Campaigns when they work are focussed and effective. But they often struggle to tell the whole story. This one by a fire service successfully showed ongoing stories over a 96-hour period.
By Sarah Poole
A 96-HOUR-long live Bonfire stream which aimed to expose the real work of firefighters on their busiest night of the year also helped bolster crew who came under attack in their communities.
Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) launched Bonfire Live in the run up to November 5 in a bid to share the spike in workload and promote safety messages across the area – and thousands of people tapped in through its website and social media platforms.
But as well as a constant stream of updates giving people a real insight into the work of firefighters and control room operators, followers of the event started their own response, vehemently supporting the service when it came under attack.
Shelley Wright, Director of Corporate Communications at GMFRS, explained: “It was both fascinating and heartening to see. The team was in the 999 control room reporting every incident and people first began engaging when youths across the county were being irresponsible with fireworks and fire. Our stream was hijacked with comments from people who were horrified by the behaviour of other people’s children – and started to issue safety messages of their own.
“When a number of our crew were attacked – some being deliberately lured to fires by gangs of youths – the communities of Greater Manchester really got behind us and bombarded Bonfire Live with some really powerful comments, support and praise. Because we were online the whole time, we were able to really participate in the conversation and people working here really appreciated the support.”
GMFRS, which is the largest fire and rescue service outside of London, already has a growing social media and online presence which helps the service engage with local people around safety messages, incident updates and consultation.
But Bonfire Live was slightly different, bringing many different platforms together to make communities feel part of the work – it resulted in thousands of interactions over four days.
The Corporate Communications team provided details of every incident during peak times – usually 4pm to 10pm but often later – between Friday, November 2 and Monday, November 5, as well as details of the proactive community work being carried out across the service, safety advice, links to details of organised bonfire events, polls and quizzes.
Staff dealt with more than 1,300 emergency calls between Friday and Monday night, and at one stage on Bonfire Night itself, the number of incidents being tweeted was so high that @manchesterfire was temporarily kicked out of Twitter for exceeding its daily tweet limit!
The project formed part of the Service’s involvement with Treacle – a partnership-based approach aimed at preventing, tackling and protecting against antisocial behaviour, criminal damage and reducing incidents and injuries during the Hallowe'en and Bonfire period.
While staff reported on incidents and gave advice live from the control room, any tweets using the hashtag #OpTreacle were automatically featured on the Bonfire Live newsfeed – allowing partner agencies, such as police and councils, and the public to contribute and make comments.
Photographers were embedded into the action by joining crews on stations throughout the day and night to capture images and moving footage of their work which were posted onto the live newsfeed and the GMFRS Facebook site – with thousands of people commenting, ‘liking’ and sharing the photographs. The media were able to immediately tap into footage at their disposal, resulting in extra coverage for the Service’s work.
Shelley added: “We provided live updates of incidents, news of proactive safety work, moving footage and images via our website and social media sites to give more insight than ever before into the work of the Service.
“It allowed people to really see what we were doing to prevent nuisance fires and anti-social-behaviour around Bonfire Night while having a central, online hub to go to for safety advice, details of organised events and not least to have a say of your own.”
Securing support from local press meant that the Bonfire Live stream also featured on the website of the UK’s leading regional newspaper the Manchester Evening News, which attracted thousands more viewers to the event – in total there were more than 8,500 page views to Bonfire Live over the two sites.
As a result of the online activity, GMFRS’ Twitter followers increased by 1,137 over Bonfire week, compared with an average weekly increase of around 200.
Using Crowdbooster to analyse the reaction on the social networking site revealed that the Service received a total of 1,543 retweets and 1,961 mentions over the week.
Facebook Insights showed that over the week, a total of 1,344 people shared stories, ‘liked’ the page, or commented on a post, peaking with 438 on Bonfire Night.
Traditional media also played a huge part in publicising the Bonfire Live event as well as the more significant incidents affecting the Service over the weekend, such as serious firework-related injuries and attacks on firefighters – all of which made the national news.
Shelley said: “We’ve seen organisations using ‘tweetathons’, blogs and social media before, and of course traditional media is a well-established communication tool, but what we wanted to do was bring all these mediums together – we recognise that this style of integrated communication is the norm now for large, public sector organisations but the power of interaction with local people for us was overwhelming.”
To view Bonfire Live, please visit http://www.manchesterfire.gov.uk/updates/bonfire_live.aspx.
To see more of the work carried out during the Bonfire period, visit www.facebook.com/manchesterfire
Sarah Poole is Senior Corporate Communications Officer for Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service.