Humorous memes, self-deprecating jokes, a 99 per cent response rate balanced with informative in-house awareness videos and creative digital posters —- the official Facebook page of Kerala Police has all this and more.
And on January 10, the state police marked a milestone when the Facebook page garnered more than 1 million likes —- surpassing the popularity of the New York Police Department (NYPD).
Behind the success of the page is a team of four policemen (a fifth officer left the team recently), who were hired after taking a detailed test to be part of the social media cell. They were judged on various parameters such as knowledge of IPC, ability to handle social media platforms, and even sense of humour. ADGP Manoj Abraham was assigned the role of mentoring the team and keeping an eye on the content.
“On May 1 last year, when we took charge, the Facebook page was lying idle. It used to be handled by an external agency and had just 2.5 lakh likes. The engagement was very low,” said 33-year-old Arun BT, a Civil Police Officer (CPO) who was earlier posted at the cyber cell in Thiruvananthapuram.
For the first couple of months, Arun said, they stuck to posting routine information which hardly elicited any significant response. It was later, on the advice of Abraham, that they adopted a different approach —- using humour based on Malayalam cinema to send out stern messages on law enforcement.
Using a meme from a popular Malayalam-language flick, the team sought to warn offenders who speak on cellphones while driving a motorcycle or car. “It got us over 3,000 likes. We realised that the public had accepted our content. Since then, we have noted that engagement on trolls and memes has significantly been higher than other posts which are considered of a serious nature,” said Arun, who has a degree in mass communication.
The team of Arun, CPO Santosh PS, Kamal Nath and Bimal VS, both senior CPOs in their 40s, ideate before putting out a post. They have a WhatsApp group, of which Abraham is the administrator, in which ideas are discussed and routed through him.
Another aspect that fetched them engagement was the personalised, witty response system that the team fashioned to develop an interpersonal bond with the audience. “When we reply personally to their comments, often in the form of jokes, it makes them feel involved. In turn, it makes them post ‘good’ comments to elicit our response. They share it with their friends,” said Santhosh PS, who has experience editing an in-house police magazine and working in the media.
The devastating floods of August showed the team what an expertly-managed social media page could achieve. “We got close to 25,000 messages those days. People in foreign countries, whose families were stuck in the floods, would send us messages about their loved ones. We would relay all those messages to the wireless team at the control room,” said Arun.
At the same time, during the recent protests over women’s entry at the Sabarimala temple, the social media cell of the police had to dodge abusive and organised targeting of the page. “Many Sangh Parivar-backed groups wanted to propagate their opinions and perspectives on our page by defaming us. We had to ban many of them. Some of them came back to admit that they were asked to target and vilify the police,” said Santhosh.
Despite all this, the page has expanded in leaps and bounds. The Microsoft Research lab in Bengaluru has taken the Kerala Police’s methods as a case study to understand new media interactions. On January 10, at an event in Thiruvananthapuram, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan felicitated the officers for their work.
“Nowadays, we get all kinds of questions from the people. Many of them want to join the force. Some even ask us for relationship advice (laughs). They consider us friends,” said Kamal Nath.