People are amazing and creative if you'd let them. As these two YouTube videos from firefighters show.
by Leanne Ehren
You can write all the news releases you want, but dancing firefighters will steal your headlines every time.
However, knowing your strategy and influence embedded social thinking and doing and thus, encouraged and generated that organic content, is more satisfying than any boring news release.
Research Facebook algorithms all you like, read blogs about the best time to post on Instagram, and sit in team planning days dreaming up ideas to develop viral content. None of it will be as good as what staff at the sharp end come up with. Its a fact, and the sooner communicators stop forcing fake content down people’s throats, generate buy in for social media, and educate staff how they can influence the landscape, the better.
Our job is to facilitate. What you should love about this Mary Poppins-inspired video is that I had little to do with it.
Firefighters ran an idea past us, scripted it, filmed it, heck, even drafting in a choreographer to rehearse with them, and then it landed in my DropBox.
We dropped it when the weather turned cold and within hours national titles and online agencies picked it up. Our own channels went crazy and the message went viral.
Chimney fires in Cambridgeshire increased in 2014 and firefighters thought of an innovative way to tackle the problem – without a leaflet in sight. They thought differently, listened and went to where the conversation was happening – all just good communications, right?
This year, they wanted to boost a national campaign the fire and rescue service community is putting at the forefront this Hallowe’en. Already, we’re seeing a similar impact from another forward-thinking spoof.
This didn’t happen overnight. Wind the clock back three years and few staff understood the role social had – and could have – on their work, with most thinking I sat in the ivory tower playing on Facebook.
Channels existed but buy-in didn’t. And let’s face it, I didn’t have a clue what was happening on the frontline – I needed our staff. After re-writing the social media policy and revamping an outdated strategy I set upon a six-month journey to truly embed social media.
I visited every crew, department and station. I can hear you saying: “I don’t have time.” If it’s that important, make time. It took hours traipsing around the county and lots of negotiating with managers who weren’t sold on the idea. But I took the time and did it with the passion, enthusiasm and openness that I tackle most things with and created a safe space for staff to learn, explore and be inspired.
I explained social, why we have a corporate channel and how we use it, gave relevant examples to them, made it personal to their lives, and then, I asked for help. Some, I never heard from again; others we never stop hearing from! I love hearing ideas from the frontline and the enthusiasm they embody to see them through. Our education of staff and getting them to think about the work of a fire service in a digital landscape, has inspired people to deliver amazing things that have got us noticed internationally, and most importantly, resulted in real engagement.
Did chimney fires decrease following the release of Chim-Chimenee? Yes. Was the comical video that had more than 2m views across multiple channels the reason why? We will never actually know!
But if this engaging content raises awareness, generates conversations and makes just one person safer, then as an organisation we’ve done our job. And guess what? We didn’t even send a news release out!
* Note, this year, a news release did go out only because last year we learned a lot of journalists are lazy and even though we provided them with the video content and safety messages on screen, they felt they could not muster the effort to write a story!
Leanne Ehren is communications manager at Manchester Fire and Rescue.