By Nancy Marshall, The PR Maven® 

4 Tips For Gaining Followers

  • Lieutenant Tim Cotton, the man behind the Bangor Maine Police Department Facebook Page, accidentally amassed 300,000 Facebook followers. His strategies have been a bit unconventional, including ignoring social media pros and recruiting a duck as a mascot.
  • “I think it’s important we try to tell our story with our own words,” Tim says. “I usually try to get a point across and talk about the general kindness most police officers have toward the public.”
  • Tim makes an effort to scroll through thousands of Facebook comments a day. By reading and responding to commenters, he’s able to serve his followers and foster a strong sense of community.

When Lieutenant Tim Cotton started managing the Bangor Maine Police Department’s Facebook page, he frankly didn’t know what he was doing.

Back in the ’80s, Tim spent a few years in radio before following his father’s footsteps in law enforcement. After spending years as a detective solving crimes, he became the public information officer at the Bangor Police Department in 2014 and took over its Facebook page.

Today, more than 300,000 people from around the world “like” the page. That’s more than nine times the population of Bangor. It even attracted attention from The Washington Post, which called it “the only police department in America with a funny Facebook page.”

On episode 36 of The PR Maven® podcast, I spoke with Tim about how he’s using the Facebook page to promote the Bangor Police Department’s brand of kindness. Although he humbly insists he’s no social media genius, he shares insightful tips on how he’s captured fans from around the world.

4 Tips For Gaining Followers4 unconventional Facebook strategies that attracted 300K+ likes

Tim has since been promoted from public information officer to lieutenant and serves as the commander of the detective unit. Even so, he wakes up around 4 a.m. to write new Facebook posts and engage with the page’s followers.

“I think it’s important we try to tell our story with our own words,” Tim says. “I usually try to get a point across and talk about the general kindness most police officers have toward the public.”

So how did this small-town police department amass 300,000 Facebook fans? Tim shares surprising insights any PR or marketing pro can apply to their brands.

1. Ignore the social media pros; listen to your followers

When Tim started posting on Facebook, he received advice from social media professionals. Oh, your posts are too long, they’d say. You don’t use enough pictures.

But he didn’t change his strategy. The page likes and post engagement numbers continued to climb.

“I wasn’t a social media person starting this,” he says. “Maybe it was better, because I didn’t have any preconceived notions of what I had to do.”

Instead, he listens to the followers. He reads every single comment, tracks post engagements, and makes note of what’s working and what falls flat.

“I know what I’m doing is causing people to write back, to comment, to like and to share, so I don’t change it,” he says.

Today, it’s hard to find a post with less than 200 shares. Many have more than 1,000 shares and comments and thousands of likes.

2. Surprise and delight (with a taxidermy duck)

The Duck of Justice is somewhat of a Bangor legend.

Years ago, the duck was killed illegally by hunters. The perpetrators were caught, and the duck, a victim of the crime, was stuffed. Through a series of transactions, Tim acquired the taxidermied duck, and he slowly started featuring it on the Facebook page.

“People started asking questions,” Tim says. “I wouldn’t say anything, because sometimes unspoken is much more powerful than saying it. It became kind of humorous.”

Soon, Tim introduced the duck to Facebook as the Duck of Justice, and people started showing up at the Bangor police department to get photos with it. It’s been featured in numerous publications, including The Washington Post and The New York Post.

Today, the duck sits behind glass in the department’s museum, which attracted more than 3,000 visitors last year. Tim travels to various conferences with a wooden replica, where he says people line up to get photos.

“People were very confused about why people were coming to see an old guy and a wooden duck,” he recalls of an event in DC. “If I can go to DC — a cop from Maine — and have all these people take a train in on a Saturday to see me, you can say that is successful.”

3. Wield the weapon of snark responsibly

When Tim started posting on Facebook, he had to determine the Bangor Police Department’s voice. Did he want to be funny? Snarky? Silly?

Initially, he found people really responded to humor, but he didn’t want to make fun of people or post silly videos all the time. He eventually determined how to strike a balance between snarkiness and kindness.

“I think sometimes snark is a dangerous weapon if you don’t wield it correctly,” he says. “I try to use a little snark, a little humor, but I usually try to get a point across and talk about kindness.”

And what works for the Bangor Police Department, may not work for a big-city police department. It all depends on your audience, so read them, listen to their responses and build your voice from there.

4. Read every comment and foster a genuine community

Many social media experts will tell you not to get stuck in the comment weeds — take them with a grain of salt — but Tim scrolls through every single comment.

When he sees someone asking for help, he’ll send them a quick message, or sometimes people will report crimes through the comments, and he’ll follow up.

“What I noticed is a lot of places will put a very concerning, a very heartfelt Facebook post on, and then I’ll read the comments, and they don’t say anything back,” Tim says. “I’m immediately turned off, and I’m like, ‘Well, you didn’t mean that.’”

His goal is to offer genuine help and support, and his comment to the Bangor community through the Facebook page has resulted in a number of fundraising efforts. He’s collected everything from knit hats for the homeless to sleeping bags to gift cards officers hand out while on patrol.

“Followers are coming to you for something, and you better give it back to them, or they’re just going to go away,” he says.

This is based on episode 36 of The PR Maven® Podcast, a podcast hosted by Nancy Marshall. Weekly interviews feature industry leaders, top executives, media personalities and online influencers to give listeners a peek into the world of public relations, marketing and personal branding. Subscribe through Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.