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Police blog guidelines backfire

Serving police officers at London's Metropolitan Police are hitting back at attempts to impose new guidelines on their blogging, according to the BBC.

The case offers an insight into a thorny issue for organisations everywhere: how to give guidance on acceptable behaviour online by employees in the age of universal online publishing.

From the excerpts I've seen there doesn't seem to be anything over-the-top or unreasonably constraining about the guidelines, but special constable blogger  reacts point-by-point here and they seem straighforward enough.

There is a radical edge to reactions of some officers who see that the command-and-control communications functions at the Met as being deeply unsatisfactory:

Speaking anonymously to BBC Radio Five Live's Brian Hayes programme, one blogger said: "Blogs are proving to be a way the police are connecting with the public in a far more effective way than the official police media services ever could." 

That's a view echoed by another blogger, Bow Street Runner, who writes on his weblog: "These blogs reveal what actually goes on behind the glossy, PR-friendly corporate image put across by most forces, and threatens to actually inform the public as to what police officers do."

My reading of this situation - admittedly from a distance - is that the Met may have mishandled its communications when providing its people with these guidelines. The case stands as a warning to all communicators in large organisations - especially in the public sector, where dissent makes for good news stories.

Perhaps the Met has inflamed the situation by not communicating properly with its own blogging officers. It doesn't sound like there was any discussion about why, or how best to go about providing guidance to officers wishing to blog. My advice - with the full benefit of hindsight - would be to involve the bloggers in drafting a code of conduct (on a Wiki, even?).

The other obvious conclusion is that this affair exposes the poor morale and internal communications at the Met. The tone of the bloggers' complaints is resentful and angry - it looks like an over-reaction to be honest, but perhaps it speaks of deeper problems at the Met.

Either way, the Met has created a story where there was none before. I for one had never heard of the police blogging community, but now it is being given coverage and a voice in the national media - and an angry voice at that.

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As a part-timer, I am not exposed to the day-in, day-out problems that regular officers encounter. Perhaps this is why I am not as critical of the policy. As the organization becomes more politically correct and less about real policing, blogging of views will become more prevalent. Unfortunately thats the age we live in. Even though some will deny this, we are partly to blame (Scarman report, Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, The Secret Policeman)...I just hope that we can go back to doing what the public expects, which is catching criminals and not filling out endless paperwork to keep managers and government happy. We were once trusted..

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