BLAZE MESSAGE: 14 lessons fire comms can teach everyone

sapA thousand flowers are blooming in this new era of digital communications.

Amazing things are happening, new rulebooks are being written and old ones tossed away.

But if you are too busy growing roses you won’t spot the great things happening.

Or in other words, look outside your own corner of the world and you’ll find great things.

And so it is with fire and rescue services not just across the UK but across the world. I’ve done some work in the sector and got to know some people and I’ve always left with knew ideas on how to do things.

Often, people in the sector don’t realise just how great their work is. Less in number than local and central government comms people from the sector communicate to save lives and to prevent them. I’d love them to be bolder. They don’t just get you to test your smoke alarm. They save lives.

One myth exploded, though. In the UK the comms is not geared up primarily for documenting heroic rescue. Prevention is better than cure. Statistics say there were 258 fatalities in the 12-months to March 2015 and 3,225 were taken to hospital. There were almost 155,000 fires. This is the second lowest in UK history.

Fire comms people need to move from the pedestrian pace of advice to business to communicating death and sometimes the death of their own colleagues. That takes guts. Not everyone can do this.

There is a community of fire communicators

The FirePRO organisation is the umbrella group for the sector and a bright bunch they are too. But Twitter also connects them not just across the UK but far further. The fact I asked a question about best practice on a Friday night and got a pile of responses is perfect evidence. Neil Spencer from West Midlands fire describes this as a ‘can do, will do, let’s give it a try attitude.’

Here are 14 things you can learn from fire comms

#1 Using planning to get your shizzle ready

Nobody wants an emergency. But they tend to happen and when they do public sector comms people have to react. I’ve lost count of the number of blank faces in local government when I ask what they’d do if a plane crashed, a bomb went off or a tower block started to fall down. Not so fire and rescue.

As award-winning Bridget Aherne wrote in a blog post for comms2point0:

“The way to sum this up quickly – and sorry to anyone who knows me because you’ll have heard me utter this phrase, annoyingly, hundreds of times before – you have to be proactive about your reactive communications.”

Lesson: Good comms planning always helps.

#2 Using Periscope for realtime situation reports

Lesson: If an incident is breaking live video from the scene to give situation reports has real value and can plug into online networks as well as media organisations.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last 18-months co-delivering workshops on making effective video for comms. It teaches people to plan, edit, shoot and post video. However, in an emergency the value is not the well-shot video. The value is have video footage from that particular spot at that particular time. Why? So you can communicate with people in realtime. In the UK, there is a duty on comms people in local government, fire, police and other agencies to warn and inform.
As this US example shows, a firefighter giving a commentary or even a brief situation report – has value. Don’t forget anyone with a smartphone and the Periscope app has the ability to fill that information vacuum. Questions can also be posed by people following the stream and answered by fire crew.

In an era where video is highly sought by media organisations online to be in the frontline is priceless.

#3 Using a hashtag

Lesson: A simple sharable hashtag can help spread a campaign.

One of the greatest uses of a hashtag by anyone in the public sector is the excellent #testittuesday tag. Started by Norfolk Fire and rescue it is that brilliant thing of basic advice shared as a hashtag. It encourages people every Tuesday to test their smoke alarm. As basic good advice it can be hard to measure the effectiveness or the fires that didn’t happen because of a test.

#4 Using Instagram as a channel

Lesson: Instagram can be used for soft power. Images of the work people to do interspersed with more serious messages.

Services across the world are starting to make headway with Instagram. Really, there’s no surprise. It’s not like there’s nothing to photograph. If there isn’t a fire there’s the equipment or the staff in the equipment. Kent Fire and Rescue Service excell in this area. A stream that is engaging, fun and personable people could do worse than looking at this.

Keep smiling after after a good night out. Being drunk and cooking don’t mix. #smilesafe #fire #firefighter

A photo posted by Fire and Rescue (@kentfirerescue) on Jul 12, 2016 at 5:41am PDT

 

#5 Using mapping

Lesson: Maps can communicate with the media and residents and reduce avoidable contact.

Back when I was a journalist we made a round of calls to fire stations on our patch at 7.30am, 1pm and 10pm. There were six in our patch and a further 14 in surrounding areas which we sort of covered. That’s 60 calls a call.

Essex County Fire and Rescue Service have a mapping page embedded in their website which gives news of incidents with some basic details. They also post images and videos which can be used with a credit. This must cut the amount of time on routine calls. Hats off to Sarah Roberts for this.

mapping

#6 Using the social web as a firefighter and human being

Lesson: People respond to people so let your people.

One thing I’ve long argued for is for public sector people to use social media as themselves. There’s far greater cut-through. People connect better to real people than a logo. So, it’s always inspiring to see real people doing just that. Thanks to @rubonist on Twitter for flagging this.

#7 Using the social web as a senior officer

Lesson: Using the social web allows senior people to be visible and to listen better. It also allows partners and the organisation to better understand their thinking and priorities. 

There has been a trend in recent years of senior public sector people using Twitter to engage, listen, share ideas and give some visibility to yourself.

#8 Using embedded social media video

Lesson: Embedding video to drop into people’s timelines can be a good way to communicate.

Sometimes things don’t always go to plan as this incident which saw five people die in Nechells, Birmingham. Video content posted to Twitter shared the press conference to the community. This could have been uploaded to Facebook too.

#9 Using humour and newsjacking

Lesson: Being creative about your communications and the channels you use can pay off.

As London Fire Brigade showed in their epic news jacking of the racy film 50 Shades of Grey imagination on comms works. A campaign followed in the wake of the film to talk about the number of times people had called for help with locked handcuffs, penis rings and other rather embarrassment-creating problems. The #50shadesofred campaign is a benchmark in public sector comms. Data driven it used a range of channels.

#10 Using data to allow people to build their own picture

 

Lesson: Data can be turned into something searchable to give people street-level insight.

Everyone’s experience is different. This is why it is refreshing to see West Midlands Fire Service use their incident data to allow you to search by postcode to see what incidents happened in your neighbourhood.

merry

#11 Using Flickr as an image library

Lesson: A Flickr library can make thousands of images available for re-use.

Social photo storage site Flickr may not have the sexiness as Snapchat but as a place to be your public image library it remains peerless. There are several organisations in the UK using it well. However, the US use is the benchmark. Los Angeles Fire Department post images to the stream. They have almost 20,000 images. With an open licence anyone can use them. As the argument goes, public money paid for then so why shouldn’t with the permission of the photographer people and organisations re-use them?

LA fire

 

#12 Using Facebook for large communities

Lesson: Facebook pages are a start but not the last word on how people can be reached on the platform.

Pages can be a useful way to have some Facebook real estate although they deal with broadcasting to small corners of the web that can be shared on. Manchester Fire and Rescue and Scottish Fire and Rescue are examples.

But to really engage, you need to use Facebook as the page to comment and add content on other pages. Or join Facebook groups as an individual.

#13 Using Facebook for niche communities

Lesson: Facebook pages for smaller communities can be effective ways of reaching them. The Polish community, maybe. Or in Biker Down‘s case motorbike riders.

Facebook has the numbers so it is worth using. Seeing as it has the numbers yo can also carve out niches where people will congregate. There were more than 5,000 serious incidents with motorbikes in 2014. I’ve long believed that the single corporate page is almost always not the answer for large organisations. There are communities within them, so plug into them. If you are a biker the Biker Down page would work.

kent biker down

#14 Using Facebook quizzes

Lesson: Quizes reach people. Often people who are hard to engage with.

Facebook quizzes can engage with audiences that may well be resistant to leaflets and other comms. London Fire Brigade uses them well and creates them to accompany campaigns. They’ve done them to see if people fancy being firefighters, for example. With this one, they are celebrating their 150th anniversary with helmets.

london quiz 2

#15 Using Snapchat

nimesLesson: Yes, you can use Snapchat.

One of the good things about the web is coming across organisations doing good things in other countries. Take Sapeurs Pompiers Volontaires du Gard. They are a French fire brigade in Nimes in the south of the country who have an imaginative use of images on Twitter and Snapchat too.

 

Thanks for the input for this post from people across the Fire and Rescue comms community. In particular: Catherine Levin, Neil Spencer, Bridget Aherne, Sarah Roberts, Robert Coles, @Rubonist, Thanh Ngugen, Steven Morgan, Phillip Gillingham, Jim Williams, Pave Dhande, Leigh Holmes, Jack Grasby, Pete Richardson, Dave Walton and Dawn Whittaker.


INFO SKILLS: Essential social media skills for librarians (and others)

6175154545_79fc17d7e8_bIn all my years in local government I’ve not come across anyone so Militantly passionate about the job they do than librarians.

So, it was great to be able to sit down with 12 of them and talk to them about social media and how it could work for them. Walsall Council countryside ranger Morgan Bowers came along too and I’ve hardly finished a training session over the past few years without pointing to her as an excellent example of what a frontline officer can do with social media.

For those that don’t know she blogs, she tweets, she Facebooks and she posts images to Flickr. She’s also written an e-book entitled with great confidence and surity ‘The Bees of Walsall Vol: 1.’ Almost 2,000 people have downloaded the e-book which for me redefines how you should approach an audience.

Firstly, here are some links which show what is possible. It’s vital to look outside of the sector that you work in which is what we did here.

Some basic principles

‘Organisations Don’t Tweet People Do’ is a book by Euan Semple. Even if you don’t buy the book – and you should it’s great – then think of the clear advice that sentance gives. Human beings respond to human beings and not logos.

345712329_f1375f13c0_o‘Be human.’ is good advice on how to engage with people over the social web. In fact it’s good advice for life.

‘The 80/20 principle’ is a good way of looking at a great many things. On the social web it works out as 80 per cent conversational and 20 per cent the stuff you really want people to know. So be sparing with your library events and talk – and share – about other things.

Good social media

Appliances Online Facebook – because they have more than a million Facebook likes by good online customer service done in a human voice:  https://www.facebook.com/AOLetsGo?fref=ts

Sandwell Council Facebook – because there isn’t a Facebook page anywhere in the public sector that is done better than this West Midlands council  https://www.facebook.com/sandwellcouncil?fref=ts

DVLA’s I Can’t Wait To Pass My Driving Test Facebook page – because it shows that putting aside thr logo and even the name of the organisation works if you get the people to pay attention to pay attention:  https://www.facebook.com/mydrivingtest?fref=ts

PC Stanley on Twitter – because it shows a human face in an organisation from a West Midlands Police officer:  https://twitter.com/PCStanleyWMP

PC Stanley blog – because it shows a human face and talks about anonymised aspects of police procedure that most people don’t know about  http://pcstanleywmp.wordpress.com/

8146367606_dae8e82d70_oStorify Streetly floods – because it shows how social media reacts in a crisis and how a trusted voice from police, fire and council online can fill the news vacuum http://storify.com/danslee/social-media-and-flooding-in-streetly-walsall

Facebook in libraries

Facebook works best updated two or three times a day with sharable content. Pictures work well. So does video. Be engaging and informal.

100 Libraries to follow on Facebook – blog http://www.mattanderson.org/blog/2013/01/31/100-libraries-to-follow-on-facebook/

British Library https://www.facebook.com/britishlibrary?fref=ts

Library of Congress https://www.facebook.com/libraryofcongress

New York Public Library https://www.facebook.com/nypl

Halifax Public Library https://www.facebook.com/hfxpublib

Birmingham Library https://www.facebook.com/libraryofbirmingham

Twitter

Realtime updates work well. Pictures too.

Author Amanda Eyereward https://twitter.com/amandaeyreward

Author Carin Berger https://twitter.com/CarinBerger

100 Authors http://mashable.com/2009/05/08/twitter-authors/

Birmingham Library https://twitter.com/TheIronRoom

Librarycamp https://twitter.com/LibraryCamp

Orkney library https://twitter.com/OrkneyLibrary

Waterstones Oxford Street https://twitter.com/WstonesOxfordSt

Essex libraries https://twitter.com/EssexLibraries

Just for you here are a few examples of tweets:

Images are powerful

Images work really well and there are a couple of resources. You can link to images you find anywhere. It’s the neighbourly thing to do and you are driving traffic to their website so people will be fine about that.

You can link to Flickr which is a depository of more than five billion images. See the Libraries Flickr group here: http://www.flickr.com/groups/librariesandlibrarians/

But remember not to abuse copyright. Don’t ever right click and save an image hoping you won’t get found out. There’s a Google app for just that. But what you can use are images which have been released with a creative commons licence. Basically, creative commons allows the re-use of pictures so long as you meet basic criteria. There are several types of licence so check to see which licence has been attached. Often people will be fine for re-use so long as you attribute the author and link back to the original image.

1140607337_e05a4b2a4a_oSearch the Compfight website ticking the creative commons search button http://compfight.com/

Have a look at Wikimedia which has a lot of specific content. If you are after a creative commons image of Jack Nicholson or The British Library search here:   http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page

Audio

You can brighten up book discussions amongst reader groups, or author visits, or bounce and rhyme stories by recording them with people’s permission and post them to Audioboo or Soundcloud. These are applications that gives you three minutes of audio that you can share with the web or embed in a webpage.

Here is author WHJ Auden readingh one of his poems: http://ht.ly/tSdv6

Blog

Blogging is made for libraries and librarians. You can host discussions here and allow for comments on different aspects of the library.

Author reading: http://www.sarahsalway.net/2012/03/01/pop-its-the-last-day-of-the-pop-up-poetry-reading/

Literary blog http://www.internetwritingjournal.com/authorblogs/

YouTube

Video works great. You can make your own or maybe there is some content around a theme you are looking for. The First World War, for example. Create your own channel or search and share what is there. Look out for the comments section here. They can be a bit ripe.

Birmingham Library http://www.youtube.com/user/LibraryofBham2013

Southend library reading group http://youtu.be/dEh7fBfB_O4

But where will I get the content from?

It’s amazing how once you take a few doggy paddle strokes in the shallow end that all this makes sense and you start over time to get a return on the time you put in. There are no quick fixes. A few minutes a day will help you and as with anything what you get out is what you put in.

Here are 11 things you could do as librarians

1. Record an interview with an author on Audioboo or Soundcloud and post to your Facebook, Twitter or email list.

2. Post details of events to your social media accounts. Use something like hootsuite to schedule when the messages appear so if needs be repeat the message at a time when more people are likely to be around. Lunchtime, first thing in the morning and evening are times when people tend to be online more. Don’t forget though, if you are cancelling the event, to unschedule any queued content.

3. Share things that other people have posted. If it is in your geographical area and a public sector or third sector organisation have posted something share it or retweet it. You’ll find that they’ll be more inclined to do the same.

4. Use a popular hashtag on Twitter around a TV programme. Check the schedules. A link to a book or DVD on dancing or dress making with sequins may work with the hashtag #strictly while Strictly Come Dancing is being shown on a Saturday night.

4993073773_09ef5a6093_o5. Connect with other librarians so you can build a network of other people doing a smilar job to you. This works especially well with Twitter.

6.  Use an image of a cat from compfight that has a creative commons licence – see the above – to illustrate a campaign on cats and other animals. What you have on your display shelf or window can be repeated online too.

7. Create a Facebook group or a Google group – which works with email – for a reading group.

8. Post book reviews from librarians on your website and onto the social web.

9. Take a picture – with people’s permission – of people using the library or people taking part in an activity.

10. Be creative. Ignore all the above and use your imagination. Make your own case studies.

11. Install WiFi.

Picture credits

Who needs books? http://www.flickr.com/photos/boltron/6175154545/sizes/l/

Sitting reading http://www.flickr.com/photos/jstar/345712329/sizes/o/

US poster http://www.flickr.com/photos/jstar/345712329/sizes/o/

Library search engine http://www.flickr.com/photos/47823583@N03/4993073773/


COMMS2POINT0: Here’s a rather fine website for comms people

For the past three years I’ve believed in the powerfully simple idea of ‘do and share.’

It’s amazing how if you do share good learning end up learning far more yourself in the long run.

It’s something that underpins this blog and powers some amazingly creative people in local government.

It’s also the ethos behind a project called Comms2point0 which I helped co-found. It’s somewhere online that comms people in and around the public sector can make sense of the changing landscape with case studies, resources and ideas. We created it because there wasn’t somewhere dedicated for comms and pr people working in the public sector that did that.

There’s a comms2point0 website where people can blog about an idea or a campaign they’ve tried. You can read it here.

There’s also a Twitter stream that posts six links every workday morning we think comms people may find helpful. They’re delivered on a plate by around 8am. You can follow it here.

I say I helped co-found Comms2point0 but in reality the drive for this has come from the excellent Darren Caveney who I’m fortunate to work with at Walsall Council where he he is head of comms. Darren and his press office manager Kim Neville have created an ethos where good ideas can be tried out and so much of the credit for the good work I’ve done should be reflected for them. Like the look of Comms2point0? That’s Darren that is and his wife Carol Caveney. They built it. They also went for the retro creative commons pictures that illustrate the site. You can find many of them on Flickr as part of the Documerica project. That’s here.

What works on Comms2point0? It doesn’t have to be just cool social media stuff. What’s really good is when it’s a mix of digital and non-digital. That’s when it gets really interesting. It’s how to get an idea or a message through to the iphone user, the newspaper reader and the Facebook enthusiast all at the same time is what really fires my imagination.

Who is it for? Mainly for public relations, communications people and marketing types who are looking to learn. Nobody has it all cracked. But with the old certainties dliding away, budgets disappearing the landscape is changing. Fail to evolve and learn and you are heading for irrelevance.

More than that, it’s for people who are looking to understand the new landscape. No matter what job they do.

Not everyone wants the time and effort to blog. But you’d be amazed at how unphased comms people are at writing 400 words to order on something they’ve done.

Five months on and we’ve reached 2,000 unique visitors a month and we’ve gone past 850 followers on Twitter. We’re a bit proud of that.

We’ve also chipped in with Nick Hill of Public Sector Forums to stage a rather nifty conference in Birmingham where a lorry load of bright ideas were taken away by 60 people – myself included – about Facebook. We put the resources here. Take a look if you didn’t go. We’re off to Glasgow soon too.

All this we’re quietly ever so proud of. Especially as it’s all been done outside of work time sometimes first thing in the morning with a piece of toast in one hand or last thing once the children are in bed and I’ve got Kraftwerk playing on the headphones.

Here are five blogs randomly selected you may like:

Five Comms2point0 belters

Social media and the council mag – in an era of slashed budgets the council magazine is often first to go. Critics would have you believe they are full of spin. The reality is more prosaic. It’s the bin times and the changes to the leisure centre that people don’t always get to hear about. Either because the newspaper isn’t that interested in council good news or because people stopped buying them a long time ago. Northumberland County Council’s Ross Wigham shared this post. I like the fact that there are good things happening in places far away from unconferences too.

Birds in the nest – Walsall Council’s Darren Caveney wrote this and I love it. It’s a mix of personal and professional and gives advice on how to cope with the changing landscape. Learn new things. Do new things. Shout about them too. Everyone working in comms should read this. Or local government.

Twitter… the next industrial revolution – There are things the public and private sector can learn from people. In this post Danks Cockbain PR’s Russ Cockbain tells of how he helped put Black Country manufacturers onto Twitter and how one secured £500,000 of publicity on the back of connections made via Twitter. Thems big numbers. It made me more happy than I can tell you that this case study was cited at UK Govcamp in London. “If Black Country metal benders can do it, what are we waiting for?”

It started with a tweet – There’s some really interesting things taking shape at Cornwall Council. Matt Bond talks about how they are trying digital tacks but are bringing their elected members along with them.

Feeling the love for infographics Gillian Hudson is someone I came across first at the Home Office. She’s a bit talented. She’s now with the 10 Downing Street press team and in this post she talked through how she used infographics as part of a wider campaign. It’s really good stuff.

If you’ve missed it, do follow us at Twitter on @comms2point0. Feel free to contribute too. I’m at daniel.slee1972@gmail.com and Darren is darrencaveney@gmail.com.

Picture credits:

Firefighter http://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/3926783572/sizes/l/in/set-72157622388618276/

Biy and girl http://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/3887099143/sizes/l/in/set-72157622329537002/

Tollroad http://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/3931003747/sizes/l/in/set-72157622403855822/