They say you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
Along those lines, officers with the Fayetteville Police Department have recently discovered that a little bit of honey in the form of humor might also be among the best ways to catch criminals.
Over the past six months, masterminds Sgt. Craig Stout and Corporal John Snyder have more than tripled their following on Facebook using an out-of-the-box approach to everyday postings on the social networking site.
Instead of dry and straightforward posts, theirs are littered with pop culture references, memes, song lyrics, and well-written, humorous commentary that have proved to help spread their messages further.
Those extra eyeballs and participation from the public has in turn, helped the department to catch the criminals they’re seeking.
Lightening up online
Stout said the change in tone on the department’s Facebook page is no accident.
“About a year ago, I went to some social media training put on by Aaron Slader with the Rosenberg Police department,” Stout said. “They are kind of a trendsetter in that they have the third largest police department page, and they’re just a small community outside of Houston, Texas.”
The Rosenberg page admins use a similarly fun approach, and have built a following of more than 100,000 Facebook fans.
That success has led to other departments around the country trying to utilize a little bit of humor with their social media posts in order to more effectively connect with the public, and get more mileage out of their social media posts.
“After those classes, I realized we could bring the idea back (to Fayetteville) and have some fun with it,” he said. “So we started lightening up a bit.”
Not long after Stout’s return, officer Jonathan Snyder was assigned to help with the project after he was injured in a motorcycle accident in the line of duty.
Snyder, it turned out, has a real knack for writing, and also connecting with folks through social media.
“At the time, (Snyder) didn’t even have a Facebook page,” Stout recalled. “But he has a really quick wit, a large vocabulary, and is very intelligent. So I put him on it, and it has really taken off.”
The comedy team
Taken off, it has. The page went from around 3,000 followers roughly a year ago to more than 13,300 as of this week.
Several posts on the page have received over 1,000 likes, and Stout said the views on the posts are frequently over the 10,000 mark.
Synder and Stout say they work together to come up with content. It starts with something that they need to communicate, and they spend some time bouncing ideas off each other on how to present the material.
Stout, who considers himself to be somewhat of an encyclopedia of pop culture, helps come up with the concepts, and Snyder does most of the actual writing.
Sometimes, on the most serious matters, they play it safe and just present the information they need to communicate in a straight-forward way.
Other times, they really let their creativity shine through.
One of their most popular posts, for example, referenced the children’s book If You Give A Mouse A Cookie. Instead, Synder substituted “If you give a guy a stolen truck,” and told the true story of a person who stole a truck, ran from police, and went “mudding” around the Fayetteville Municipal Airport only to get stuck and finally call the police for help. The entire post was written in the tone of the popular children’s book.
Another post seeking help to identify a person who broke into a local man’s house had a Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure theme. Yet another post referred to suspects in a string of car break-ins as “The Midnight Shoppers Club.”
Several of the posts have soundtracks via embedded videos with songs selected by the officers, with everything from Macklemore to Jane’s Addiction, oftentimes for comedic effect.
They’ve used the page to start a friendly rivalry with the local fire department.
They even poke plenty of fun at themselves, frequently joking about police officers’ affinity for donuts in the comments of their posts.
“Oh yeah, we call donuts ‘cop vitamins’,” Snyder laughed.
A method to the madness
Though their methods may seem a little unconventional, Stout and Snyder say there is a method to the madness of their seemingly-silly posts.
The engaging, often humorous style has resonated with Facebook users, resulting in high levels of engagement on the posts, which actually helps increase the reach of the information. Facebook’s news feed algorithm is secret, but as anyone who runs a page can attest, posts with high engagement levels also receive more views than posts that don’t get many likes, shares, and comments.
As a result of their work, the department gets more eyes on important messages.
Having the large, already-engaged following makes it easier for them to generate tips that help identify criminals in unsolved cases, and to share other important information such as missing persons data, traffic updates, safety tips, etc.
It has been an incredibly effective police tool, Stout said. For example, a post made last week about an indecent exposure suspect on Dickson Street generated several tips and leads about the identity of the suspect.
On more than one occasion, he said, tips generated either directly or indirectly from the Facebook page have led to the identification of criminals.
There are other benefits to the officers lightening up in their daily routine.
“It is an opportunity for us to humanize ourselves a little bit,” Stout said. “Everybody loves a fireman, but a lot of times, police have a more negative public image. That is something we have to overcome, but this is one opportunity to do that.
“It’s a way for us to show that we can have a sense of humor too.”
Whatever they’re doing, it’s working. Comments like “made my day” and “always makes me laugh even on a bad day” are common on the department’s posts.
Fayetteville Police Chief Greg Tabor said his administration has learned to embrace Stout and Snyder’s style.
“We’ve had a few more complaints now than when we were posting more sterile stuff on the page,” he said. “But when I measure that against the increased engagement, I think it’s clearly worthwhile.
“Plus, any time we can get more information to the public, it benefits everyone.”