PIOs: Are You Prepared For Your Agency's 'Personal Brands'?

For the Philadelphia Police Department, “learning to prep” recently included asking a tweeting detective, Joe Murray (@TheFuzz9143), to stop what he was doing so that they could put policy and training in place.

1) Train. “First your officers need to understand what social media can do to them,” says Garrow. “A video of the infamous (Toronto) Officer Bubbles incident (see link below) will demonstrate how even an officer operating well within his rights and responsibilities can go terribly wrong. A frank discussion of how (officers') actions can be misinterpreted and why they need to be on their very best behavior and demonstrate respect and patience in all situations is key.”

Part of this discussion: understanding that social media users are not comparable to traditional media. “Many members of the media know better than to expect in-depth information from officers, and usually depend on the PIO,” Garrow explains.

“(But) the vast majority of social media users (even the self-appointed citizen journalists) don't have the experience or desire to do this. They see an officer and start firing questions. And keep firing.” The frustration that mounts on both ends in such a confrontation is what everyone—supervisors and officers alike—need to prepare for.

2) Institute the right policies and procedures. “Supervisors, especially in high stress situations like Occupy, need to monitor their officers for frustration,” Garrow says. “If someone looks like they're going to blow their top, pull them off the line. Also, allow officers to tell their supervisors if they're about to reach their limit and let them request to be pulled from the line. If you can head off confrontation, the likelihood of negative video getting out is drastically reduced.”

3) Pay Attention. “The final step to take to mitigate social media disasters is, like G.I. Joe, to know what's going on. And that's done by conducting broad-based social media monitoring on as many networks as is feasible,” says Garrow.

“Because of the focus on video, this is not an easy or automated search. It includes targeted searches of YouTube, UStream and Bambuser. The sooner these videos and social media ambushes are identified, the sooner they can be addressed by the department and mitigated.

“This can be done in the mass media or directly on the social media network. Care should be taken, though, as not all comments or videos need to be addressed. A tool like the USAF commenting flowchart can be helpful in figuring out when, and how, to reply.

“Even if your officer does everything right: spirit and letter of the law, with respect and humility, they can still be a star on YouTube,” Garrow cautions. “(But) I have to note: YouTube can be a boon, if the subject is good. An unstaged recording of heroism can do wonders for PR.”


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