A Facebook page isn't enough, Hong Kong police should be conversational to further engage with citizens
Government agencies have no choice other than to sign up to social media: it is where ever-more numbers of citizens are increasingly spending their time. Hong Kong police, who already have a presence with a YouTube channel and an app, have taken a further step by opening a Facebook account. It has been an instant hit with supporters and critics alike, garnering tens of thousands of likes and comments. There has been a sizeable measure of negativity in the feedback, but that should be viewed as a plus for the force - improving and strengthening its rapport with the community requires engaging with the widest possible audience.
The popularity of Facebook makes it an obvious addition, providing a place for information and forum for exchanging views. A two-way channel of communication has been opened, with officers assigned to answer questions and respond to comments. In the wake of criticism among some people of the manner in which police handled the Occupy protests last year, it is important that such an avenue has been made available. Increasing interaction is the best way to ensure transparency and improve relations and trust.
But social media is also a way of making a city safer. Younger generations are more dependent on Facebook, Twitter and other channels for their knowledge than television, radio and newspapers. The new page adds another means of sharing alerts, recruiting and educating. For that reason, it is important that police also further their digital reach by adding as many popular platforms as is practicable.
But establishing a social media presence is not enough. Police, as with any part of government, have to make the best use of their channels, ensuring they engage with citizens in a timely and approachable manner. Their new Facebook presence offers a chance to be conversational rather than bureaucratic, to effectively answer questions and deal with concerns and complaints. A good start has been made; that has to be maintained, built upon and expanded.