Like Police Departments and other government agencies, Fire Departments should be active on social media. In order to help facilitate this, the Firefighters Support Foundation (FSF) recently released a great new training program titled Social Media for Fire Departments. The training is provided by Ron Morgan (@morganrp), a firefighter and communications professional who has acted as the social media director for a number of public safety organizations.
“Your community expects you to be there,” says Morgan regarding an official presence on social media platforms. “Your community is on social media and they want to hear from you. It doesn’t matter if you are on social media, the taxpayers and the citizens you serve are.”
Social media should be part of every modern fire department’s larger communication strategy, argues Morgan. It should be used to connect with local media outlets, show elected officials what’s happening with the fire department, and most importantly, build relationships with the community.
Ultimately, social media is about building a fire department’s brand. Departments should ask themselves what image they want to convey to constituents, and then use social media to build that image.
Content Is King
Social media is all about content. So if you’re aiming to convey an image of professionalism and efficiency—which all fire departments surely are—you need to provide an audience with quality information and content. “Content will make or break your social media campaigns,” says Morgan.
But what sort of content should departments be sharing? Firstly, it’s important to remember that privacy regulations such as HIPAA apply to social media content, so it’s rarely advisable to create content around a real-life active scenario (unless it’s purely the sharing of important information and not photos or videos showing individuals). Instead, Morgan suggests creating posts around the following:
Training and Behind-the-Scenes Content
‘Burn to learns’ and other training exercises provide an opportunity for some exciting videos and photos, while behind-scenes content allows you to show day-to-day life at the fire station and highlight hard-working individuals.
BFD Technical Rescue Companies have been training this week on structural collapse at the training facilities on Moon Island. There are many variable that factor into an event and they must be prepared in every case, this is why preparation is so important. pic.twitter.com/hEqu1cvhVi— Boston Fire Dept. (@BostonFire) June 26, 2019
Events and Initiatives
Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook not only allow you to highlight the good work that the fire department is doing in the community, but also lets you actively promote those events and initiatives.
Fire Chief Scoggins issued a call-to-action encouraging you to donate blood! Supplies run low in the summer so every pint helps saves lives! Use SFD at registration at your local @BloodworksNW #SFD #seattlefire #redvsblue #boldforblood #blooddrive pic.twitter.com/ochi7FiOBy— Seattle Fire Dept. (@SeattleFire) June 25, 2019
PSAs and Information Sharing
When it comes to educating the public and sharing critical information, social media can be an indispensable tool. Twitter, in particular, can be very useful for sharing information in real-time.
Social Media Content for Fire Departments
In terms of actual content, Morgan suggests leaning more towards images and videos, and limiting text posts only to those sharing important information with the public. In order to maximize engagement, he recommends:
- Live feeds: A live broadcast on a platform like Facebook or Instagram tends to be prioritized in people’s news feeds and users will often even be notified when an account they follow goes live. For a fire department trying to engage with the public, a live feed can be very effective (especially as followers can respond in real-time), but it’s important to plan your broadcast carefully in advance.
- Video: Video content can work well, provided it’s short and to the point. Morgan also states that audio quality and lighting should be good—content quality should always be of a high level. Nowadays, even basic consumer-grade camera equipment can provide this.
- Photos and Captions: Photos with short captions are relatively easy to do and can represent a good point of entry for fire departments new to social media and not comfortable with video and live feeds just yet.
- Text Posts: Twitter limits the number of characters that can be used in a single post and even Facebook is not ideal for long-form writing. Morgan suggests using basic text posts for sharing information around road closures and fire scenes.
Apart from creating quality, visual content, Morgan also suggests the following:
- Post consistently;
- Have a team member committed to social media—social media shouldn’t be an afterthought;
- Plan out content ahead of time;
- Collaborate with other users and accounts—shares and mentions can help improve reach and engagement;
- Consider advertising and promoting posts if you’re still building an audience;
- Ensure social media use aligns with larger communication policies;
- Pay attention to metrics to see what content is most effective.
For those completely new to social media, Morgan recommends starting with Facebook and aiming for around one to three posts per day. For more info and great recommendations, watch the full video below. It’s also worth visiting the Firefighters Support Foundation website.
Ready to start using social media to build your fire department’s brand? Don’t forget to protect yourself with a social media policy. You can download our free policy guide and template by clicking the button below.