Much of the focus on law enforcement use of social media is on police departments as a whole. From a community-relations standpoint, this is important—but police departments may be missing out on a valuable opportunity to brand themselves and law enforcement in general. For that, they might consider turning to individual experts.
What’s an individual expert?
It’s the detective who, in addition to work with the PIO to “push” information through the department MySpace page, also allows the public to connect with him personally to end unwanted communications when they’re on MySpace.
It’s the cybercrimes investigator who’s actively involved on LinkedIn, connecting with other investigators through networking and even going beyond the law enforcement community to connect with counterparts in private industry.
It’s the cop who gives presentations to community groups, senior citizens’ homes, and schools—and posts them on SlideShare, where anyone can access critical information about identity theft, Internet crimes against children, and other high-profile crimes.
And it’s the patrol officer who’s on Twitter, or who keeps her own blog; who humanizes police work, shows the person behind the uniform and the real issues behind the 6 o’clock news.
To be sure, this idea is outside the bounds of traditional law enforcement hierarchies. Tightly controlled information has been—and still is, to some extent—crucial to the overall mission of preserving peace and public safety.
But social media has changed the way people look for information. They trust traditional media less, and each other more. That’s why individuals have a role to play in this century’s organizations.
CEOs of private corporations face the same issues as police chiefs. If “just anyone” can blog or tweet, doesn’t that risk the organization’s reputation just as much as the rogue on YouTube?
To some extent, yes. But the people who use social media tend to be there because they’re motivated to improve their own and others’ lives. Those who use it for malicious purposes are shunned—the implicit understanding among “hard core” users is that social media is there to help.
(For a look at a corporation that has allowed employees to blog freely, read this 2003 Seattle Post-Intelligencer article that went in-depth with Microsoft employee blogging.)
Thus the organizations that allow their employees free rein find success in the online social world. Likewise, the police departments that allow officers, within appropriate boundaries, to expand the reach of their overall community policing efforts can only improve their standing among the online public.
Image: Mai Le via Flickr