Tag Archives: Weblogs

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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The (not so) secret life of Officer Mitty

Image: <a href=This week’s news out of the U.K. is disturbing on a number of different levels, but this op ed from the Guardian says it best:

We hope that Detective Constable Richard Horton won’t lose his job, although he has been through what may be one of the fastest disciplinary processes in police history and been given a written reprimand. He has already been doorstepped by photographers and his award-winning blog has disappeared – and a window that had opened on to the way in which policeman go about their work, bristling with insights into contemporary Britain, has been slammed shut.

In a rather Orwellian way, history is being rewritten – it is as if it had never existed. Horton won the Orwell Prize for blogging because in an increasingly competitive field he offered such a distinct voice. And because it took you to the heart of policing in a gripping way: it was old-fashioned reporting but in the new time frame of an unfolding story. In particular it reeked of somewhere local, regional, a particular part of Britain as well as the particular place of being a policeman.

The cop blogger’s value

A number of police officers blog. Some write about their jobs. Others write about their personal lives. Many include their opinions of social and political trends. And, while a few — mainly for official purposes — blog under their own names, most remain anonymous.

It is possible, of course, that the unnamed bloggers are not really cops, but instead masquerade in a bid for attention. The details they offer, however, make this unlikely. More likely is that real officers are blogging anonymously for one of two reasons: their department has a policy against blogging, or in the absence of official policy, they believe they’ll be disciplined for their activities.

Administrators’ views are not without merit. A “loose cannon” officer blogging in a negative tone about his community and/or its residents opens the department to libel lawsuits. By and large, though, anonymous officer bloggers write fairly and honestly, providing their perspective on a variety of calls, agency dynamics, and other facts of law enforcement life. Their insights are valuable to both agency and community.

They may also be valuable to the officers themselves. Writing has long been established as a way to relieve stress—to help humans process thoughts and images. Journaling works for many people, but some of us need an audience, need to feel understood.

A necessary voice

Thus administrators would do well to encourage blogging, anonymous or not. It’s okay to place restrictions if officers are talking about their work rather than themselves; honest assessments of calls can, at best, lead to embarrassed citizens, even if the officer never names them. Guidance is prudent.

But if officers are blogging fairly and honestly, they should not be punished for their voices. This side of the pond, the law enforcement blogging community lost strong voices in the late “Texas Music” and “Negative, Ghostrider” blogs, both of which were shut down (and their archives deleted) after their writers were found out.

So by all means, guide blogging officers. Read their blogs, talk to them about what they’re writing. But don’t force them out. Many will find a way back in, for starters, under a different anonymous ID.

But more importantly, the community needs their honest voices. Police have long criticized the media for “getting it wrong” when it comes to police work. Cop bloggers are a chance to get it right. Why screw that up?

Image: thelastminute via Flickr

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Cops vs. blogging?

Image credit: dbdbrobot via Flickr

Image credit: dbdbrobot via Flickr

Omaha.com ran a recent article about Lincoln (Nebraska)’s blogging police chief, Tom Casady. Read about his subject matter, but pay particular attention to what he and another city official had to say about blogging:

Casady and [Round Lake, Ill. Mayor Bill] Gentes agreed that being personable and genuine is key to a successful blog. Gentes also said he tries to inject his sense of humor into his posts.

Gentes said he doesn’t buy some officials’ claims that they don’t blog because they aren’t comfortable with the technology.

“It’s simple to use,” he said. “You just have to be willing to write and write almost every day.”

However useful blogging may be to law enforcement — to educate and inform the public on a regular basis, about things they may not find out in the media — the writing can be the main sticking point. Most people both in and out of law enforcement seem to fall into two camps: those who enjoy and/or are talented at writing, and those who would rather do just about anything else. William Zinsser‘s book On Writing Well notes:

Take an adult chemist or physicist or engineer and ask him or her to write a report, and you’ll see something close to panic. “No! Don’t make us write!” they say…. They were told at an early age by an English teacher that they don’t have “a gift for words.”

Are you a good communicator?

Chiefs and other command staff can sometimes fall back on the department’s public information officer when they want to add the writing-intensive social media to their community outreach efforts. In many departments, however, public information falls to the chief. So should a chief blog, even if s/he doesn’t want to?

It depends. The “personable and genuine” element of any social-media effort–blogging or tweeting or commenting–is its cornerstone. However, chiefs who enjoy communicating with people should focus on that aspect of blogging. As Zinsser says, “Writing is thinking on paper. Anyone who thinks clearly can write clearly, about anything at all.”

Thinking on paper

True, writing in itself requires a certain discipline. Blog entries require a certain finesse to appeal to an Internet audience: they must be fairly short, well-organized (leading from Point A to Point B, and with headers to guide the way), and clear (no wandering off on tangents). Best of all is to write a rough draft, then go back and revise/cut as necessary.

But most police chiefs are busy people and lack the time to learn how to move from translating their natural thoughts and style, to refining a written piece. Those who see value in blogging, then, may want to consider partnering with someone else: the PIO, an officer, or even a secretary or clerk skilled at dictation. They may share the responsibility with the PIO, or even develop a “group blog” concept with other city or department officials.

Learning how to blog

This can provide the time necessary to learn how to write in the way blogging requires. Besides reading books like Zinsser’s, an excellent way to learn how to blog effectively is to find those you enjoy (we list several in our blogroll)–and figure out what it is about those blogs that makes you enjoy them so much.

Blogging technology has become almost as easy as word processing thanks to hosting services like WordPress and Blogger. Blogging itself, meanwhile, need not be professionally done. In fact, blog readers prefer the less formally written approach; “slick” writing is not to be trusted. By all means make sure your spelling and grammar function properly–poorly written work looks unprofessional–but the best blogs come from the heart and the head.

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Categories? Tags? What’s the big deal?

Now that we have our blogging platform, and our theme or front end, we need to start working on the backend of the site.

One of the areas that seems to be the biggest hang up for organizations stepping into the social media/blogging realm is the idea behind categories and tags. Which is what and what is which? It really confuses a lot of folks. And it confused me for a long time. I couldn’t quite grasp what each was for and what the difference was.

I am still working on my analogy but I try to explain it to people, potential bloggers like this.

The “Blogosphere” is a Super Wal Mart.

Your blog is the grocery section

Your category is the vegetable aisle

Your tags are the different vegatables in the aisle

Example. Your blog is titled Groceries at Super Wal Mart. Your blog post is titled Potato Chips. Your category might be Snack Foods and your tags would be Lays, Wise, potato chip, Cheeze Doodles, Cheetos, pretzel sticks, pretzel knots and my personal favorite, Munchos.

Did I completely lose you in the bread aisle?

ScreenShot001My main blog, Scott’s Morning Brew, has 7 categories.

Church
General
News
Opinion
Politics
Technology
Videos

Currently, I have about 400 tags.

One of the trickiest tasks involved with setting up my agency’s blog, was choosing the categories. Each section of a magazine theme is generally defined by a category. There are five secions on the front page, not including the sidebar. I wanted to make sure that the sections displayed on the front end of the blog were relevant, interesting and provided enough information that visitors didn’t have to dig to deep. The categories on the front page are self explanatory and the reasoning behind choosing them is probably pretty obvious. If not, ask me.

Announcements
Crimeline
Events
Featured*
Press Releases

A sixth category is General Information and is not displayed on the front of the blog. It is the catch all and the category that I move some entries out of other categories to. For example, an event that has passed would be moved to General Information for historical purposes. That way it stays a part of the site but not on the front page in the events section.

*The Featured category is a hybrid. Any entry from any other category could go here. This is the article, or blog entry that is in the top left most corner of the blog. The “FEATURED” section. The entry may also be in Press Releases, General Information or Announcements. Once it’s usefulness of being a featured article has passed, it is removed from this category and place in a category of it’s own.

Since my agency is a police department, an example might be an article concerning a bank robbery, where a suspect’s photograph was taken. The investigators release the photo to the public along with a press release describing him/her. We put the photo in the FEATURED category and it displays foremost on the site.

Once that suspect has been dealt with, or another entry takes precedence it is moved down to it’s preferred category. In this case, press releases.

Using that same example of a bank robbery, we might add the tags of Bluebird Bank and Trust, robbery, armed, and firearm.

Once the blog starts getting populated with information, visitors can then search on “Bluebird Bank and Trust” and find all entries, regardless of category that mention it.

Tags can also be useful for SEO, or search engine optimization as well as on sites like Technorati and other social bookmarking/catalog sites.

I hope this clarifies the Category/Tag difference and their usefulness. If I managed to muddy the waters for you, please let me know. I will try to explain further.

Choosing a theme…

wordpress_logoThis was probably the most difficult part of my process to this point. How did I want to present the information the police department was going to put out.

I knew a standard “blog” format was not going to work. There just wasn’t going to be enough information flowing out to support that format. What I consider a standard “blog” format is like this site. A column with articles and a column or two on the side with links, quick static information and such. The keyword is columns.

Magazine formats were probably the way to go but which one? There are numerous ones out there that look sharp. There were a couple of stumbling blocks however.

  • Ease of setup – It had to be easy to set up
  • Ease of maintenance – It had to be easy to maintain. Man hours needed to be at the absolute minimum
  • Ease of posting – This was crucial since I was going to ultimately rely on non-tech types to post their own information on the site

The other “hitch” came when it came to purchasing the theme. Municipalities generally operate on a purchase order type system. Internally, we would process the paperwork or request and generate the purchase order. The PO would then be sent to the vendor who would send the product out. Once the product was received with an invoice, the PO would then be paid and the vendor would receive his/her check.

The problem is, most vendors in this field are guys who work at “real jobs” during the day and design themes in the evening. Some may have actual business licenses. Few, have filed W9 forms with the government and have an assigned TAX ID number (besides their SSN). These things are required, at least for my purchasing department to produce a purchase order.

I had narrowed the field down to three different themes. I knew I was going to use one of them, just didn’t know which one. I contact the three vendors via email. Since none of the themes were available for testing, I asked them if I could have the full version to set up and test, based on my word that we wouldn’t go “live” with the site until they were paid. They all agreed and sent me the appropriate files.

I ran through the testing on each theme. Updating articles, modifying the core files a little bit and basically going through a complete set up on each one.

Setting up a magazine theme is quite a bit more intensive that setting up a standard blog theme. Most blog themes you simply upload them, make a few quick changes to the content on the sidebars and you are up and running. I have changed the theme of this blog at least 5 times since I started writing it.

Magazine themes on the other hand use common functions of WordPress in uncommon ways. Categories, pages and articles all display in non-blog like fashion on the site.

To close this particular installment out, I will say that I settled on Brian Gardner’s Revolution Magazine theme. This theme is no longer available but he has many new themes available at http://www.revolutiontwo.com. I personally can not recommend his products high enough.

As an additional note, when I began talking with Brian about payment for the theme, he sent me an email donating it to the police department. No charge. Very gracious and professional man to deal with. Again, I personally can’t recommend him high enough.

The other vendor I dealt with was Nathan Rice. Same thing. Professional and very gracious young man with a lot of talent. He has designed many many themes, both premium and free for WordPress and the blogging community. The only reason his Proximity Theme didn’t get chosen for that application was because it was just a wee bit trickier to set up. Not bad. Quite easy for me. But the next guy that comes along… In fact, I liked the theme so much when Nathan offered a midnight Twitter sale (ask me about this); I jumped on the opportunity to purchase the theme for my personal use. You can see it in action (slightly tweaked from the original) at my Scott’s Morning Brew blog.    Note:  I have reverted back to a regular blog style theme on my personal site.

Choose your theme carefully.  You don’t want it to be a chore to get a new article up, but you want it to be flashy enough on the front end to draw visitor’s attention…  and hold it.

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