“We’ll put out blasts to raise public awareness of issues we’re involved in,” Jenkins said. “It’s a no-brainer really if you want to get the word out to your residents.”
However, Jenkins said he didn’t know about the department’s Facebook page until asked about it by a reporter. The Braintree page is less interactive than the Milton and Norwood pages.
Braintree, like nearby Quincy, uses a business page that Facebook users “like,” but can’t comment on or message or interact with.
However, it’s that interaction that David Gerzof Richard, professor of social media and marketing at Emerson College and founder of a marketing agency in Brookline, said is crucial if police departments want their social media efforts to be successful.
“A savvy police communications department would look into leveraging the different channels. It’s free to set up a Facebook page, and it really just needs to have someone there engaging the community,” he said. “The worst thing the departments could do is set up a page and forget about it. That’s like crying wolf, because then when you want to use it, nobody is following it.”
Gerzof Richard said that between Boston and Philadelphia, police departments have had great success on the social media front. Emergency responders have posted videos on YouTube of attempted kidnappings that led to related arrests. During the recent Back Bay blackout, the Boston Fire Department kept the public up to date via Twitter.
“It’s a really good real-time platform that allows various police and emergency response organizations to connect with the community,” Gerzof Richard said.
He added that even though some communities south of Boston may have taken longer to jump on the social media bandwagon, it isn’t too late.
“A couple of years ago, there were lots of young people on Twitter, but maybe not so many from south of the city. However, there are certainly more and more people jumping on now, so it makes sense for police departments to be there,” he said.
At least one department has said it will continue looking for new ways to reach the community through phone apps, possibly videos, and more interaction on the pages that already exist.
“It didn’t dawn on me that people would try to reach out and contact us through the sites, but they do,” Wells said.
“Unfortunately we usually only go to it when we want to put something out, not if someone’s trying to reach us, so we’ll have to be more diligent about that.”
Natalie Feulner can be reached at email@example.com.