Gen. George Patton’s quote has been one of my favorites since I was in Air Force ROTC, and it came to mind again tonight as I was being interviewed for a podcast.
“Inside the Core” producers Dave Melvin and Chris Curran, who (along with partners Reggy Chapman and Ryan Kubasiak) are computer forensic examiners specializing in Apple products. Their purpose for inviting me on the show: they wanted to know about what Cops 2.0 is all about and what I’d be covering next. As it turned out, what I do isn’t far off what they do: they’ve been called to collect evidence from social network sites for internal investigations.
I remember rambling a lot, but one thing that stuck out to my own mind—as I talked about the series on standards I just wrote—is the idea I came up with, quite out of the blue, that the more individual cops use social media in a professional capacity, the less (I’ll bet) ethics and policies will be violated.
Tell them why…
Officers in social spaces sign up with the intent, usually, just to be social. See what the hype is all about, reconnect with old high school friends, connect with other cops. Social is, in short, their goal. Little wonder that they fail to think about professional ethics when they update their Facebook status with inappropriate pictures and messages: they’re not thinking in terms of “professional.”
So it’s incumbent on their leaders to guide them, not just in what not to say, but in what they can do alternatively for themselves. While I hate the term “personal branding,” in some ways, it fits. I’ve blogged before about expert branding, and I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say regular patrol officers can “brand” themselves as such, too.
That isn’t to say that officers cannot have online personal lives, as the Washington Post’s policy (noted in a scathing blog entry) suggests. But it does need to take into account the ideas discussed here:
[T]he reality is that in a sense, none of us is ever really off the clock anymore. Because of advancements in technology, the line of distinction between our professional and personal lives has been blurred. We use our cell phones and laptops to make dental appointments for our children one moment and communicate with a business client or a co-worker the next.
…and the how comes naturally
Back to “Inside the Core.” Until very recently, co-producer Curran, a civilian member of a municipal law enforcement agency, flew under the radar. Way under. His Twitter handle had nothing to do with his real name, nor did his e-mail address. It was months before he disclosed his identity to me, and then only because of my involvement with the digital forensic community.
Recently, however, he’s started to tweet forensic information as @TheChrisCurran, reserving his other account for more personal tweets. I asked him why the switch? His response:
Flying under the radar was the initial point as I felt out Twitter. Using my real name now is important as I try to branch out with “Inside the Core” and with the teaching side of my career. I felt that it would be a more appropriate “professional” angle, as on Twitter I have made a great deal of connections within the industry and outside the industry.
I want to isolate my career from my side stuff. I enjoy the use of social media but I limit it. For work purposes, I have my [undercover] Facebook, MySpace, and other accounts. Those that have no ties to me or work. My personal life, I keep a tight lip on. With privacy settings and monikers I do not make information available.
Likewise, recent incidents involving professionals making gratuitous mistakes with their social media accounts, reminds me daily to think twice before hitting that “enter” key. One bad sentence can ruin your whole career.
With that in mind, it is important to always be a true professional. It is never outside the realm of possibility that you will be tied to a statement. On the flip side, idle thoughts should still be allowed, otherwise we have no starting points for spirited discussions.
And if patrol officers are not technically “experts”? Actually, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a cop who doesn’t have a professional passion. Whether something from their background or something they encounter daily, issues like traffic safety, domestic violence, child abuse, property crimes, gangs, and so on all resonate in different ways with different officers. They might also choose to be generalists, blogging on a range of topics.
The point is, the personal experience informs the professional information, makes it easy for the public to relate to the officer. To get to that point, however, leaders within an agency must be prepared to mentor officers who choose to be involved with social media.
And no, I don’t think leaders have a choice. These are not the days of being able to deny an untoward comment made in a bar. Everything is archived on the Web—everything, including deleted pages.
Failure to understand how the tools work, or forbidding them outright, means the department opens itself to liability from officers who (for instance) tweet about calls to which they’re responding—without their supervisors ever knowing it. Better to learn, understand, then train and guide in appropriate usage; not just for officer safety, but for all the potential social media carries.
How can you help your officers brand themselves as professionals?
Image: brainblogger via Flickr