Editor’s Note: Welcome to InPHLuencers, a ChatterBlast Media interview series where we showcase Philadelphia’s digital and social innovators. The industry is constantly evolving, so we’re spotlighting some local social media superstars, whose work we are big-time fans of. Today, we take a peek inside the noggin of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Sgt. Eric Gripp.
Imagine being tasked with running the Philadelphia Police Department’s social media presence.
Kind of daunting, right?
Follow, like, and connect with them and you’ll get an entirely different impression. In fact, as many of us have come to know, the Philadelphia Police has been widely recognized (ex: here, here, and, here) for just how much fun they have with it.
— Philadelphia Police Department (@PhillyPolice) February 18, 2016
A former Philly street cop, Gripp’s current gig as the department’s social media manager honestly began with a cover band he used to play in. Some of the fun things he was doing on social to promote the band got him thinking about how he could possibly help the department’s digital presence.
“I told Lt. John Stanford I thought [the department’s presence] was lackluster at best,” Gripp said. “That wasn’t so much a commentary on the person who was doing it, it was just kind of the way most government entities were running their social at the time. It was really boring. Really just sticking to the facts.”
Long story short, it was all John Stanford and Commissioner Charles Ramsey needed to convince them to give some of Gripp’s ideas a shot.
. . .
“If you don’t keep people entertained, they’re not going to pay attention.”
Gripp’s logic has been this: There’s so much white noise on the internet. There are so many distractions, and so much content out there, so to try to get people’s attention through all of those things is hard. And it’s getting harder.
“My whole idea was ‘Let’s give people a reason to look at the PPD’s Facebook page outside of the usual prime information,’” Gripp said. “Basically I just decided that whatever was on my mind at that time, I was just going to put a post up about it.”
No, posting #StarWarsForceAwakens spoilers is not a crime. Yes, it should be. We enforce the laws – we don't make them. Sorry.
— Philadelphia Police Department (@PhillyPolice) December 15, 2015
It could be anything from “My breakfast this morning was terrible” to brownie recipes to inciting debates about the merits of Coca Cola vs. Pepsi. The reason being, if anything else, people are going to stop and look.
“Whether they hated it, loved it, thought it was a waste of time, it was just to get them to stop and look at what we were doing,” Gripp told me. “It’s been highly successful for us.”
In a time where Facebook’s numbers have gone down drastically as far as the amount of content that’s being shared with your followers, the department’s numbers continued to grow at a much quicker pace.
Zebras in custody. They are already sporting old-timey prisoner getup ahead of trial and sentencing. Have faith, fellas.
— Philadelphia Police Department (@PhillyPolice) November 15, 2015
Which brings us back to my original question: tough work? Nope. Gripp called it easy. At least in the beginning.
“In the early days I could just make a fart joke and Philly.com would cover it for three days,” he laughed. “’Why are the police doing this?!’ It would get shared everywhere and now it’s like to the point where I have to do a trapeze act and juggle and all that because everyone’s doing this now.”
. . .
“This is my tax dollars at work! We had five homicides last night and you’re putting out a brownie recipe!”
Backlash is rare, he says. But it’s usually that same question when it happens.
And, yeah. It is our tax dollars. And here’s why those critics should be OK with that:
Take the famous #NoSavesies post for example. A tweet Gripp said he fired off without a second thought before going to bed only to wake up to calls from BBC requesting interviews and Jim Gardner saying “No savesies” on the news the next day.
— Philadelphia Police Department (@PhillyPolice) January 20, 2016
(Savesies are technically illegal, by the way.)
“We can go to pretty much any one of those posts that really hit it big [like No Savesies] and the post right after it [typically gets] 402% the average amount of shares and unique viewers,” Gripp said.
The subsequent post, of course, being something a bit more useful: the “WANTED” posts, surveillance footage, crime info, etc. Gripp posts when he’s not making funnies.
“Obviously people are sharing the viral content and it’s giving them a reason to come to the page. So they’re coming to the page right away and obviously they’re going to see the nearest post to the one they came there to look for and the growth off of that has been fantastic.”
— Philadelphia Police Department (@PhillyPolice) February 27, 2015
. . .
“The more eyes the better, as far as we’re concerned.”
Gripp points to one particular situation a couple years ago that really opened his eyes in a new way to the power of social media as a tool for solving crimes. The department was dealing with a hit and run case in which someone had suffered serious injuries. All they had as evidence was a very grainy piece of surveillance footage.
“So we put it on our Facebook page and within like 2 days, we got a message from some guy in Germany,” Gripp said. “He introduced himself and he said “I used to work as an engineer for GM back in the ‘80s… It could only be this car. It was only made this year and look for this car in PA— because we had a partial PA tag—and I’m guaranteeing that it’s going to be that car.”
Sure enough, they found the car with matching damage as well as the guy behind the wheel.
“This guy from Germany,” Gripp said, “he found our page because somebody shared one of those stupid posts that I’d put on there.”
Insane. “The more eyes, the better” is right.
The view from S/B Roosevelt Blvd . Mario immediately regretted his decision to travel. Wait for it to clear, folks! pic.twitter.com/LEWuEBuHiD
— Philadelphia Police Department (@PhillyPolice) January 18, 2015
. . .
“I don’t think this is changing the world, but it’s opening up some doors that were obviously closed before.”
In terms of using social as a connector between public and police, Gripp was able to speak quite candidly:
“Let’s face it, when most people encounter a police officer—I don’t want to say it’s a negative experience—but you know you’re receiving a ticket, getting arrested, or you were just victim of a crime and the officer is coming to take the report.
“People weren’t exactly coming up to cops on the street saying what’s up and just shooting a breeze and things like that so that’s what I wanted to do. I just wanted to cut down the entire mystique of the Wizard of Oz.”
The whole idea is that, if you’re comfortable talking with the department online, then maybe you will be in person. That’s where Gripp says the outreach has been fantastic.
“We’re conversational. It’s not always about horrible or significant things. And we’ve received so many of those great interactions. If they’re feeling comfortable talking to a police officer—it’s a night and day difference in terms of how my interactions with people were when I first got here and how they are now.”
Being conversational and transparent with the people you serve goes a long way.
— Philadelphia Police Department (@PhillyPolice) July 25, 2016