A 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.
— EPN564 (@EPN564) July 22, 2016
#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.
— Norfolk Fire Service (@Norfolkfire) April 19, 2016
#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.
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.
#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.
— Thanh Nguyen (@PIOthanhn) July 29, 2016
#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.
— Dave Walton (@WYFRSDaveWalton) July 29, 2016
#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.
Press conference given by area commander Ben Brook at Nechells site pic.twitter.com/41OISXyNve
— Jasbir Authi (@JABhammail) July 7, 2016
#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.
#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?
#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.
#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.
#15 Using Snapchat
Lesson: 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.
Back in the day when the social web seemed new case studies and examples emerged like roadsigns in the fog. Rarely and eagerly sought.
Today, things are different and what was once rare is now expected. Such is the pace of change. So, here’s a crack at rounding-up some of the good things in one place before they get lost. Some you may know. Some may be new. I’ve veered away from posting the sort of content I’m helping to share on comms2point0. That’s more case studies, data and think pieces.
Celtic fans respond with cocoa pops to online Turkish fans who threaten to stab them
Turkish football fans have carved out a reputation for trouble in the past with knife attacks on rival supporters. So, when Fenerbache drew Celtic in Europe some armchair hooligans took selfies with knives threatening violence.
The response from the Celtic supporters was rather sharp. They could have threatened even greater violence in response. Instead they used the Simpsons-inspired hashtag #thatsnotaknife to respond with an arms race of their own. They took masked selfies with household objects including a spoon, a banana and a box of cocoa pops. As an example of an organic self-organised campaign it’s brilliant.
— Tony Clark (@tony1888c) August 30, 2015
Original link: Daily Telegraph.
2. Star Wars scenes as album covers
I’m really no Star Wars nerd. I really couldn’t tell you the name of the bar Hans Solo walked into in Return of the Jedi. Or was it Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? But this collection of mock retro album covers really is a fabulous thing of design.
Original link: cnet.com.
3. Australian batsmen Chris Rodgers and Steve Smith head through the Long Room at Lord’s
Another Ashes series and another victory for England. As ever, the two sides went head-to-head ov er social media to see who could produce the best content. Video emerged as a key battleground. Here’ is a clip of the two batsmen coming off the field through the historic Long Room. It works for me for being real-time, slightly geurilla, unpolished but giving behind-the-scenes content. It was shared almost 200-times giving a tidy digital footprint.
— Lord’s Ground (@HomeOfCricket) July 16, 2015
Original link: @homeofcricket.
4. The Humans of New York Facebook page
There are two sides to the internet. The good and the bad. The Humans of New York Facebook page is everything that’s good about the internet. It started as a photography project by a photographer. As he took the pictures the powerful human stories behind them came tumbling out. Sometimes they make me laugh and sometimes cry. Always they tell a story with humanity. This summer the page has visited Pakistan and Iran. Two countries whose web presence in my timeline is shrouded in darkness. The Humans of New York page let some sunshine in.
Original link Humans of New York Facebook page.
5. The Homes of Football
As the Humans of New York is to cities the Homes of Football Twitter is to football. Roy Stuart Clarke has been taking pictures of the sport for more than 20 years. He’s not interested in the action. It’s what happens away from the pitch that he’s more interested in.
— Mr Homes of Football (@HOMESofFOOTBALL) August 28, 2015
Original link: @homesoffootball.
6. Pages from Ceefax… revived
Back in the day you had two choices. You went to the paper shop and bought a paper and maybe they something on Stoke City. Or you used ceefax and turned to p312. It was the internet of the day and how I loved it. But then its faster and slicker younger brother the web came along and turned our heads. But a geek in a bedroom has rebuilt Ceefax and has taken a live news stream so you can watch today’s news again. Slowly.
Original link: pagesfromceefax.net
7. The Isles of Scilly Police Facebook page
This is as close to a perfect public sector Facebook page as its possible to get. Public servants talking like humans. There’s wit, humour and drama. All of it points towards the fact that there isn’t much crime there but if there is they are ready to strike.
Original link: Isles of Scilly Police Facebook page.
8. dorsetforyou.com’s social media directory
As new sites are created it’s sometimes hard to keep track of ones that have been started. That great Facebook page. What was it called again? Councils across Dorset – there’s seven of them – do collaboration while others just talk about it. They have a shared website and they’ve got a shared A-Z where people can find social sites from across the region.
Original link: dorsetforyou.com
9. The Official North Korea Instagram
Access to the life under the Pyongyang regime is closely restricted. But bizarrely, one of the few routes is via Instagram. The official North Korean government account @northkorea_dprk_today is one route that’s open. Propaganda posters, pictures of crops and smiling people prevail along with lengthy narratives in support of the socialist utopia. If you want to get a flavour of what the USSR would be like on social media it’s here. A historic oddity. No pictures of starvation or opponents getting machine gunned, however.
Original link: @northkorea_dprk_today.
10. RNLI crew rescue a man from a sinking ship
When the RNLI go to work they do it miles from view with no-one really to see. The trouble is that people love to see what they get up to. This footage from the onboard camera is raw and unedited but was seen by almost 3,000 on the Facebook page and more via mainstream media. This demonstrates the benefit of sharing the sweets by sharing access to those on the ground as well as the usefulness of video.
Original link: Peterhead RNLI.
So, what’s our strategy for using the new Facebook?
Actually, do you know what? Just do yourself one great big favour. Just relax. Because no-one knows. Not even Mark Zuckerburg.
There’s big predictions for the rise and rise of social media. Emarketer, for example, predicts 1.43 billion will be using social media in 2012.
There’s also no doubt that in 10 years time the landscape will have shifted. Once AOL was an internet giant. Remember how Friends Reunited was going to be the future of the internet?
But please don’t run screaming from the room. That would just be silly.
The lessons you’ve learned on the social web are portable and will stand you in good stead.
A few weeks back there was an excellent session for local government people at localgovcamp in Birmingham that looked at new social media platforms.
As a comms person who is doing more and more digital it was fascinating.
Rather than being just a check-list of which ones we should be using – and Pinterest, Google+ and Instagram were mentioned – the best discussion was around a broad approach rather than being platform specific.
As someone who managed to dodge the Google Wave boat that rather appeals to me. Google Wave, by the way, was an ill-fated Google product that arrived in a blaze of hype then died.
6 ideas on approaching new platforms
1. Should I horizon scan? There’s no harm at all in being on the look out and have an ear to the ground. But life is too short.
3. Are there numbers? Ask yourself if there’s a sizable community that use it. And is that community people you’d like to connect with?
4. Will this platform do something for you or your team? Shane Dillon, who I rate enormously, pointed out that sometimes a platform isn’t about the big numbers. It’s about that little thing a platform can do. The free video conferencing on Google+ alone can make it an attractive proposition ahead of huge numbers.
5. Is there best practice? Have a look to see how others are using it. Be an ideas magpie.
6. Then launch quietly. Don’t enter into a platform in a blaze of publicity. Let it grow naturally. If it’s a success you’ll make your own waves.
7. Just relax.
That’s it really.
Creative commons credits