Blogging with A Badge: A case study look at Houston Police Department’s recruiting blog

http://www.hpdblog.com/

Courtesy of Officer Mike McCoy

Recruiting is not an easy task. Recruits have minds full of questions, doubts, fears and misconceptions. Who can blame them? They watch shows and movies many people enjoy such as “Reno 911,” “Police Academy” and “Super Troopers.” Please don’t misunderstand me, I do find these shows and movies entertaining but I also know what the productions took from reality and where Hollywood stepped in. For recruits, this line isn’t always so clear. The arduous task of correcting these misconceptions for recruits is made even more difficult when your only tool is the city-mandated agency website. These sites serve a wide audience, are very formal and rely heavily on news worthy stories and basic information regurgitation. These sites, while serving their important and necessary task as an Internet base for the agency to relay information to the media and public, do not answer recruits’ questions as efficiently as an audience-tailored and less formal blog site can.

Houston Police Department’s Officer Mike McCoy described the recruits’ dilemma as “a disconnect.” He later founded www.hpdblog.com and I’m honestly speaking when I say that it’s a regular on my web surfing agenda. He used this blog to show recruits what he felt they needed to see and consequently created an outstanding example for other agencies that choose to create a recruitment blog. His blog does many things and I’m highlighting only a few of its most valuable uses.

Insight into Training.

Many people believe they want to be a law enforcement officer; few are able to answer the call. Some cadets are fresh out of high school and others are changing career paths altogether. The transition into the police academy can be scary and their facts can be ambiguous. Through the use of their recruitment blog, HPD brings the wary I-think-I-know-what-I’m-getting-into person up close and personal with current cadets. The blog highlights new classes and even tells the stories of certain cadets’ experiences as they occur. They conducted cadet profiles by reporting the cadets’ opinions and observations on their first day of the academy and throughout the course of their training. Each story contained a picture and included details about what was being taught and how the cadets were fairing. This project spanned multiple stories that were enlightening and packed with information straight from the mouths of current cadets experiencing what these recruits could only ponder and guess about prior to these pieces.

This type of conversation simply doesn’t fit well on a city-mandated website. These personal accounts of what the training entails, what concepts these cadets struggle with and the personal opinions of these average Joes removes some of the concerns the undecided person has before they fill out the application. Ultimately, this transparency can sway a willing and able recruit into the academy and change the mind of a recruit who would spend time in the academy and later decide that the training and the job simply doesn’t suit them.

Insight into corporate culture and values.

It doesn’t matter what your mission statement says, if people cannot see these values reflected in the organization’s actions, nobody will believe this strategically-worded statement. On the blog, HPD honors graduating cadets, congratulates the retirement of long-served officers and discusses their community campaigns. These stories contain pictures and attitude while maintaining a professional yet informal tone that makes readers comfortable.

My favorite stories are always the short, funny ones. One picture showed a dog that jumped into the cruiser to feel the air conditioning on a hot day. Another picture and blurb pair discussed how two officers purchased a window unit for a single mother and her handicapped son after they witnessed the small family’s poor living conditions. These are the stories people enjoy hearing and should hear. Although they won’t make front page news, they show the lighter side of the job and what serving the community means to the organization. Serving is not always cleaning up the streets; sometimes serving is meeting the needs of the community one small, kind gesture at a time. Which stories an agency posts on the blog site gives a glimpse into what the agency values, what it takes pride in while revealing the agency’s unique personality which press releases (which aren’t intended for recruits) cannot do.

An agency is only as good as its employees and these employees must be held accountable for how they live the mission statement through their day-to-day work tasks. Blogging can be used to reinforce the values the organization has and help recruits comprehend and internalize these values.

Joining the conversation.

Yes, I agree face time is important but agencies can’t be everywhere at once. The solution: speak to them where they already are. HPD allows comments to be posted on their stories and pictures. This creates a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that can be used to the agency’s advantage. Recruits, employees and the general public are all watching. So, the blogger posts about a cadet’s experiences and an employee comments. On HPD’s blog employees would congratulate the cadets on accomplishments, offer advice, etc. Cadets could respond and so could recruits. On any given article, multiple audiences conversed about the topic at hand and therefore making connections. What a better way to learn about a career field than to hear it from the workforce? Cadets and recruits ask questions. Employees answer these questions. All of a sudden the agency’s values are expressed again showing the support systems and camaraderie which previously only the mission statement attempted to convey.

Another reason why this type of communication benefits the agency is because of its informality. Recruits and cadets are sometimes hesitant about asking questions or voicing their opinions. It is amazing how this fear subsides when fingers hit a keyboard. Having a medium available to recruits where they are more likely to voice questions without fear of embarrassment gives the agency the opportunity to answer these questions rather than allowing the recruits (or another party) to fill in these knowledge gaps. My rule of thumb is to always be where the conversation is and offer your knowledge whenever possible because if you don’t others will and their information may be false.

All agency sites look the same. Trust me; I look at these sites every day and they all blur into one. The header, mission statement, color scheme, press releases and career information are all presented in a clean and professional fashion which is good for recruits, right? Well, yes but what if? What if you could show them the career in a more personal way? What if you could tell stories, real stories, with the same gusto as an employee would tell it? What if you could answer recruits’ questions in a platform they are more comfortable with and therefore more likely to ask the important questions they’re wrestling with? HPD has proven through their witty blog that of these things can be done with the right goals and the will to type.

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