He’s come to be known as “The Funny Guy” on the Harford County Sheriff’s Office social media pages, the one who writes“Roses are Red” poems to catch Wanted Wednesday subjects or offers free room and board at the Harford County Detention Center on Ladies Night.
Kyle Andersen, public information specialist for the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, is being funny intentionally.
“We find when we use humor, even if it’s just a little chuckle, more people see it, more people share it and the further spread our message gets,” Andersen said. “Especially when it comes to wanted people and safety messages, the more we use humor, the more likely we are to catch people or warn people.”
Take a Valentine’s Day tweet, for example. “You complete me” floats over a doughnut hole that lands squarely in the hole of a doughnut: “You know what we love? We love this warming weather. We love keeping you safe. We LOVE donuts. But we don't love it when you drink and drive! If you're going to dinner with your valentine tonight, make sure you have a sober ride home!”
On Feb. 19, as more winter weather approached: “Here we go again… more snow and ice is in the forecast for tomorrow. Please limit your travel and if you must hit the roads, clear your car of snow and ice and watch out for snow plows! #NoSnow Get me off the #SnowTrain.” The television reporter gets nailed with flying snow as a plow goes by in a video.
There’s Wanted Wednesday: It's cold, and it's going to get colder. And with the wind, it could feel like it's below 0. But that shouldn't be a problem to these two. We have a great place with a warm bed, and strong, thick, walls to block the wind. So, if you see these two #WantedWednesday subjects, let us know! Help us warm them up at the Detention Center!”
And how about Ladies Night on Fridays?
“It's the last Friday of the month, and you know what that means! Oh yes, it's Ladies' Night! We're still offering our Valentine's Day special for these five ladies. A free all-inclusive stay at the Harford Hilton (Detention Center). Sorry, the Spa is closed until further notice. If you know where they are, help us help them take advantage of this exclusive offer!”
For the last two years, the Sheriff’s Office media and public relations department has been increasing its social media recognition, mainly with humor.
It started with April the Giraffe’s baby watch nearly two years ago. Andersen was looking for social media trends to capitalize on and when the calf was born, his Wanted Wednesday was “captured” with a picture of the calf.
It was being talked about in Washington, D.C., and Andersen and his supervisor, Cristie Hopkins, director of media relations for the Sheriff’s Office, began to realize how quickly their messages could spread.
The numbers are good
The agency’s social media numbers indicate success, Hopkins said.
The Sheriff’s Office number of Facebook followers was 49,956 as of Monday – up from 10,907 four years ago, and by 858 since Jan. 1, according to figures provided by Andersen.
Its Twitter following on Jan. 1, 2017, was at 6,261; that number had nearly doubled as of Monday to 11,630.
While the Instagram followers are fewer, they’re increasing at a greater rate than Twitter. On Jan. 1, 2017, the Sheriff’s Office had 691 followers; as of Monday it had more than tripled to 2,473, and was up by more than 1,100 since the beginning of the year.
When Hopkins started with the Sheriff’s Office in March 2013, the agency’s Facebook page had 4,000 followers. It hit 10,000 right after the election in 2014 and soon will reach 50,000.
The Sheriff’s Office saw a huge uptick in the number of followers after the line of duty deaths of Senior Deputy Patrick Dailey and Deputy First Class Mark Logsdon.
Those followers stuck with the agency after the shootings, Hopkins said.
“A lot of times you see the following will balloon after a major incident, then they’ll leave,” she said.
After Senior Deputy Dailey and DFC Logsdon were killed, the number of followers jumped to 20,000.
“Those people have continued to follow us,” Hopkins said. “That says were are going a good job of engaging with out community and providing content they feel is relevant to them, is relevant to their live and is useful to their life.”
That’s what social media is all about, she said, providing content people feel some sort of emotional attachment to, so they like it, then share it, she said.
“It becomes part of our persona,” Hopkins said.
Even when the conversation is hotly contested, they remain engaged.
“They might want to voice their opinion, and we provide an environment for which they can do that,” Hopkins said. “We want to be part of the conversation. We hope it branches out.”
Not a sub for 911
Hopkins and Andersen warn that the Sheriff’s Office social media outlets are not to be used instead of 911.
Not only are they just two people managing social media feeds, they do not have the ability to send deputies to an emergency, Hopkins said.
“If there’s an emergency, people need to contact the precincts or call 911,” she said.
One of them will respond to followers seeking information, but it takes time, and “we’re not here 24/7.”
There are times, however, when Andersen will not use humor, especially when it comes to child sex offenders, he said.
“That’s not something to laugh about at all,” he said. “A sex offense against a minor or a sex offense in general, I’m not going to make a joke.”
Other times the agency uses shock, and cites the porch pirate in Bel Air as an example. A residential security camera caught a young girl allegedly stealing a package from the porch of a Bel Air home, and appeared to be doing it at the direction of someone off the camera.
“The reach on that was really high because so many people thought it was so shocking, they shared it, and within a week we had the girl identified, which led to her dad and we were able to track him down an arrested him,” Andersen.
There are times Anderson can’t think of anything funny.
When that happens, he’ll admit it: “I have writer’s block. I can’t be funny this week.”
Wipers on? Headlights on! Watch your speed, and leave enough stopping distance. It may not be snow, but the rain also can be dangerous to drivers! pic.twitter.com/0cm61e1DaS
Then people will start trying to be funny for him.
Other times, Andersen turns to Google, looking for “whatever national day it is,” he said. National Wine Day and National Donut Day are especially good ones — what cop doesn’t like a good doughnut?
The hope is that social engagement — which will sometimes include the sheriff — will continue to build its growth online, helping to further spread the department’s message.
“It’s fun to use comedy to bring the great feeling of community in Harford County into the online presence,” Andersen said. “In turn, we bring in some goodwill because we know people will turn to us for a good laugh or a good story. But now we know they will turn to us for a major incident.”
When Hopkins came to the Sheriff’s Office, she spoke with deputies about creating an agency Twitter account, which she said was “completely out of their comfort zone.”
Five years later, many of those deputies, but especially the newer ones, are coming to her and Andersen with items to tweet or post on Facebook.
“They recognize the value it has and they come to us,” Hopkins said. “And deputies you never thought would embrace social media, even they recognize the benefits of it.”
Just last week, during the daylong snow storm Feb. 20, Hopkins received a handful of pictures of deputies who were out in the snow — sledding, having a snowball fight or driving on snowy roads.
They’re not out to make life miserable for people, write them tickets or arrest them, she said.
“They’re actually trying to be out there to interact with you, be a resource for the community and protect you,” Hopkins said. “That’s what we’re trying to show.”
She and Andersen have the support of the sheriff and his command staff, who allow them creative freedom when it comes to social media, Hopkins said.
“They understand the benefit of it,” she said, “which has allowed us to take this in a very new direction.”
Social media can also be used to recruit for the Sheriff’s Office, Hopkins said.
“Agencies across the nation are struggling with recruitment. When competing with other agencies, we want to attract the best possible candidates to work in our community,” she said.
For people who may not have ever considered a career in law enforcement or corrections, the Sheriff’s Office wants to provide on social media something that makes a person think “I want to do that job,” Hopkins said.
When a police officer or corrections officer is looking for a job, for an agency to belong to, the Sheriff’s Office hopes its social media can show how good Harford is.
“We want to show that it’s a fantastic community, a fantastic agency,” Hopkins said. “Our community really is what sets us apart as a law enforcement agency from others in Maryland. Not every agency has the support of the community that we do.”