Category Archives: Blogging

What do local bloggers mean to you?

Blogger relations are media relationsBecause part of what I do for clients is media relations, this article from eMarketer caught my eye. Not just for myself and my clients, but also for police departments seeking to expand their reach via social media.

I briefly worked for a sheriff candidate’s campaign. During that time I researched political bloggers local to his area. I wanted to know what the issues were related to the county budget, crime problems, corrections, and general political atmosphere.

I see a lot from public information officers who want to “tell our own story.” However, those who rely on the department blog, press releases and social network sites might be missing out on a valuable opportunity: local bloggers, who are (as the eMarketer article points out) just as much a part of the media as the newspaper and TV stations.

Not just political bloggers, though they may be among the most valuable; but also the business bloggers, the parenting and education bloggers, even the entertainment bloggers.

Business and parenting bloggers, for instance, might appreciate an inside look at the new curfew meant to curb teenage shenanigans downtown at night. Education bloggers might want to know what you’re doing about internet safety. And while entertainment bloggers won’t want to put a damper on their readers’ fun, they might be open to working with you on some good PSAs.

The trick lies in developing relationships with them, as you would with any other reporter. This involves reading — and commenting on — their blogs, perhaps even taking them out for a coffee-and-brainstorming session.

Of course this can be time consuming; I run into this problem myself. But in communities where the police relationship with traditional reporters is on shaky ground, the bloggers just might be the key to a more receptive audience. (That is, unless they’re likewise suspicious, in which case you probably have a few things to solve before you wade into relationship-building.)

Do you include local bloggers in your media outreach? How does it work for you?

Image: Inti via Flickr

There are no 10 codes in blogs

How well will you understand officers in other agencies when you need each other?

Fifteen years ago when I was a police Explorer in New Hampshire, I remember quite a debate over using 10 codes vs. plain English. 10 codes protected information from nosy reporters and civilians; plain English was less confusing for emergency responders, especially during incidents requiring multi-jurisdictional response.

All are arguments coming up yet again, as some agencies debate over whether to switch to plain English radio communications. In the years following 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, as this NPR story points out, many have already switched; this PoliceOne.com article furthermore points out:

In December 2006 the National Incident Management System (NIMS) issued an alert mandating that first responders use plain language in multi-jurisdictional, multi-agency response. The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Emergency Communications (OEC) established the Plain Language Working Group in April 2009.

What does this have to do with social media?

David Konig at PIO Social Media Training notes, with regard to blogs:

While your target audience may understand specialized language, acronyms, and regional slang it is important to remember that they will not be the only ones looking at what you create. Not communicating using common terms will limit the ability for your message to be understood by a broader audience.

Jargon is easy to slip into for a variety of reasons. You can’t think of how else to describe something, or you’re talking to someone else who you know (or think you know) will understand what you mean, or – subconsciously – you may even be trying to show you belong to a certain group.

But think about the points raised by former prosecutor and trainer Val Van Brocklin in this Officer.com article about cops “talking funny” on the stand. “When you talk like that,” she writes, “you sound like somebody who’s full of himself or who’s trying to hide the truth in a mountain of syllables – both are stereotypes we do NOT need to be reinforcing with jurors.”

Making the switch

Transitioning to plain English has been difficult for law enforcement agencies. It’s been talked about for at least 15 years if not longer, took five years after 9/11 for NIMS to create a directive, and another three years after that for the OEC to establish the working group.

So don’t expect to be able to to use it right away in your blog or podcast. It may even seem unnatural after years of speaking an almost legalese-type “language.” But do practice. Van Brocklin’s approach: practice with flash cards. Write one jargon phrase on the front, and a plain-English phrase on the back. Practice with your spouse or even a child.

For a blogger, though, this may not be enough. Certainly, the spoken word can reinforce the written, and vice versa. But if you plan to write regularly, you should practice writing too.

Creative writing teachers sometimes give an exercise: write something from the point of view of a person who is explaining an incident to their best friend, their mother, their spouse, their boss, a group of strangers, and yes, the police.

The exercise is meant to put a writer more solidly into the mind of the character he’s writing. But for a blogger, it should put you more solidly in your reader’s minds. Because you’re writing (or podcasting) for all those people, to get them to really think about what you say, you need to speak in terms they understand best.

How often do you slip into jargon? Can you practice “plain English” at least once per day?

Image: chargrillkiller via Flickr

How to keep trolls off your social sites

Don't allow trolls to take your online community over

I’ve blogged before about comment policies and the fine line between constructive criticism and bashing/flaming. How freedom of speech isn’t just about allowing everyone to have their say, but also moderating comments to make sure that trolls’ speech doesn’t drown out other voices.

But I was thinking that it’s important to understand trolls for who and what they are, and how to create a “culture” within your Facebook, Twitter or blog community that discourages trolls and ensures positive interaction with both supporters and critics alike.

Trolls have a culture all their own

Trolls are not the same as critics. True critics often have underlying issues which good leaders can often tease out and address. Whether the critic is loud because he expects to get resistance, or she’s just a lonely old lady seeking attention, these people, when treated with patience and kindness, can become a police department’s strongest allies.

Trolls, on the other hand, are just plain nasty. Patience and kindness are weaknesses to them, and they take advantage of it to get even more attention—usually the negative kind, which only feeds them. This blog from two years ago pretty much says it all, but good takeaways include:

…trolling is a lot like graffiti. Graffiti happens at the intersection of ambition and incompetence: people want to make their mark on the world, but have no other way to do it than literally making a mark on the world.

Perhaps more importantly, though, blogger Paul Graham points out:

Trolls are like children (many are children) in that they’re capable of a wide range of behavior depending on what they think will be tolerated. In a place where rudeness isn’t tolerated, most can be polite. But vice versa as well.

There’s a sort of Gresham’s Law of trolls: trolls are willing to use a forum with a lot of thoughtful people in it, but thoughtful people aren’t willing to use a forum with a lot of trolls in it. Which means that once trolling takes hold, it tends to become the dominant culture.

As a police officer, you can’t help the people who show or call up just to complain. But on a blog, Twitter or Facebook, you owe it to your primary audience to make sure blog conversations remain able to generate more light than heat, even when they do get heated.

Writing for your community

A hint: a social media presence is not as reactive as most police work. Sure, it can seem that way when you are responding to a news article or community issue. But the act of content creation is proactive. You can choose your words, your topic, the way you put it all across.

The best way to do this is to write for a specific group or person. This is a little easier on Facebook and Twitter, where you can see faces attached to names and comments, but it’s possible for a blog or podcast, too.

First, brainstorm all the different constituencies in your jurisdiction. Who comes to mind, and how do you feel about them? (This can uncover troll-friendly dynamics. For instance, if you’re defensive about a particular community group and you’re unconsciously writing for them, your defensiveness will show.)

Instead, focus on your ideal reader(s). This can be tricky. Your subjects won’t always be for the same audience, so while there might be one person you consistently write for, other people should inform the entry.

For example, blogging about identity theft, an entry about skimming devices should read slightly different than one about charity scams. Skimming devices affect people who are often out and about: young people, businesspeople, parents. Charity scams, on the other hand, frequently affect the elderly. So think about how you’d explain skimmers to your teenagers, and how you’d explain charity scams to your parents.

See the strategy? By writing very personally, you take away the element of anonymity on which trolls thrive. In fact, if trolling is like graffiti, then think about how Toronto Constable Scott Mills deals with graffiti artists, channeling that ambition into competence through the relationships he builds.

Who are the people you can talk to in your online community?

Image: Benimoto via Flickr

Now blogging at The Crime Map (but still here, too)

The Crime Map is CrimeReports.com's official blog

The Crime Map is CrimeReports.com's official blog

James Gunter, marketing and social media guy for CrimeReports.com, has been a Cops 2.0 fan for some time. He has backlinked to our posts in his own blog entries and tweeted our links on Twitter. So I was very pleased and flattered when he asked me to blog regularly at the CrimeReports.com blog, The Crime Map.

My debut post there is “Information Overload and the Law Enforcement Agency“:

…communicators have a double-edged challenge: cut through the noise and cut through the comfort zone. Because not only does the sheer amount of information coming at us mean there’s no time to think critically; learning to build community to help us filter it means, in effect, we’re trusting other people to do our thinking for us.

And if we’re doing that, then your message about teen drinking and driving, domestic violence, or child pornography won’t get through.

Or at least, is less likely to get through!

In any case, I’m excited about the new opportunity. James’ blog is strong on useful information overall, and so I hope you’ll add The Crime Map to your RSS feed readers, because I’ll be writing fresh content for them about law enforcement and social media issues. Drop me a line via comment or email; tell me what you’d like to see discussed, and what you think about what I’m writing.

Who determines the standard?

Share internal knowledge with internal wikis and blogs -- not paper

Share internal knowledge with internal wikis and blogs -- not paper

In my last post on standards, I quoted an email I had received from a previous commenter, H. Carvey. One of his lines stuck out at me:

“Create a sense of ownership and build confidence in the standard.”

When most standards come from the top down, what’s the best way for administrators to help officers feel “ownership” in determining their own conduct? Quite possibly, by allowing them input. Not just a token focus-group or special-committee type of input, but department-wide involvement.

Determining policy in the U.S. Army

The “bottom up” policy-making model is a matter of experimentation in the U.S. Army, where Human Resource Executive reports that seven training manuals are up for revision:

A lot of eyebrows went up recently when the Army announced its 90-day “wiki” program, which invites about 140,000 soldiers of all ranks to make real-time wiki updates to the Army’s tactics, techniques and procedures.

Using Wikipedia software MediaWiki, the soldiers make changes and sign them for review. If the experiment works, 200 more manuals will be revised and reviewed under the wiki approach. The value? The Army will be able to (as the project director was quoted as saying), “stay more current with best practices being used in the field.” Thus far, this has been exactly the case.

Collaborative conduct policy

Just as Neighborhood Watch encourages civilians to take responsibility for their own crime prevention strategies, a policy wiki may encourage officers to think critically about their own conduct both online and off, and how it affects their fellow officers. Supervisors still have final say, but as in the Army, the idea is to help guide leaders in the decisions they make and thus, the orders they give.

Command staff may in fact find they need to offer less guidance than they may think. Social networking is in use by officers across generations and levels of experience. Thus those who have been around long enough to know the effect of misconduct on morale can help guide the less experienced officers.

In addition, as my colleague Dave Hubbard notes, being “low on the totem pole” is more bearable when individuals feel valued for all the contributions they can make, not just those deemed important by superiors. It makes officers want to speak proudly of working at their agency.

Accredited agencies may need to take more oversight to ensure that “crowdsourced” policies adhere to CALEA requirements. Yet even these in themselves seem to align with social media values and culture.

Internal social tools

Overall, law enforcement agencies not yet ready to jump into public engagement may find internal social networking easier to manage. Policy and training manual wikis are one option. Internal blogging is another. Its benefits:

Not yet ready for Twitter or Facebook? Internal microblogging tools like Yammer, Present.ly, and others can help. Restricted to organization members who sign up for them, these tools allow short bursts of information to be shared among the entire agency.

Choose the right goals

As with all social media, however, it’s important to have solid goals to govern usage. Not so much “develop a conduct policy,” but “Allow employees to use their experience to develop a conduct policy”—using language, in other words, that defines the tool’s appropriate level of openness or closing off.

Otherwise, misuse is a threat. An internal blog goal may be something like, “Allow command staff to brainstorm action items prior to weekly meetings” or “Allow officers to discuss challenges with community relations activities.” Vague goals discourage lack of use, because employees will err on the side of caution when it comes to underlying supervisor motivations.

For one thing, supervisors must take care not to use these internal tools as a way to “check up on” employees. No one likes to be micromanaged, and it will be counterproductive for employees to contribute anything when they feel they’re being watched.

There are other concerns with internal communication, too, many similar to those involving e-mail; but some unique as well.

Overall, however, encouraging officer feedback based on their own experiences can be a positive step toward encouraging community feedback. It can help both officers and administrators learn how to give and receive criticism, how to open up and when to step back.

What are the pros and cons you see with internal social media policy-making and overall use for law enforcement?

Image: paintMonkey via Flickr

Case study: Researching community in Arcadia, Calif.

Arcadia police reach their public via unofficial blogSgt. Tom Le Veque has been a believer in social media since he started using it to reach out to the public during contract negotiations. Administration has been a bit slower to adopt, however, so Le Veque went for middle ground: a blog run by the Arcadia Police Officers’ Association.

Sgt. Le Veque’s introduction on our “About You” page led to a more in-depth discussion between us. What he’s doing may be a valuable alternative for agencies that want to “test” social media before they commit to an official presence online, and he has other good insights too.

How the APOA blog started

Le Veque says:

A couple of years ago, we were in the middle of some fairly tense [contract] negotiations. I started following not only the print media, but also constantly querying the topic on the Internet.  I stumbled across a fairly active news/political blog that was in our area and started following items of interest.  That in turn led to looking into police blogs and local departments that were active on the net.  In the Los Angeles area, sad to say, I found little to choose from at the time.

Feeling the need to further our Association’s position publicly, we used letters to the editor, blog entries, commented on news articles (Topix), a billboard, posted a video on YouTube, and launched the APOA website.

When the dust settled I felt that there was a need to promote not only our Association, but also our department in the community.  Feeling that social media was an up and coming outlet, I drafted a proposal for an official APD blog and began to work on helping to improve our presence on our PD website.

The blog idea was shot down [due to the] feeling that there was no need for the department to devote time to the project.  However, a manager commented that the PD had no control on whether or not the POA started a blog… that sparked the idea of the APOA Info Blog.

The takeaways

A couple of things stand out to me about Le Veque’s efforts. First, he started by listening. It makes no sense to join a conversation you know nothing about. Even if you know your side, no one will respond positively if you’re only talking about your side. Real negotiations start with listening, even to the critics.

Then, even after the contract negotiations were settled, Le Veque kept going. Good marketers who are integrating social media into business initiatives realize that there is no such thing as a “campaign” as in advertising; they know the “conversation” is ongoing. Also, even though the department administrators felt they had no need for a blog, Le Veque knew the community had a need.

Going further, I learned that Le Veque had done significant research before starting his blog. For one thing, he notes a wide range of both police blogs and responses to them:

In looking into the ‘police blog’ idea, it seemed that most of the blogs had few to no comments. There were exceptions, but to me they were explainable.  LAPD had many comments, but most seemed to come from within, from their own personnel.  A couple of smaller towns in the Midwest had comments on their PD blogs, but the appearance was that everyone in the area knew each other….

I did find that when a department offered question and answer type entries, like that of Sacramento PD, there seemed to be some genuine interaction between the community and the PD.

Different forms of success

Blog comments, in quantity if not quality, do not define its success. Comments are only one form of feedback; there are other forms of feedback both direct and indirect. As Le Veque says:

Comments on the site have been minimal and after looking at other PD blogs we did not expect an overwhelming amount of traffic.

We have had good feedback and believe that it serves as an excellent form of community outreach and communication. Our feedback has been mainly through word of mouth, a few phone calls, and direct email via our feedback link on the POA website.

More importantly, Le Veque’s continued research involves number-crunching:

We have tracked visitor numbers [via Google Analytics] and are pleased with the results. After the start up the blog, unlike WordPress, the host Blogger did not have a counter for visits.  I was curious as to how many hits the POA blog was getting so I opted for associating the Google Analytics program with the site.

I found it interesting but also somewhat confusing.  The numbers are fairly straightforward, but it seemed that the site is geared for more of a marketing type blog. I know that we have recurring visitors from the community, our politicians and the local media.  Comments to officers in the field, phone calls to the Watch Commander, and even a little feedback from Administration has confirmed that information.

Defining blog success

Keeping an open mind with regard to comments was key, as was Le Veque’s attitude that “if we impact anyone with our information than it is a success.” But there’s more to it than that, he says:

I believe that a great deal of how well the blog will do depends on many, many factors.  Just a few in my opinion are:

  • Population, location and demographics (who and where are you serving)
  • Department buy-in and support
  • Publicity both in local media and the parent organization (city, county, other departments)
  • Credibility
  • Timeliness
  • Is it down to earth or too “official” [Le Veque brings up the point that many blogs are little more than press release pages.]

I don’t know if you can be politically correct when it comes to talking about the who and where.  I think that a police department that serves an average middle class area may have an easier time interacting socially, either on-line or in person, than a department that serves a high income area.  Departments that serve more depressed areas probably depend on how well they interact now and what kind of community partnerships are established.

If the community does not like or trust the cops, they are not going to interact, in a positive way, on-line.  Bottom line is that in any project, you have to overcome the ‘us vs. them’ or the idea that law enforcement

is a ‘necessary evil.’

Le Veque acknowledges that until more smaller police departments in California catch on to social media use, “Our management is likely to remain distant. Officially, the blog is not supported, however, there have been a handful of times that even the boss has asked for a topic to be posted.”

So, just as Le Veque researches the community to meet its needs, he continues to research the agency’s needs, working to help administration warm to the idea, including adding a “just ask” button on the blog page (a la Sacramento PD), starting a Twitter account, and proposing a Facebook page.

Where can you start listening to your community?

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