Tag Archives: Social network

Getting help with social media’s day to day

Consider hiring an intern for day-to-day social media tasks

Consider hiring an intern for day-to-day social media tasks

In the last few weeks I’ve explored why more law enforcement officers and agencies are not jumping on board the social media bandwagon; the dangers of official or unofficial officer use; and the importance of a good social media policy, whether or not your agency is officially using social media.

What now?

Social media is overwhelming. The number of sites, the numbers of people, the amount of information. Even administrators who want their agencies involved may be unsure of where to start. This may be why so many departments focus on Facebook and Twitter: they make it easier to manage it all, make interactions one-way.

But agencies need more. As I’ll explain in the next few weeks, Facebook and Twitter don’t make an entire social media program. For one thing, agencies have to be able to hear what’s going on in the community—not just use a new medium to reach out. And they have to know how to build a strategy, not just rely on the latest tools.

Whether you’ve found a good, reputable social media consultant, or are reading the best social media blogs and learning as you go, at some point you are going to have to implement the strategy. When it comes to day-to-day maintenance, because many law enforcement agencies no longer have the personnel to commit to extra duties, what can they do?

Professor Carter F. Smith has an interesting idea: use interns. While this idea has met with criticism in corporate circles, Smith proposes supervised social media outreach. In effect, this would make the intern part of a social media team rather than “in charge” of a program:

Under the guidance of an experienced academic, and directed by the agency itself, interns would:

  • promote the police department using a variety of social media such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Yahoo!Groups, etc.
  • maintain the Twitter account with posts reflecting arrest trends, wanted persons, Amber Alerts, and other police information needing immediate public assistance.
  • maintain the department’s Facebook Fan page, to include promoting events and monitoring communications
  • inform the department representative of any problems exposed in the social media domain so the department can determine how to respond appropriately.
  • monitor police-related communications (comments regarding the department or criminal activity in the jurisdiction) may also be included.

Fit the intern to your agency

Smith’s plan follows the formula many law enforcement agencies have begun to follow, but a wide variety of possibilities exists according to an agency’s needs—including the need not to be directly involved in social media just yet.

Some of the most important takeaways from this particular article:

(Social) Media Research: Which social media platforms are your main media contacts using? Are they blogging? Using Twitter? Do they want to be contacted through any of these by your company? This is a long term project, but might be really helpful to some of your colleagues who are apt to “pitch first and ask questions later.”

(For police departments, “main media contacts” doesn’t just mean reporters—it means the community, too. If you’re concerned that only a percentage of your citizens are using Twitter, find out what else they might be using.)

RSS building: I’ve said before that an RSS feed is one of the most important tools for any communications professional. If you’ve never taken the time to set up an RSS reader to monitor social media activity around your brand, your client or your industry, this is an awesome task for an intern. Once it’s set up, though, you have to use it! Here’s a good place to start.

Blog monitoring: There are hundreds of millions of blogs, and probably hundreds that reference your brand or industry. So how do you choose which ones to follow? I’ve written about this before, but perhaps your intern can conduct some research and report back about the most important blogs in your niche.

These two items have to do with “listening” to what is being said about the agency online. The foundation to social media success, it means the ability to communicate with citizens about what concerns them the most—not what you only think are their biggest concerns.

Social media doesn’t have to be overwhelming, and neither does finding someone to help you implement it. It also doesn’t have to be costly or add too much to someone’s workload. If you can find the right intern from the right college, putting an intern on a department’s social media team makes sense—for the intern, the college, the agency, and ultimately, the community too.

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Why cops shouldn’t use social networking

Networks of "friends" on a social site

Networks of "friends" on a social site

In response to my question, “Do you think more LE don’t get on board w/ social media b/c they fear the inability to size ppl up as they would in person?” I got another response besides those from the previous entry:

There are folks telling officers it not safe for them to do it…false claims posted about them or for them
I have 2 SRO’s that just got back from training and they were told that Twitter [Facebook] etc. are the worst things an officer can do
one of them deleted his accts due to this training.

This surprised me. What better way to connect with students than to reach them in their own social spaces away from school? So I found out the trainer’s name: Lt. Joe Laramie, commander of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force for the state of Missouri. Someone with a lot of experience online, in other words, who was not simply reacting to technological changes.

Parts of Lt. Laramie’s interview are also included in my article “Social Networking Officer Safety,” due out in Police & Security News in September. For the purposes of this blog, though, I want to focus on his input regarding school resource officers. Whether you agree with him or not, the points he raises are good ones, and should be discussed among administrators and officers alike.

Who’s reading your profile?

It is possible to get too caught up in social networking’s positive aspects. Naivete can lead to situations like the one NYPD Officer Vaughan Ettienne found himself in. This is, in part, because most people focus on the “social” aspect of social networking.

But Laramie, a 30-year law enforcement veteran who teaches school resource officers and vocational counselors a class on social networking, says law enforcement should focus more on the “networking” aspect. “You may be able to control the people you friend, but not the people they friend,” he explains, calling this a “pyramid” effect.

Even if you can control the people you friend—by “ignoring” requests from people with questionable content—you can’t control what existing friends post on their own pages. “Photos and blogs they post can reflect badly on you,” says Laramie. “And these materials are constantly being changed, so it’s impossible to enforce a ‘friend policy’”—following or unfollowing based on appropriateness.

This is true of everyone, but even more so for school resource officers. Laramie says SROs are susceptible to more problems than a regular patrol officer or detective would be, because of their closeness to middle and high school students. Such problems can include emotionally needy students with few boundaries; students who take for granted online interactions; and even students who intentionally target law enforcement officers or agencies.

In fact, Laramie likens an officer “friending” students online to a teacher leaving a cell phone on or in a desk. “The student can easily take the phone to the bathroom, send a suggestive text message or picture to another student, then put the teacher’s phone back. You can’t defend against that,” he explains, “but you can control it—by keeping the phone with you, not giving them access.”

This is the reason why Laramie’s Missouri ICAC Task Force Facebook page has an emblem rather than his photo on it. “It’s easy to take an officer’s official department photo and superimpose his or her face over that of someone wearing fewer clothes,” he says. He himself is featured in two YouTube videos—neither of which he posted. “They’re of a speech I gave, so I’m not embarrassed about them,” he says. “But I had no control over their posting. That’s why it’s important to search on your own name, see what’s being posted about you in the different environments.”

No privacy, no control

When Laramie teaches teens about social networks, he has them “write” just one way to reach them online on an imaginary business card. “Then I ask them if they would hand that to a stranger driving by their school,” he says. “They haven’t thought about that. There is a disconnect between their online world and the real world.”

Both teens and police officers mistakenly believe that making pages “private” will protect their information. However, says Laramie, “When teens argue this, I ask them if they’ve ever seen a site they didn’t have permission to be on,” says Laramie. “They often have—if they were with a friend who had permission.”

This can be a problem when that friend is someone unknown to, or even an enemy of, the user. “The two most misused words when it comes to social networks are ‘private’ and ‘friend,’” says Laramie, adding that he doesn’t know most of the “friends” on his task force page. So, while it’s possible to limit access to a site, nothing is ever truly private.

This problem is exacerbated by inadequate privacy protections on the social network sites themselves. A Cambridge University study published in July showed that 90 percent of sites required unnecessary information, such as birth date, for membership. Eighty percent did not protect sensitive data using standard encryption protocols, while 71 percent reserved the right to share user data with third parties.

Officers may also believe that anonymity will protect them, but can leave enough details that administrators, other officers, and even the public can figure out who they are. This has been the case for several well-known law enforcement blogs, deleted in recent years on pain of their authors’ termination.

The need for cyber ethics training

Police officers who are unaware of these pitfalls could be disastrous for a law enforcement agency. “Defense attorneys who do their homework will come after them,” Laramie says. “They’ll start out by asking whether a posting on a social site was the truth, or made up. And who wants to defend their bragging in court? But if they say they made something up, they’re subject to being impeached as a witness. And if they say it’s the truth, that opens the door to every inappropriate thing the attorney found.”

Laramie believes that training in cyber ethics must begin at the academy level. “Personal ethics is already taught, but there needs to be a cyber component to it,” Laramie says. “This generation is so used to the technology that they don’t think twice about what they are doing.”

For instance, says Laramie, “Teens don’t see what the big deal is about sending nude photos to each other or saying inappropriate things. They don’t understand that when adults do it at work, we get fired.”

Thus a student’s “harmless flirting” with her school resource officer could land him in hot water, as could her risque photo in her Facebook profile when they are connected as friends. “If a parent finds those things, it’s guilt by association,” says Laramie. “Even if the officer hasn’t been online in three days and had no idea the photos were posted.”

Balancing safety with usage

Professionally, Laramie says school resource officers and other investigators do need to know how social networking sites work. “I’m not sure all SROs understand it as well as they should,” he says. “Many are still struggling with how to deal with it. Some have very sophisticated knowledge, but others have no idea how to use it or communicate with it, or even how to use it as a search mechanism. They have to be able to get online and see what’s going on in the school, among that community.”

The challenge is in doing so without jeopardizing the relationship-building that community policing demands. Whether undercover (which most social networking sites discourage) or using their real names, Laramie says any communication on the officer’s part should be one-way only—no friend requests.

This flies in the face of social networking culture as well, which demands two-way communication. “Students can feel the officer is only there to spy on them,” says Laramie. “They already stay away from social networking sites their parents are on, and they’ll stay away from those the officer is on.”

Yet savvy SROs may take the opportunity to lead by example, encouraging prudence in posting content. As Larry Magid of SafeKids.com pointed out in a June blog entry:

Internet safety is more than just the absence of danger. It also includes finding ways to use technology for learning, collaboration, community building, political activism, self-help and reaching out to others…. [L]ike fences around swimming pools, the use of filters at home and school can’t protect them forever. That’s why we teach kids to swim. Not only does knowing how to swim help prevent drowning, it empowers them to thrive in the water instead of fearing it.

Likewise in police departments, where gripes among officers may offer administrators the chance to consider whether employee point of view is accurate. In the social web, companies monitor what customers are saying, whether good or bad, and use the feedback to build on the good and improve on the bad. Comcast, for instance, uses Twitter to great effect to connect with its customers, as does the Ford Motor Company and others.

“You have to protect your name, your identity, and your reputation because you own those for the rest of your life,” says Laramie. “But it isn’t possible to control your reputation totally, because it’s what other people think.”

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How few is too few?

Image: <a href=Some law enforcement agencies may be reluctant to jump into social media because they are unsure of how many customers are really online. What’s the point, they reason, if they’re communicating with only a tiny fraction of the population they serve?

It’s a valid point. Committing already-thin resources to something that may not pay off in significant community engagement doesn’t seem to make sense.

Comcast’s emphasis on quality—not quantity

But then I read this interview at marketing and social media expert Valeria Maltoni’s blog.  Comcast Customer Service Manager Frank Eliason, long applauded for his efforts on Twitter and elsewhere, replied to Valeria’s question about whether his work with “one sliver of the Comcast customer base” had had a positive effect overall:

–It is hard to say, because we are doing so much to improve the Customer experience throughout the organization, that positive improvement truly highlights all of those efforts. I think the preferred measurement for the C-Suite has been how we have taken what we have learned from Customers and truly improved the experience for all Customers.

–Unlike typical measurements of performance, my team is measured on effectiveness and improvements they make for our Customers. I teach them to be proactive and find solutions to problems they encounter. If something is broken for others they are encouraged to find solutions.

In fact, social media as a means to communicate with small market segments is catching on all over the corporate world. This article detailed the way in which food makers are responding to “a niche the industry would once have dismissed as too small to target profitably.”

Not only are the companies changing their existing products and processes; they’re also investing in new products: “For a while, the larger companies said, ‘We’ll let someone else do it, and then buy them if they’re any good,'” said Bill Bishop, chairman of consulting group Willard Bishop. “Now it’s become evident that you give up too much in opportunity by letting it get developed by the smaller players.”

How long can you afford to wait?

Law enforcement agencies may do well to pay attention. It strikes me that many are, indeed, waiting to see what happens with the neighboring and other agencies using social media to reach out to customers. But civilians are online now, and the social ‘net is constantly changing, growing.

In the 9 months since I’ve been on Twitter, for example, I’ve seen law enforcement use skyrocket from just a handful of agencies and cops to—well, a lot, enough to form communities among patrol officers and digital forensics people and even some of the “official” agency pages, the PIOs who are inclined to follow each other.

It follows that other members of your community are joining, if not Twitter, then Facebook, LinkedIn, and any one of a hundred other social networks. Sure, that number may be small. It may stay small. But 1) how would you know unless you yourself were online? And 2) historically, often the smallest groups effect the greatest changes.

What small step can you take toward Web engagement today?

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Summing it up in 25 words

Image: <a href=I read a number of blogs that have nothing to do with law enforcement: the ones that teach social media as a business tool, as a community relationship tool.

One of my favorites is Successful Blog by Liz Strauss, who challenges more creative and less analytical thinking (and I do mean challenge, because I am analytical). One example: her “25 Words” challenges.

This time around she asked for a 25-word sentence about “some social media thing you see too much or too little of.” That part wasn’t hard. I came up with:

I don’t see enough law enforcement agencies truly interacting with their publics.

But it was only 12 words. I needed 13 more: to flesh out the idea, provide more detail. And make it more positive. So I wrote this:

More law enforcement agencies need to hear what their publics say, ask their publics for feedback, without fearing the repercussions.

But not only was it 20 words, it expressed the idea in a way that required too much explanation. It’s difficult to hear what critics say, especially when those critics are so vocal. It’s hard to ask for feedback; the constructive tend to get drowned out by the critics. And the repercussions? I’m preparing to write several blog posts, plus a feature article, about those.

Plus, the sentence didn’t answer why agencies need to hear and ask. So I wrote this:

Law enforcement agencies can’t effectively prevent or investigate Internet crime without listening to, talking with, and coming to know the people who are online.

24 words! Where to add that last word? I changed “people” to “community members,” a much more specific concept. Agency representatives don’t need to get to know a broad spectrum of “people,” but they do need to know their community members who are in online communities. To join them in those communities, get to know them in that context—just as good officers learn the business owners on their beats, the homeowners where they live.

So, the final idea:

Law enforcement agencies can’t effectively prevent or investigate Internet crime without listening to, talking with, and coming to know their community members who are online.

That’s what this blog boils down to. The Internet comprises a community much like most physical communities. As those communities do, it has its own unwritten rules, its own culture, and its own mix of people.

As cops who police immigrant communities are finding out, it is not possible to be effective law enforcers without first knowing the culture, the social rules. You don’t have to abide by those rules—that is not realistic—but you do have to know them. You have to know where to ask people to compromise in the name of keeping everyone safe. And you have to know where you need to compromise.

Law enforcement agencies can’t effectively prevent or investigate Internet crime without listening to, talking with, and coming to know their community members who are online.

What can you do to start getting to know your community members?
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Stretching resources for social media

Image: <a href=A recent (June 16) Twitter post from @MountainViewPD caught my eye: “MVPD Followers: Please do not do @replies to the MVPD tweets. We do not have the resources to respond to them in a timely manner.”

Yowza. Twitter is a conversation medium; how can you want to avoid conversation? Yet a look at MVPD’s Web site shows that it is, in fact, committed to receiving public feedback. From its online forms to a long list of contact names and e-mail addresses for the agency, it’s clear that they aren’t trying to avoid us.

As MVPD public information officer Liz Wylie explains, “The main problem was that people were actually trying to report crimes via that medium, which we can’t have happen…. And since it is only me who handles Twitter for the PD, I don’t want people thinking that I read them every day, or even every week.  99.999% of what was in the @reply box was either spam or inappropriate for Twitter.”

In all fairness, many police departments lack the personnel to commit to social media. Administrators may be unsure of its real value to law enforcement, as well as concerned over liability issues. And, as marketer Mack Collier points out, peer pressure isn’t enough to drive a social media program.

Collier is speaking to businesses when he asks, “Do your customers use social media?” For law enforcement, that answer is a resounding yes. The agencies with Facebook and Twitter pages are there because it’s a convenient way to get information out to the citizens they serve, and to talk with them a little too.

Doing more with less… and more

In the business world, a recent survey showed that only 9% of respondents believed public relations should “own” social media within companies. Though most believed it should be the domain of the sales/marketing folks, nearly a third thought it was a shared responsibility among all departments within a company.

So. Should the PIO share social networking responsibilities with a social media team—a group of volunteer officers who can each take a slice of the pie?

The PIO would provide press releases and Nixle or Twitter updates. Photos of community events, meanwhile, might fall to a community relations officer, while tips on Internet safety, personal safety, and home security could be offered by a detective or two. An administrator might post information on recruitment or political issues between department and city council.

Drawing from the community

There’s another option, one that might work in conjunction with an agency’s own social media team: allowing the public to help. Consider three communities in Texas: Houston, Austin and San Antonio, for which two civilians—on their own time and with their own funds—use public information to keep Twitter feeds updated.

Why? Jordan Ghawi, a firefighter/EMT in a small department near San Antonio, was quoted as saying: “For the first responders, if people see these feeds, they are going to change their routes and make the area not as congested. I really think what we’re providing is a great service to the cities we are posting, too.”

He himself had been receiving SMS (text) messages regarding emergencies to his cell phone, but as collaborator Paul Voccio notes, “While this worked on a small scale, we realized if we were to make this available to a wider audience, SMS was not the way to go.”

So Ghawi and Voccio began to post to @SanAntonioFire and @SanAntonioPD around late January. “Twitter seemed the best alternative to a real time status message to a wide audience,” says Voccio. “A few days later I had some scripts running doing the updates. Other cities came online as we found their CAD (computer aided dispatch) systems.”

The “bios” for each page make it clear that they are unofficial. Yet the information, though Ghawi and Voccio have never gotten official permission to maintain these pages (which include @HoustonPolice, @HoustonFire, @AustinTraffic, and @AustinFire), is entirely official.

“No one has approached me in an official capacity to discuss what we’re doing,” says Voccio, “but I have been approached by people who work in the San Antonio City IT dept wanting to know how we were doing it. They thought we had gained access to their backend systems. I then pointed out that they publish this information on a public website. That sorta ended the questions as to where we got the data.

“Since we essentially screenscrape their department’s public pages, it’s already public domain when we grab it. We do filter some of the redundant data, such as minor car accidents or other benign calls. In our first day with SAPD, we tweeted a few hundred tweets of fenderbenders ,which annoyed everyone including ourselves. With a bit of tweaking it settled down and has been maintenance free until lately.”

It’s not a perfect system; Voccio says no infrastructure exists to disseminate information more quickly. “I think most departments aren’t ready for this yet given the misunderstanding of how we were getting the information in the first place,” he adds.

“[However] I think the number of followers we have on each of the accounts shows that the public is interested in this information and we can provide it to then cheaply and reliably just using just a bit of scripting.”

Deciding what’s appropriate for your agency

How do you figure out first whether to have an online presence, and then what kind of time and resources to commit to it? A community survey may be a good start. Even so, as Wylie points out, “We have over 1000 followers on Twitter, but over 75000 people living in this city and a HUGE number who work here (especially given Google’s headquarters is here).

“Twitter is really reaching only a few people within our community and we can not dedicate vast resources to such a specialized tool that only reaches a small segment of our target population…. I keep coming back to the idea that, while social networking is, indeed, popular, we have a massive group of people in this city who aren’t using that technology. I would be catering to a small group when compared to our entire population. I feel a responsibility to dedicate my time across the board, focusing more of my time on the methods that reach out to the most people, not just the ones that are the most modern or technologically advanced and hip.”

As Collier suggests, assuming the agency needs a social network presence (this can be accomplished by surveying the community), figuring out what it will take should come next—before the agency commits resources it doesn’t have.

How did your agency determine what was right for its community? How else might a police department stretch thin resources to reach out to its community online?

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Social media doesn’t bring a changing of the guard

Image: <a href=The Munhall (Pennsylvania) News Watch posted this Pittsburgh Tribune Review article recently:

While police departments elsewhere turn to Web sites such as Twitter and Facebook, some local chiefs are sticking to automated phone messages as the best way to get fast alerts to many people at once.

“If you want something right away, a Web site isn’t fast enough,” said Ross police Sgt. William Barrett. “Manpower and media are quicker.” Pittsburgh police have used an Internet-based alert system for two years and many departments post information about crimes on municipal Web sites. But officials say phone systems remain most effective.

Ross police are installing a reverse 911 system, an automated system that can make hundreds of calls in a few minutes.

Missing from the article were examples of other agencies that had either made a total switch to Internet-based services, or were using both.

People aren’t just on the phone… or online

A key to social media is that it reaches people where they are. Lots of people are on Facebook and Twitter, and that’s why so many companies and government agencies are there, too. But as marketers point out, Internet marketing isn’t about the tools. It’s always, always about the people.

I commented to the MNW blog: “Doesn’t reverse 911 only work for landlines? I think it is advisable for agencies to use both phone and services like Nixle (which can be pushed to Twitter) – some people have only cell phones and no land lines, and others may prefer text or email alerts (say, a working parent who would want to know what’s going on in their child’s school neighborhood).”

Note that I think both services should be used. I had an eyeopening moment this week when I read in an email from the Mountain View (California) Police Department‘s PIO, Liz Wylie: “[W]e have over 1000 followers on Twitter, but over 75000 people living in this city and a HUGE number who work here (especially given Google’s headquarters is here). [Thus] Twitter is really reaching only a few people within our community and we can not dedicate vast resources to such a specialized tool that only reaches a small segment of our target population.”

Know your community

Clearly, social media tools are not the end-all be-all of community outreach, even as the media hype them. “Reaching the people where they are” doesn’t just include Web-savvy youth; it also includes their elderly grandparents, people with physical disabilities who live independently, poor people, and others whose phone or computer usage is limited—for whatever reason.

This blog post points out that it is very difficult to measure the extent to which social media tools “should” be used, and ultimately is used in conjunction with other traditional means of communication anyway.

So yes, if it will bring value to your public, and you have the resources for it, use reverse 911; it clearly works. So do Nixle, Citizen Observer, Facebook, and Twitter. Make the messages consistent—and use these multiple means to get information out to the largest group of people possible.

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