How One Sheriff Has Bonded With His Community Through Facebook
Today, social media has become the number one tool for businesses and the public alike to communicate, advertise, engage in news, and share information with one another. According to Pew Research, over 70% of Americans use social media, with Facebook being the most popular in all age groups. In recent times, with headlines like, “Is the Police-Community relationship in America beyond repair?” (Washington Post) or “Relations between the Police and Public are Frayed” (The Hill), using social media to build good relations between police and the public is not only important, it could be critical.
Scott Berry, the sheriff of Oconee County, Georgia, with a population of around 36,000, has made a big splash on Facebook with over 92,500 followers. Sheriff Scott Berry has found Facebook to be a great tool to build a good relationship with not only his community, but also many more people outside his community. What is the trick you ask? Berry says, “You have to be yourself!”
Here is a post from December 2 that received over 26,000 reactions and was shared over 15,500 times! According to Sheriff Berry posts like these get an average of 23,000 likes or more. With a Facebook page reach of over 1.7 million, this is any sheriff’s dream come true. Moreover, with posts like these you can see why!
I need y’all to do your best not to bother us today. Between the Christmas Parade and the SEC Championship game we just don’t need your drama today. Don’t do the things that draw attention to yourself, like crashing your cars and stealing things from people, selling meth or anything else that is going to make paperwork for us.
If you are an Auburn fan, I am sure you can find someone to read this to you. GOOOOOOO DAWGS!!!!!!!!
Sheriff Berry, just being himself on Facebook, has hit home with his people, and they love his jokes. Also, supporting the community and things they care about like the University of Georgia football team has been a great approach and another way Berry is just being himself.
The Oconee County sheriff has great advice on social media use for other departments. He says, “Be involved with your community. You have to target your community with things they want to know about, read about, and what makes them feel safe. Make them feel like they are a part of what you are doing. When police departments restrict their social media just to law enforcement role, you lose people because you don’t come across as a group of real human beings.”
Many police departments only post information or police reports on their pages, which also yields a low number of followers because it is just boring to read. This must be true. When you compare the number of followers of Oconee County Sheriff’s page to other police department pages, the results are impressive, especially considering the population of these cities versus Oconee County. The closest large city to Oconee County is Atlanta.
The listed agency along with their Facebook followers:
- Atlanta Police Department – 40,000
- Los Angeles Police Department –125,000
- Chicago Police Department – 200,000
- Detroit Police Department – 104,000
- Dallas Police Department – 197,000
- Sheriff Scott Berry of Oconee County with a population of only 36,000 has 92,548 followers.
Sheriff Berry says, “Also, don’t be afraid of the trolls. You’re going to get trolled. Your deputies will make mistakes and people will come at you on social media, but you cannot live in fear of that.”
When asked about the instances where other members of law enforcement have gotten in trouble or fired for things they have posted on Facebook, Berry said that they have policies in place to hopefully prevent those situations. The reality is that police can’t just post anything on their Facebook pages because they represent the department and can reflect on the department. Perhaps this may be what limits information posted by other agencies. However, Berry has found a way to relate to his community of people he serves in a very positive way.
His Facebook page has become so popular, that people feel like they are missing out if they aren’t on Facebook and don’t follow his page. Other residents in Oconee County will tell each other, “You have got to be on the sheriff’s Facebook page, so you can be in the know!”
Fun post like this one, announcing the arrival of Barney the Elf at Christmas time, gets thousands of shares.
Sheriff Scott Berry announces that Barney the Elf has taken his oath of office and will begin his official duties immediately.
Barney grew up on the mean streets of the frozen arctic and comes to us after a long career of mucking out reindeer stalls.
We will follow Barney as he enters field training in the various divisions of the Sheriff’s Office.
Berry wants to use Facebook to engage families in his community to help them understand that it is not an “Us versus Them” mentality. He says, “Most police officers have families and children in school and live and participate in the community just like the regular citizens do, and they want to be a part of that. They want to coach, volunteer, and enjoy each part of life just as much as the people do.”
Sheriff Berry says one of his deputies enjoys dressing up like Iron Man and visiting children. The entire department really likes being able to make Iron Man show up to lift the spirits of children that need that in their lives. Berry says that he wants to be involved in more areas than just the law enforcement role for his county.
In the beginning Berry says he was against Facebook. He says he did not grow up with social media and it wasn’t something he was comfortable with. However, Chief Deputy Lee Weems is the one he gives credit for starting the popular page and helping it become successful. Today, he is thankful that Weems talked him into it because his Facebook page is now his best tool for reaching people he serves.
Sheriff Berry feels like every department needs a good strong social media following in order to build a strong relationship with their citizens.
He says, “Laughter is the best medicine and using humor works for us! If you want your citizens to support you when it’s budget time, when your deputies need help, when you have a tragedy in your agency, there is a big crime your agency is working on, and if you want your people to trust you, support you, and come to you, then you have to have a positive social media relationship. You want people to say these guys are all right. A positive social media presence can do that, and is an important part of my job.”
Finally, Sheriff Berry says the impact has been huge for this sheriff who has been elected seven times. He saiys, “The citizens of Oconee County have been so good to me and my deputies, and I love them so much.” They feed them, pick up checks at restaurants at times, bake so many treats especially around holidays, and the people of Oconee County truly support the sheriff and his deputies. Sheriff Berry says it is humbling to be the sheriff of Oconee County and to have the support of the people. As a result, he feels Facebook has been a big part of that.
Marjorie Greene – I’m a conservative political blogger on social media. I’m also a female business owner in the fitness and construction industry. I am a patriot; feel blessed to be an American, and supporter of the 2nd amendment. Life is a gift and I try not to waste one single second. Family, fitness, travel, shooting, fun, and adventure are just a few of my favorite things.
BBA University of Georgia