Archive for the ‘Law Enforcement’ Category


Monday, August 27th, 2012

A news story out of Vancouver, says the RCMP  warned its employees against identifying themselves as members of the force when posting personal comments on social media sites.

If the story is correct and the force’s warning goes beyond a reminder of members’ code of conduct obligations, then the RCMP, an organization with over 28,000 employees, is depriving itself of as many potential and powerful online ambassadors.  With the RCMP brand tarnished by news reports of bad behaviour, the organization’s focus should be on sharing its stories to put a human face on the red serge, not stifling social interaction.

But the RCMP is not alone in its digital skittishness as fear of social media seems to have replaced fear of reporters in many organizations.

In some ways, this is understandable. It is the nature of social media that content, good or bad, can be shared and viewed almost instantaneously. This is what makes it such a powerful communications and marketing tool. It is also what makes it potentially very damaging to reputations, brands and bottom lines. And it is what spooks many organizations, public and private.

There is no doubt that the real time nature of digital communications makes responsive damage control very tricky. Just  ask United Airlines who in 2009 got caught in the  social media turbulence created by a disgruntled passenger and his now iconic video, United Breaks Guitars The airline saw the value of its shares tumble by almost $ 200 million and its reputation take a hit it is still struggling to recover from.

That is why many organizations batten down the hatches when it comes to social media engagement.   Their fear of the digital faux pas, forces them to adopt stringent social media policies and practices that limit direct engagement and impose top down message control. And so doing they deprive themselves of their best tool for countering negative stories and bad PR: their community.

One of the reasons (and there are several) United failed to contain the online firestorm was that it was unable to mobilize the thousands-strong army of Twitter followers and YouTube susbscribers–all potential brand ambassadors–to share, amplify and most importantly, validate its message.

Where were United’s brand ambassadors in its time of need?  They were on the sidelines watching the airline they trust to move them safely, efficiently and economically, being grounded by a story and catchy tune gone viral.

In United’s case, it was less a matter of existing social media policies hindering their ability to mobilize potential support and more a lack of community building and engagement coupled with poor tactical execution.

But for many organizations, the very policies they develop to mitigate and manage risk,  hamstring their ability to respond effectively to online communication crises and attacks on their brand.

In theory, social media policies are easy to develop. Most organizations have policies governing just about every aspect of corporate and employee behaviour. From the size of their cubicle, to what they can wear at work, to the type of car they can rent on company business, policies spell out what employees can and cannot do. And in fact,  more and more organizations are adopting precisely those kinds of policies to govern social media interaction. The problem is that many of them miss the mark, like the RCMP’s new policy appears to do.

Effective social media policies should allow the emergence of brand ambassadors within and outside an organization by providing clear, common-sense principles that facilitate engagement.

The difficulty in implementing effective social media policies lies in the very essence of social interaction: spontaneity. Throw up a wall around what people can say or do online, or when they can say it,  and you limit spontaneity and genuine interaction.

This may not be a problem for organizations that see social media as something that should be managed and controlled. But for organizations that recognize the potential of employee and community online engagement, developing policies that do what they’re supposed to do should be a priority.

A few months ago, while developing a social media policy for a client, I came across a great social media policy database that provides examples of the best and the worst policies around.

I found the best policies to be ones that eschewed highly prescriptive language and focused on four things: trust, clear principles, common sense and simple rules.

In the case of the RCMP, and most police organizations, the code of conduct should form the base of the policy framework. This is what governs police officers’ behaviour in and out of uniform, it governs how they should interact with the citizens they are sworn to serve and protect, and it is what should govern their social media interactions. This basic framework would need to be augmented by proper social media training along with socialization of the critical role that sworn and civilian members can play in supporting the organization’s standing in the community through their online engagement.

Like most corporate policies, rules governing corporate social media use cannot cover every contingency or situation. Policies that are too stringent will only serve to discourage online interaction or render it stilted and lacking in spontaneity.

Social media engagement is like casting a pebble in a pond: Networks grow in concentric circles. Policies that force officers to shed their uniforms before engaging with their friends, family and peers, fail to tap in the networks and communities closest to the organization.

The best police social media policy is one based on clear principles that empower and guide the exercise of discretion. Policies that impose limits above those contained in members’ code of conduct risk seeing the organization forced to fend off PR challenges through corporate spin and traditional media, while absent from the channels where the conversations are taking place.


Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Social media engagement is like casting a pebble in a pond: Networks grow in concentric circles. For any organization  looking to build its online presence, the networking and socialization should begin from within, and start at the top.  This is particularly true for organizations that interact with the public as front line service providers.  Police organizations fall into this category.

For a police force exploring social media, whether it is simply a question of populating its Facebook page or jump-starting a Twitter account, the place to begin should always be with its staff, sworn and civilian.

Enlisting your staff to be part of the conversation has a number of advantages. It allows you to tap into their networks and synergize ongoing conversations to help project your brand and amplify your message. It will serve to bolster internal communications and create an organization-wide sense of empowerment and ownership of the new strategy.  It will also help staff internalize and articulate the key organizational values, ethics and goals that make up your corporate brand.

This exercise can be formal or informal. Anything from training workshops to “lunch and learn” sessions will do as long as these provide the time and space to freely discuss the organization’s strategy, its benefits and costs, and everyone’s role in its implementation.   While technical know-how is important, online social engagement is all about the capacity to engage and converse.

Most importantly, these sessions should be opportunities for the organization’s leadership to share and discuss their objectives and vision for the organization and how social media can facilitate achieving these.

An interesting study released today  by Austin-based PulsePoint Group, illustrates the importance of the “C-suite” in fostering organizational buy-in and excellence in social media use and engagement.  Notably, it finds that:

  • Two-thirds of the  organizations  achieving the highest returns reported that their  C-suites are active advocates– that is, they commit to social engagement  as a strategy and they reallocate resources to make it happen.
  • However,  a full 28% of C-suite executives still don’t believe in social  engagement. And the number one reason? The inability to gauge ROI (45%).  For engagement to work, the C-suite has to believe in it and see  measurable returns.

In hierarchical organizations a disconnect from the leadership can cause uncertainty and a fallback to the safety of the status-quo.  And while in the past organizations embraced a tightly controlling spokesperson policy in the name of message discipline, today’s real-time social environment requires investing in engagement and conversations.

Effective social media engagement  requires a more horizontal, less hierarchical, and more trusting approach to external communication.  A critical part of this approach must involve bringing your  leadership into the social fold, and into the conversation–internally and externally.

In addition to helping to maintain message discipline and unity,  internal engagement will allow the organization to leverage its all of its networks, further amplify its message and extend its reach, and most importantly build buy-in.

If a police force wants its members–sworn and civilian–to become brand ambassadors it must empower them not only with the technical tools–from training, to the narrative, to PDAs–but also with the trust and support of their leadership.


Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

Jesse Ventura got it right when he said that you can’t legislate morality–nor can you legislate values, culture, or attitudes. But it looks like that is exactly what the City of San Francisco is planning on doing as it considers legislating community policing.  

A story in yesterday’s San Francisco Examiner  says legislation has been introduced that would make community policing part of the City code.  The legislation is the initiative of Supervisor David Campos  who says the police department has to improve its community policing. 

According to the article,  the legislation spells out tactics and strategies to be used by the City’s force to bring it closer to the communities it serves. Among other things, it calls for community training for officers, “two-way communication” through newsletters or other “social network tools” between police stations and the community.

Those tactics make perfect sense. What doesn’t make sense, is that it should take legislation to get the San Francisco PD to integrate them in their operations. 

Community policing is more about police culture, values and attitudes than it is about tactics.  By codifying how the police should interact with San Franciscans Supervisor Campos has highlighted a leadership and culture problem within the force; he has done nothing to fix it.


Saturday, September 18th, 2010

In an earlier post on the potential for mass mobilization of a particular Canadian Facebook campaign, I wrote that it would be a mistake to measure its success solely by the volume of (traditional) media coverage it generated, the amount of money it raised, or the number of boots it put on the ground.

Those are all important elements of social and political engagement, but they form the core of advocacy 1.0; not advocacy 2.0, which should be based on fostering conversations online, and more importantly, around the water cooler.

At the end of the day, I argued, if the ROI of social media advocacy is measured solely on the basis of the old paradigm, then the exercise is bound to fall short of its potential because it will have missed the point.

The same is true of social media and policing.

For police forces in Canada and abroad, tapping the full potential of social media will require a substantive shift from more traditional approaches to law enforcement (and the measuring of outcomes and success) toward a community or problem-based policing model.

In the problem-based policing strategy, individuals and communities are engaged in finding solutions to criminal or public safety issues that affect them. Crowd-sourcing–a popular social media strategy designed to engage communities in developing content or finding solutions to a problem–jumps to mind as the social media extension of this policing strategy.

But for this new model to work, the use of social media must not be driven by a technology-first mentality (the shiny new toy). The real driving force must be an appreciation of the potential social media provides for real-time engagement and dialogue; including with groups and communities that had been out of reach of most traditional police interventions, notably youth at risk.

Looked at from this perspective, it is clear that using social media solely as a one way communication system would miss the point. So too would using social media as a kind of mobile or internet-based crime reporting line. If not integrated within a larger strategy of community engagement and dialogue, that approach remains policing 1.0 dressed up as something else.

Such a social media strategy would not only fail to leverage the full potential of online engagement but, if too focused on enforcement outcomes, could actually subvert efforts at engagement by creating a wedge between the police and various communities.

Online communities are very discerning. They can spot a phoney a mile away. First and foremost, effective social media engagement must be genuine and transparent. Hidden agendas–be they corporate or personal–rarely survive the collective glare of the online community.

Embracing policing 2.0 for most police forces will mean more than expanding their digital or online engagement capacity; more than creating a YouTube channel or Tweeting police reports. It will mean embracing a new way of thinking about how they relate to their community.

By providing police forces and law enforcement agencies with the potential for exciting new strategies, paradigm-change may yet become social media’s greatest contribution to policing.