been liked more than 725,000 times, which is more than any other police service in Australia, and more than the NYPD.
Often on point, it has used its following to address the scourge that is the “Be Like Bill” meme, and they’re as excited about the return of The X-Files as the rest of us. Of course, the majority of posts concern public safety information, or appeals for tip-offs regarding local crime or missing persons.
In recent times, the Queensland Police Service has dealt with its fair share of serious complaints, particularly relating to police brutality and its treatment of Indigenous Australians. So do hashtags and memes really equal effective and open communication for a police service that has sometimes been no comedy act themselves?
Mashable Australia spoke with Simon Kelly, director of media and public affairs at the Queensland Police Service, to find out more about the unique social media strategy being used within the force — and if it works.
Revealed: Det Insps Mulder & Scully – keeping QLD safe from alien colonisation all this time! @thexfiles #TheXFiles pic.twitter.com/EAQwXMIDLM
— QPS Media Unit (@QPSmedia) January 31, 2016
The Queensland Police Service began using social media in mid-2010. It started with Facebook and Twitter, and moved more recently to Instagram. “It was another channel that we could use to communicate … and a way of having a two way conversation with the public,” he said.
The police force used it quite conservatively during the first six months, but at the end of 2010, a series of weather events hit Queensland resulting in catastrophic flooding. “Over that period, we found that more and more people were gravitating toward our social media channels for [emergency and public safety] information,” he said. “We saw our likes increase by 100,000 overnight.”
In the years following, they introduced humour and human interest stories as a way to maintain engagement. “Using humour at the appropriate time is a great way of reaching more people,” Kelly said. The recent “Be Like Bill” post, for example, reached more than 9 million people.
Apparently, the funny posts are a team effort. “While some people think they’re funnier than others … it really isn’t one person that you can pin it all on,” Kelly explained. The Queensland Police media staff, around 20 people who all post across platforms, also has someone monitoring its social media channels 24 hours each day.
They keep a close eye on what’s being discussed, and have a number of tools and strategies when people comment in an offensive way. “We find a lot of self-moderating goes on,” he said. “If someone makes an inappropriate comment, quite often, a lot of the other followers will jump on that comment and call the person out before we even have an opportunity.”
The public have been largely supportive of the humour, although not everyone always gets the joke. “We can’t expect that everyone’s going to agree or like what we’re doing,” he said. “By and large, we get far more positive reactions than negative.” Kelly could not recall any post that had been taken down for missing the mark, other than being removed for operational reasons that didn’t relate to humor.
Still, going viral is the force’s friend, until it’s not. A video of a Queensland police officer repeatedly shoving a woman in the chest during a house arrest, posted on Facebook by NITV journalist Danny TeeJay Johnson, has been watched almost 800,000 times. As Junkee pointed out, the police did not choose to acknowledge the incident on its social media channels.
Kelly could not comment on the video, as it is currently being reviewed, but said it’s important that people “trust the brand.” He suggested the Queensland Police Service also post information to social media that holds police officers accountable.
This includes disciplinary matters, such as when a policeman is charged with a crime or stood down. If the service issues a media release on such a matter, it also gets posted on Facebook and Twitter. “In addition to all the basic operation policing information, it’s important that we, for public confidence, post information that’s not necessarily favourable to the organisation,” Kelly said.
Kelly said the police are always monitoring what might be next social media platform on the horizon — they’re looking at Snapchat, of course — but ultimately, where the people are is Facebook. Nevertheless, they’re starting to use Instagram to indulge in some animal meme content. “Dogs do seem to be popular on Instagram, so we do make the most of that,” he said.
Still, we want to know: Why are the Queensland police so mean to Nickelback? “The Queensland police doesn’t hate Nickelback,” Kelly said. “I guess we were really just picking up on a common theme on the Internet, where it’s almost a sport to make fun of them.”
So in this, like most things, it’s your fault, people of the Internet.