Saturday, August 08, 2009

Experienced Criminal Justice Professor looking for trend-setting police departments in need of free social media assistance

(not for me -- for my students)

Despite the economic challenges we are facing (or perhaps because of them), the growth of social media use by businesses and organizations continues. Many a company executive is being educated on why they need to blog, what good having a Facebook or LinkedIn account is, and what Tweeting (not Twittering) is.

The problem is, even if they do get it, most don't have the time.

If the marketing or public relations folks are able to convince the executive that having a social media strategy is important, there are two main options -- pay for it or get it for nothing.

Option 1 (paying) will likely start with adding responsibilities to someone who is already on the payroll. In a different economy, this position might be more likely to go to someone with training, but we have to make the ends meet, don't we?

Option 2 would entail finding an intern and trusting them with the reputation of the company. Not many executives are likely to be excited about this option -- even if the intern is in their bloodline.

In most cases, you get what you pay for, or at least you won't get more than what you pay for. Everyone on Facebook or Twitter is not an expert, and everyone who uses these tools successfully for their personal benefit is not necessarily qualified to do so for their company.

So what about the police? We've advocated the use of social media by police organizations to interact with the public before, and there have been some great examples of forward-thinking departments implementing strategies that admittedly don't clearly impact the community reputation of the department.

But there may be a solution.

I have, in any given month, a couple of hundred students in need of exposure to the workforce in the outside world in the profession they are interested in. Many of these are interested in criminal justice, yet almost all have a hard time getting internships. I think most criminal justice departments encounter the same problems.

So I am proposing that each criminal justice department contact each police department within a 500 mile radius of the university. I would suggest a 50 mile radius, but that would not adequately demonstrate the reach of the Internet, now would it?

Offer the police departments a chance to beta-test your 10 hand-picked social media police intern strategists. Set up a Facebook (or Ning) group and set strict guidelines for communication policy, to include a 2 month probationary period where posts have to be screened by a criminal justice professor on the collaboration site prior to presenting them to a department representative for approval. Once the probationary period is completed, the intern will still need to get department approval, but only needs to post a snapshot after the fact, along with a short summary of the logic and rationale if outside the established guidelines.

This process will serve as a test bed for more active departments in the social media space, and allow departments to see the benefits of interaction in the social space with minimal investment.

The primary responsibility of the Social Media Police Intern will be to promote the police department using a variety of social media such as Twitter, FaceBook, MySpace (if they are still around), Blogs, Yahoo!Groups, and related spaces as agreed by the faculty mentor and department representative.

The Intern will be responsible for maintaining the Twitter account with posts reflecting arrest trends, wanted persons, Amber Alerts, and other police information needing immediate public assistance. Approvals for following the department will be made according to pre-established guidelines and approved by the department representative.

The intern should maintain the department's Facebook Fan page, to include promoting events and monitoring communications, and informing the department representative of any problems exposed in the social media domain so the department can determine how to respond appropriately.

Monitoring of police-related communications (comments regarding the department or criminal activity in the jurisdiction) may also be included.

Intern Qualifications: The candidate should be someone with a mix of:

  • Strong interpersonal skills
  • Effective written and oral communication skills
  • Able to work alone, while operating as an integral team member
  • Experience using social media in a non-business, personal setting
Interns are expected to work a minimum of 5 and a maximum of 20 hours each week. The schedule will remain flexible and can be adjusted based on the intern’s availability. These internships should be offered for a term of approximately 4 Months.

For more posts addressing the need for social media strategies for police departments, click here.

What do you think?


Christa M. Miller said...

Couple of thoughts:

If interns are meant to be temporary, yet social media is about putting a human "voice" on an organization, how might one account for the change in "voice" from one intern to the next?

What might be preferable is for an intern to be part of a PD's social media team comprising the chief (or other command staff), PIO, maybe one or two other social media-savvy and interested officers.

The purpose would be 1) to have "backup" in case of the intern's unavailability, 2) ensure consistency of message, and 3) set the department up to run its own social media in the long term -- during which I see the role of interns not diminishing, but changing as more PDs become more familiar with the media.

carterfsmith said...

I think corporate social media voices can be expected to sound differently from one rep to the next. I was not necessarily focusing on a "company rep" branding strategy -- more on a company response management strategy (an alternative that is less labor intensive). Though in many cases I would prefer an individual(s) be assigned to rep the police department brand (like those you have addressed in your blog before), the multiple-rep option is at least a way to enter the space (a huge step for most) with little additional cost.

I think this would happen before the PD's social media team was formed, and would probably help catalyze it. The backup plan works for me, and yes, it would provide consistency.

My hope is that those who pick up on this strategy would use interns for launching other strategies. The department leadership would just have to make sure the interns knew what they were doing, kept on top of developments, and were able to tactfully educate them (department leadership) on the changes on potential responses/engagements that would enhance the department's community reputation.

Christa M. Miller said...

I probably should have clarified -- I was thinking of broad differences in "voice" that can happen when a team isn't properly aligned.

TASER is an example of a good team approach where the team's voices are distinct, but consistent.

On the other hand, in at least one PD I know of that uses one officer per MySpace/Facebook/Twitter page, the MySpace page in particular lost its human connection when the new officer came on board.

The key to what you suggest is direct and strict supervision by the CJ professor, who is collaborating at the same time with PD administrators -- yes? Do you think it would also be valuable to have a school's communications department involved?

Also, how can a PD interested in this option reach out to CJ programs? What options might they have if no nearby schools have people interested or prepared enough to participate in the kind of program you propose?

RonLevine said...

As a Chief at Community College in California, I think this is an excellent concept. Recruiting the proper intern is an issue, as is keeping up the content as interns move on.

As you note, law enforcement is slow on the uptake on anything tech related. Some agencies don't see the value in social media - yet. Creating a presence is important and the ROI is high. I have to keep up our content currently, as I haven't found anyone inside (or outside) my agency willing or able to do so.

Thanks for the post. I will be sharing it with a number of other Chiefs and agencies.

carterfsmith said...

I think the solution to keeping up the content is to, of course, have the CJ prof and the department rep have a clue about the intended goals. The other piece (or opportunity) that is often missed in internships is the mentoring and knowledge-sharing role of a select few of yesterday's interns.

No, all of them will not be stellar (even if they are from my top ten :-). Those that are, however, should be asked to design (initially) and contribute to a how-to manual/SOP (maybe in wiki form). They should also be asked to be available for consulting by future interns -- maybe even have a role in recruiting and choosing them!

Why would they want to do this? It would change the wording on their resume, for starters.


Piloted the social media strategy for XYZ police department, operating the Twitter, Nixle, Facebook, whatever account . . .


Managed the social media strategy and drafted (contributed to, etc) the procedural manual and served on the intern acceptance committee . . .

carterfsmith said...

Christa, I agree with you on voice -- why not have the individual or a pseudonym rep the department as an individual?

I don't think the school's communications department would contribute anything (unless they new social media) any better than the public relations folks would.

A PD that is interested in this option that doesn't have a relationship with a local CJ department shouldn't use this as the first contact topic. Those that don't have folks available in their area can contact me (whether or not they are within 500 miles of Nashville :-). I am in contact with many potentially worthy internship candidates -- some may even be in their backyard!