My last few posts have talked about the differences among personal, professional, and official police presences on the social Web; the need for goals and boundaries; and a little about knowing what the tools are for.
I want to focus on one of those tools, in part because it is a good start for officers to build a professional (rather than personal) presence online, but also because I was able to talk to one officer about how it fits in his overall social media strategy. That tool is LinkedIn.
LinkedIn has changed since I joined it a couple of years ago. Then, it seemed to be little more than an online resume service with references conveniently built in. Now, it’s become a much more powerful networking tool, and not just for job hunts. PR professionals use it to connect with journalists; specialists use it to find other specialists to whom to outsource.
Law enforcement, on the other hand, uses it hardly at all. And that’s a shame. Here’s why: unlike Facebook or Twitter, it’s totally professional.
I won’t go into great detail about all of LinkedIn’s features. Other bloggers, including Ari Herzog and Dan Schawbel, have done that, and you can find an entire blog related to the subject. (Be sure also to read a ConnectedCOPS description of how one police chief networks at the executive level.) But I’ve blogged before about expert branding, and LinkedIn is probably one of the best social tools to do that.
The digital forensic expert
I met Sgt. Danny Garcia on Twitter, as I began to follow digital forensic experts. A computer forensic lab supervisor for the Miami-Dade Police Department, he has created a LinkedIn profile pretty much in line with what is recommended: detailed with his current experience, making reference to previous assignments; taking advantage of features like Groups* (good for networking) and travel itineraries (likewise, only in person); and of course, updated with recent connections.
What makes a law enforcement power user of LinkedIn? “I was reluctant to join at first,” Garcia told me. “A friend of over 20 years, a private forensic photographer (@wymanent), referred me about a year ago. I found it was the easiest way to keep in touch with professional contacts.”
Many of those come from conferences, but business card trading is about as beneficial as baseball card trading nowadays. “People move around in this industry,” Garcia says, “but if they regularly update their LinkedIn profile, I can see where they are and what they’re doing without having to chase them down.”
That’s valuable in a field like digital forensics, where examiners need to be able to reach out for help with specialized procedures and equipment. Likewise valuable: the ability to connect with information technology or non-forensic professionals who may have important insights about a problem, and even to find out who is no longer privy to restricted information.
If anything, LinkedIn is another way to provide what Garcia calls “instant, constant communication” with other practitioners, but because it duplicates neither information nor individuals, it’s an important complement to other online communities such as Forensic Focus or the many listservs that serve professional associations.
Limitations for law enforcement
There are a few general limitations to LinkedIn, but for law enforcement, additional ones exist. “Some things about law enforcement cannot be discussed even within a professional network,” says Garcia. “Group restrictions, site security, and any vetting processes are only as good as the person who administers them.”
Even though LinkedIn is purely professional, workplace policies may restrict its use. At MDPD, says department spokesman Juan Villalba, there is no specific social media policy, but the department is cognizant of what its representative officers can say about it online. The general conduct policy applies to off-duty online conduct, while another policy governs social network use at work, on county computers.
Garcia also points out that “social networking fatigue” may come into play among investigators who don’t want to visit one more site to keep up with things. So, just as he uses Flickr only to share photographs without discussing them, law enforcement officers should be able to use LinkedIn in the ways that best work for them—even if it’s not what “the experts” recommend.
Tiered social networking
A final note: what prompted me to approach Garcia about his LinkedIn usage was only in part about his profile. It actually started with a Twitter conversation we had about how he “tiers” his social networking, maintaining a strict separation among LinkedIn (professional only), Facebook (close friends and family only), and Twitter (a hybrid).
Other law enforcement professionals may find this kind of system beneficial, as well. Although it’s Garcia’s personal choice, he says, “Do the people I work with really need or even want to know what I’m doing on the weekend?”
The tiered approach to social media may also help people who are reluctant or unsure of how to use the technology. They need to know how it works for, say, investigations (I know some detectives who maintain Facebook profiles only undercover, or who use it only to learn about the site and its features). And they need to be able to see the realities of use in the event they ever do start to use it more regularly.
Overall, however, LinkedIn use carries far less risk than does use of any of the other social networks, and its possibilities range beyond individual officers’ professional development.
For instance, they may be able to connect with local business owners and service providers. That can be valuable to building relationships with people who want to learn more about kinds of crimes (say, identity theft) and how to protect employees and customers.
Professionals who brand themselves as such can only reflect well on their agency. Those who are guided as to how to brand themselves are far more effective than officers left to their own devices—who may not brand themselves the way anyone would want to see.
As Garcia notes, law enforcement officers should remember that they are held to a higher standard than the private citizen. “Status messages posted on social networking sites are often read by people who perceive statements as matter-of-fact,” he explains. “These statements may reflect poorly on not just the individual’s beliefs, but also reflects upon their agency and the law enforcement profession in general.”
How can you use LinkedIn to promote yourself as a law enforcement professional?
*Some law enforcement-related Groups:
Image: clevercupcakes via Flickr