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Cops using personal social media...draft guidence

The effect that social media has had on our daily lives is on a truly epic scale. Its evolution has been rapid and now those who ignore it do so at the peril. This article is aimed specifically at those who hold a public office, or those who work in a publicly accountable organisation, and wish to start blogging/tweeting in a personal capacity. I have chosen this fairly narrow audience because they face a much bigger challenging when entering the world of social media, and the lack of clear guidance has meant that mistakes are made which undermine public confidence.

I am most familiar with the police service so will be talking about how personal blogging can be used to great effect by them, however it is equally applicable to any similar organisation. Anecdotally i see that most police forces focus their new media policies on how individual officers can set up and use their official police twitter accounts. Policies are having to be drawn up from scratch with almost no precedent to work from, so this is truly a whole new world. Less attention is given to how officers use social media in their personal lives, leaving an uncertainty that leads officers feeling vulnerable when using their own social media.

As a successful 'personal' police blogger/tweeter, who has avoided the pitfalls of anonymity, i feel well placed to write some guidance that shares my secret to successful blogging/tweeting.

I have no doubt that this will apply to anyone who holds a position of trust.

In order to build the most effective set of principles you should consider the below principles to be a draft. With the support of my readers, and those involved in police new media, i hope to build a set of principles that offer clear guidance to officers who want to blog in a personal capacity.

8 Principles
  1. VAT; Value Added Text
    1. Everything that you write should be done so with the intention of adding value to a debate. Rants and raves only serve to take value away, damage your credibility, and isolate you.
  2. Accountability and Anonymity - I made mistakes in writing this principle; its hugely over simplified. Here is a follow up article on anonymity, why not join the discussion?
    1. Maybe against your better judgement, a police blogger should never attempt to be anonymous. An anonymous blogger will always have the sword of Damocles above their head meaning you wont ever get the most out of blogging. Anonymity suggests you have something to hide, and brings your intentions into doubt. If your identity is discovered by your employer you will be put in a position where you will have to explain your behaviour, and your integrity may be brought into doubt. Inform your New Media team as soon as you start blogging...they can give you invaluable advice and even help improve your readership. I dont see that there is any need to inform your new media team for any other area of social media because it is less risky, however you should behave as if you had informed them. Check out the follow up article for this principle.
  3. Balance
    1. Blogging and tweeting etc is all about sharing your opinion. You are essentially a columnist, not a journalist...so your readers will be expecting opinion. However its essential that you take a balanced approach. One sided arguments undermine your credibility and independence as a writer and could lead to you being labelled as an extremist.
  4. Legality
    1. This one is obvious...don't do anything illegal. In particular be cautious of libel and copyright issues. If you are going to make statements about an individual, make sure you can support those statements with some evidence. If you are going to use images, make sure you link them to the source. If you use other peoples material you must make it clear to the reader that its not your writing...so this by quoting and offering citations to the original author. Do not share privileged information that you have obtained while at work, do not name names, or show any identifiable content. Importantly, only discuss matters that are already in the public domain.
  5. Morality, Ethics, Integrity and Humility
    1. These 4 attributes are all very subjective. Make sure you are doing the right thing for the right reasons, in the right way, aimed at the right people. Blogging will sometimes result in making mistakes or offending people, its only natural. Be prepared to admit any wrongdoing and correct the mistakes. Your force will likely support you if you deal with mistakes in an ethical and honest way. To avoid problems you should limit criticism to national policy, not the behaviour of any particular force. More obviously; don't swear, don't lie, make sure your facts are right, and make sure that any criticism if fair.
  6. Building Trust
    1. Having informed your force about your intention to blog you need to prove to them that you can be trusted. Trust will build over a period of time, and the more ethical articles you post the more confidence your force will have in you as a blogger.
  7. Media Watch
    1. Always presume that your content is being read by the press...ask yourself; would the local media be interested in this article, and if so; why? Make sure your articles are clear, and not open to negative interpretation. If you are contacted by the media you should feel free to chat with them, however you should be cautious of unguarded comments.
  8. Professionalism 
    1. Remember, everything you do has the potential to reflect on your employer. You don't need to avoid writing about your work, but be aware that your employer will be watching, so don't write anything that you wouldn't want your chief to see.

    Do you agree? Do you disagree? What would you add? What would you take away?

    Click 'read more' to see some examples where we have got it wrong...study the past to secure the future.




    Case studies

    Met Police chief inspector sacked over sex and drugs boast
    Police Lesson: Social Network Tools Have Two Edges
    Found out: the chief constable who had a love affair on expenses
    Twitter man accused of threat to blow airport 'sky high'
    United Breaks Guitars  
    Facebook prison officer is sacked
    5 facebook posts that got people sacked 
    10 people who got fired through facebook
    10 ways to get fired through facebook 
    Navy ship crew commander fired
    Chris Huhne's 'fingerprints' slip on Twitter leads to policy speculation
    Poole lifeguards in Hitler YouTube video
    Stuart Baggs gets fired 'You're full of shit' - The Apprentice 2010
    Queen of the Mommy Bloggers