When a child or a loved one goes missing, immediately life changes as you know it, your entire world seems to fall apart. You feel isolated, confused and desperate and may feel you have nowhere to turn for help and support.
Life becomes an emotional roller coaster for those left behind, leaving you emotionally vulnerable. Feelings of sadness, loss, guilt and anger are normal but leave you feeling emotionally drained.
Longing for direction, most families who have experienced a child or loved one missing say they wished they had a handbook to tell them what to do, what to expect, and how to respond.
(Statement by Colleen Nick, mother of Morgan Nick, missing since June 9, 1995. Photo courtesy of OJJDP.)
The Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) created a handbook “When Your Child is Missing: A Family Survival Guide” providing direction to parents of missing children. It is an invaluable resource for families. However, since it was created, there have been many advancements in methods to distribute fliers and raise public awareness of missing persons.
With a missing person, it is imperative to gain public attention. Experts agree, every time you share information with the public, it creates the potential to generate that one lead law enforcement needs to bring that person home safe.
Much of the time, creating public awareness is a cooperative effort between the families of the missing person, media, and law enforcement. However, getting each to work cohesively with the other is sometimes difficult and much of the burden of creating social awareness falls on the family.
Social Media’s Role in Finding Missing Persons
Government agencies and police are increasingly using social media to help find missing persons. In fact, New York City Police Department launched a social media campaign to include the public in ongoing investigations, to both find missing persons and catch criminals.
“If a person goes missing, commands make initial notifications on social media. Then, posters are made,” said Zachary Tumin, deputy commissioner for strategic initiatives and leader of the NYPD’s social media efforts. “As that information gets retweeted by police and the public, word spreads very quickly to be on the lookout for that missing person.”
(NYPD actively utilizes Facebook and Twitter to search for missing persons.)
NYPD’s Facebook page currently has “822,054 Likes” with no sign of slowing down.
Prior to social media, distribution of information was always limited by limited geographic outreach, with missing person pages commonly only posted within the community the person went missing.
With social media platforms, it changed the landscape of searching for missing persons. Facebook has 2.37 billion users in 2019, Twitter 126 million daily users, and Instagram over 800 million, making it the ideal place to generate leads for law enforcement.
Mystery and misery linger in a missing person case. Many think the number of missing persons has risen in missing person cases, but experts say it is thanks to social media, not an actual increase in cases. “Missing persons have always been there, of course, but due to social media, the cases are more widespread,” said Ray Wagner, Director of Relations for Crimestoppers.
(Missing in Arizona’s post on Facebook for Elizabeth Breck who vanished from Tucson, Arizona, on January 13, 2019.)
Nothing compares to sharing information using social media platforms. The information posted is immediately available throughout the country, and the world.
Combining Social Media with News Media
Working with local and national media is also a critical component of searching for a missing person as news stories also have the long-time been proven to generate leads.
Here are some guidelines to follow when working with news media when a person is missing:
- It is important to always speak to the investigating law enforcement agency prior to doing a news interview so as not to compromise an investigation. It is common for law enforcement to request minimal information about an investigation be shared in a news interview to protect their case, especially if a nonfamily abduction is suspected.
- Consider using a public relations firm. Sometimes costly, they do have expertise in constructing press releases and attracting media interest. Try obtaining services pro bono. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
- Appoint a family spokesperson, someone capable of speaking publicly and comfortable being in the public eye.
- Keeping the media interested requires pulling at “heart strings” so plan on doing interviews on birthdays, anniversary dates, and holidays.
- Remember, just because they ask a question, doesn’t mean you have to answer it.
Utilization of Social Media Platforms
Working with law enforcement cannot be over-emphasized. While using social media platforms gives you instant ability to mass communicate, and can be a source of significant support, it can also be a place where you may be scrutinized or asked many questions. Aside from being time consuming, the public has a tendency to ask questions, and it is important for you to only stick with the facts of an investigation without leaking tidbits of information by identifying a perpetrator or details of the investigation.
Utilizing any social network platform can be emotionally taxing, but worth utilizing when a family member is missing, and life may hang in the balance.
There are several social media platforms that can help you widen your search, stay organized and reach various audiences.
- Facebook helps raise social awareness, fundraise, organize events and keep your social network apprised of any new developments.
- YouTube can help keep news coverage organized and a quick and effective way to post your media on other network platforms, involving people in your efforts.
- Twitter can reach very large audiences to include politicians, celebrities and news stations.
- Instagram can help with sharing photographs and “behind the scenes” images, while connecting with a younger audience that is very socially aware and involved.
- Blogger or any blogging platform, can help by giving you a place to vent your everyday frustrations and emotions while sharing progress with readers.
Setting up Storage
When a love one is missing you can find yourself being asked over and over again for the same information and photographs of your loved one.
It is advisable to use a cloud content storage like Dropbox or Google Documents where you can create different folders or files such as press releases, letters, and high-quality photographs that media and other organizations can use to help raise public awareness. Also, utilizing “content storage” saves time and frustration when trying to email high resolution images.
Dropbox is free and offers up to 2GB of storage and Google Documents is free and offers 15GB of storage (to include emails and attachments).
- Appoint a trusted Administrator(s) to help you with the page.
- Set up a “Page” in Facebook and choose a name consistent with the purpose such as “FIND BRYCE LASPISA” or “MISSING SARAH GALLOWAY.” Choose something and use both first and last name of the missing person.
- Use high-quality photographs when possible and use a picture of the missing person as a profile picture.
- Include a brief description of the missing person to include where they were last seen, along with law enforcement’s contact number or hotline.
- Communicate clearly and succinctly in all posts.
- Post at times the most people are going to see your posts, not in the middle of the night. According to a Buffer study, the best times of post on Facebook is between 1-3 p.m. during the week and on Saturdays, with Thursdays and Fridays having the most engagement.
- Post consistently and frequently with “Calls to Action” such as asking people to share your post (and ask their friends to share), or ask they use a photo of the missing person flier as their profile picture for a week.
- Always try to stay positive. The tone of your post matters.
- Provides updates when possible and post any media interviews or links to television shows that may have profiled the missing person.
- Don’t feel obligated to respond to any comment or message.
With social media, comes the potential for negative comments, messages or posts from users. Never feel the need to respond to negative correspondence or comments, just delete or hide negative comments as soon as you can.
Lastly, you can also pay for advertising on Facebook.
Advertising on Facebook
Everyone’s Facebook account comes with the ability to run ads. With Facebook Advertising, you can target specific locations the missing person may be most likely to be in, to include entire cities to just parts of a city. You can also target specific age groups and should be done as quickly as possible if you are able to afford it.
Here is a website that can help. A great article “How to Use Facebook As in the Search for a Missing Person” is also an excellent resource.
If not using a service to help in this endeavor, try to become familiar with Facebook’s advertising program as soon as possible.
- Choose your objective. These four categories can help you in the search for a missing loved one.
- Promote your page
- Boost your posts
- Increase your reach
- Raise attendance at your events
- Define your audience.
- Location. Start with country and state.
- Age. Choose an age range. It is advisable to keep this broad to reach people of all ages (18-65+).
- Language. Choose English if in the United States.
- Define your budget.
- Daily: a daily budget is the maximum amount your will spend per day during the timespan of your ad.
- Lifetime: a longer-term budget you will spend during the lifetime of the ad.
- Create new ad.
- Choose your ad format (above).
- Add content.
- You get 90 characters of text to concisely share your message.
- Use only high-quality images or video.
- Use a name like “Have You Seen This Missing Person” or similar.
- Image specs:
- Recommended image size: 1200 x 628 pixels
- Image ratio: 1.91:1
- To maximize ad delivery, use an image that contains little or no overlaid text.
- Video specs:
- Format: .MOV or .MP4 files
- Resolution: at least 720p
- File size: 2.3 GB max.
- Recommended aspect ratio: widescreen (16:9)
- Facebook: 60 minutes max.
Most importantly, when using Facebook or any social media platform, check your messages and comments frequently so if someone contacts you with information you can forward it to law enforcement immediately.
Twitter is a great social media platform to reach masses of people. There are more than 500 million Tweets per day on Twitter.
Set up a new account.
- Like Facebook, choose a name consistent with the purpose.
- Use a photograph of the missing person as a profile picture.
- Tweet links to news coverage, interviews, and articles.
- Use hash tags such as #Missing #State #Missing Person’s Name
- Tweet to local and national media.
- Tweet to celebrities, both local and national.
- Keep your tweets brief.
- Respond when someone tweets to you.
- Follow similar pages.
Like Facebook and all social media platforms, it matters when you post on Twitter.
According to American Marketing Association, the best time to post on Twitter is Wednesdays and Fridays at 9 a.m., with most consistent engagement occurring Mon-Friday 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Other studies have shown Mon-Friday between 12-3 p.m. is the best time. Saturday is the worst day to post and has least engagement.
While building followers and social media presence takes time, there are strategies and techniques you can use to increase your engagement and get more clicks.
Twitter engagement is when someone engages with the content that you post such as favoriting your tweet, retweeting your tweet, responding to your tweet or mentioning you in a separate tweet.
It is also important that you engage with other users’ content with likes, comments and retweets. When you engage with another user’s content, they will be more likely to pay attention to what you are posting too. This works across all social media platforms.
In addition, leverage other feeds and encourage your followers on Facebook and other platforms to follow you on Twitter and visa versa.
Using social network platforms to find missing persons is still relatively new and is no doubt a learning process. One only needs to look at the numbers in order to gauge the success.
It is advisable to follow other families who have missing persons, advocacy agencies, and shows like In Pursuit with John Walsh or Vanished to gain ideas for successful posts and make valuable connections.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children is a 501c3 nonprofit based in Arlington, Virginia, and the largest missing child agency in the country. With over 655,000 people following their activity it is hard to ignore the agency’s social impact.
Again, try not to be discouraged as you try to grow your social networks and don’t let running the various platforms consume you. Again, it is recommended you share these tasks with other family members or friends that can assist you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
As said before, using social media is a learning experience, but rest assured you will get better as you go along. Remember HOPE is the most important thing to hold onto.