EAST LANSING — If you’ve spent any time on Twitter, you know it’s the most humorous and witty tweets that get attention.
And if you’ve spent any time in East Lansing, you know Michigan State University’s students and the local police department don’t have the most natural relationship.
The East Lansing Police Department hopes to shake up perception—with social media.
ELPD’s social media accounts, particularly its Twitter account, are known for being funny and engaging.
“I think that a lot of people’s outlook on police is we’re all just very serious, just very professional and straight to the point,” said ELPD Officer Jordan Woodruff, who runs the account. “Obviously, we do need to be like that sometimes, but by adding that humor to it, my goal is to be able to reach out to the community and connect with them on a different level and show them that we’re like them, we think things are funny too.”
Woodruff, a Lansing native, joined ELPD in December 2016 and started working on the department’s social media team during summer 2017.
At 26, Woodruff said his age helps him think of relatable content.
“I’m a younger officer, so I kind of know the trending things and the funny memes that are going around, so I try to incorporate those things so students don’t think, ‘Oh, the cops are just out to get us and write us tickets,’” Woodruff said.
Woodruff is one of three officers who works on ELPD’s social media team. Along with Woodruff, officers Katelynn Bennett and Jeremy Hamilton manage ELPD’s Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube accounts.
“When we post stuff that’s more on the humor side, we try to make it informative as well,” Woodruff said. “And of course, our rivalry with Bath Township (Police Department), we try to keep that going and keep it light to humanize the badge, a little bit. Show people that we still have personalities and we think things are funny too, just like everybody else.”
Think you can guess which tweets came from ELPD’s Twitter account and which are fake? Take the quiz and see how well you do!
For the most part, the account’s tone is well received, Woodruff said. The funnier tweets receive plenty of comments, likes and engagement. Rarely does ELPD see people say it’s unprofessional to take that tone.
Maddie Davis, an East Lansing resident and junior at MSU, said she thinks the department’s funny brand is effective and does humanize police officers, a group she said others are usually afraid of or intimidated by.
“Other police departments or other serious accounts like that are just kind of updates where people wouldn’t necessarily want to follow them,” Davis said. “I think it makes it more desirable to follow that account because it’s not just automated and strictly informational tweets.”
Davis said that as a creative advertising major, she’s seen big brands move toward a funny tone on social media, which drives engagement and brand loyalty.
“It makes people want to engage with that brand, which is probably why they’re doing it,” Davis said. “It makes them a little less standoffish, which is probably a good thing because of how police are portrayed in the media.”
Woodruff said it’s the students that really make the Twitter account successful.
With the police department so close to a university with a large, young audience, Woodruff said ELPD aims to produce content students can relate to.
“You’re probably not going to have a resident of East Lansing who’s in their 50s or 60s on Twitter,” Woodruff said. “There are some, for sure, but the majority of them are going to be students. … I think it’s cool for the students to be able to look at the Twitter and laugh and relate.”
With Facebook, Woodruff said, the median age of the audience is a lot older than that of ELPD’s Twitter audience. Because of that, Woodruff said he tries to use more gifs and funny hashtags on Twitter.Tweets by @EastLansingPD
Woodruff said his tweet ideas usually come from seeing something funny or trending and then shaping it into something applicable and informative for the ELPD. He said the department isn’t necessarily always looking or searching for funny material.
“We try to aim toward humor, however, we do have some serious posts when we do need to post something serious,” Woodruff said. “But we do try to keep it light and somewhat on the comedy side to show the human side of the badge, that we can be funny too. We try to keep it informative and professional while keeping humor.”
Molly Growney, an East Lansing resident and freshman at MSU, said there might be tension between trying to be funny and what’s appropriate for a police department’s messaging.
“They’re a police force, so it’s like, you should be serious and not make it kind of joke-y, but also so many people think that the police are too serious and scary, and this could help tone it down,” Growney said. “So there’s kind of a conflict there.”
Growney said she doesn’t think ELPD’s content, while funny, would do much to change the relationship between ELPD officers and students in real life.
“Online personas versus in-person is so different,” Growney said. “Behind a phone, they might be friendlier and on the same level with students, but I don’t think that would help the relationship when it came to an in-person situation.”
Above all, Growney said she thinks the accounts should be a mix of serious, informational and funny.
Woodruff said overall, his favorite part of running ELPD’s Twitter account is relating to students and community members.
“Again, my end goal is to humanize the badge more and to show that we have humor, too,” Woodruff said. “Just because we enforce the law and wear badges to work doesn’t mean we don’t think things are funny.”