In 2016 Annual Conference, Dick Pope/Polk County Chapter, Professional Development, Social Media

Blogger: Erin Knothe (Dick Pope/Polk County Chapter)

You Went Viral! Now What Do You Do?
Presented by: Officer Ben Tobias, Public Information Officer, Gainesville Police Department

Gainesville Police Department’s Public Information Officer, Ben Tobias, hit public relations gold when a seemingly ordinary Facebook video of Officer Bobby White playing basketball with some kids went viral. Ben shared tips from his experience in the closing session, “You Went Viral! Now What Do You Do?”.

On Thursday, January 21, 2016, the Gainesville Police Department Facebook page had 13,420 likes. Ben had made attempts to create that elusive viral post, but had fallen short. So, when he finally got the time to edit and post the basketball video using footage from Officer White’s dashboard camera, he was not going into the situation trying to make it go viral.

Within six hours after the video was posted, the video had been viewed one million times. Ben’s conjecture as to why it was so popular is because the video starts off in the same way as many other videos about police responses, but this one was refreshingly positive. To date, it’s estimated that the video has about 200 million organic views from global online sources.

Once the video had taken off, Ben’s office was flooded with phone calls from the media and people thanking them for the video. Officer White did not want to do interviews, so Ben had to decline local coverage. When TMZ called, Ben committed the ultimate PIO sin by accepting media coverage from them. All TMZ’s producer, Evan Rosenblum, said was that a special guest wants to visit sometime between noon and 2 p.m. Since it was a  surprise, no one could know and Ben had to completely trust that a special guest would really arrive in that time period. That’s when Ben learned that, when dealing with celebrity handlers, just trust them because they’ve been through a lot and know what they’re doing.

The special guest was basketball superstar Shaq, who then played basketball with the kids. Ben’s biggest piece of advice from this particular situation is to capture what’s going on, but put down the camera a live it too. Make sure to take some time to experience the unique experience.

The video of Shaq playing basketball with the kids had more than 1.8 million views, but it served an important lesson. Videos are easier to go viral on Facebook because the video plays automatically, which makes it easy for the audience. With YouTube, you have to make sure the video has a compelling title and thumbnail, and hope that viewers take the time to click the link to watch it. Also, be sure to watermark your video and be ready for video permission requests. Many traditional news outlets used the footage, so the police department’s branding would be aired.

Shaq visited on Saturday afternoon, and by Saturday evening and Sunday, the media requests were piling in. Officer White started doing interviews all the time for networks from all around the world.

As a result of the coverage, Ben was able to make a connection with the Harlem Globetrotters, who then participated in a groundbreaking event for a backyard basketball court for the kids. The kids were also invited to a Orlando Magic basketball game, where they were treated like VIPs, and to film a TV show segment at Shaq’s house. All in all, each celebrity the kids met gave them a positive, inspirational message that could shape their futures.

The Basketball Cop Foundation was created as a way to continue the good work that had already been started. The Foundation is a 501(c)3 that helps police departments around the country, and even Bermuda, deliver basketball hoops to their communities. This was a way for the Gainesville Police Department to help other officers change the narrative.

Ben’s Takeaways

  • Buckle up – The media does not care what day it is when an event happens. Be ready to run with it any time.
  • Facebook is the easiest way to go viral.
  • Be forward and aggressive for what you want during your 15 minutes of fame.
  • When the media starts calling, it’s ok to get behind returning their calls. They are not expecting an immediate response.
  • Take a minute and have fun. Similarly, take some time to have fun and enjoy your regular days too.

Click here to view videos referenced in the presentation


BtobiasBen Tobias is the public information officer for the Gainesville Police Department, where he has worked since 2005. During his career, he has served in patrol and spent three years riding horses with the mounted patrol unit. In the spring of 2012, Tobias assumed his current role. About a month into the new position, he handled all media functions for the murder case of UF student Christian Aguilar, which garnered international attention. Tobias’ duties include daily interactions with Gainesville television, print and radio news outlets and managing GPD’s social media presence. When he’s not wearing his PIO hat, Tobias is wearing a helicopter flight helmet as one of the backup tactical flight officers for the Gainesville Police/Alachua Sheriff’s Joint Aviation Unit.


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