Sometimes a creative spark leaps out of nowhere, smacks you around the face and demands attention. Here's one such tale...
by James Morton
5pm on a mundane Monday afternoon. A comms officer checks Twitter and chuckles about the ongoing Boaty McBoatface saga, the inevitable public hijacking of the Natural Environment Research Council's competition to name their new vessel.
"We should name our fire engines something like that," responds a designer. One simple Photoshop later and the social media behemoth that is Firey McFireface is born.
More than 1,000 retweets, 15,000 engagements and 150,000 impressions later – by our reckoning, the most successful tweet ever from a UK fire service - we peeled ourselves off the floor and asked how on earth did this happen?
1. Trends are good – but ‘things’ are even better - for sure, Firey McFireface caught a moment - but probably more importantly it caught a mood. The internet was in the mood to be silly and Twitter - as usual - led the nonsense. Starting a ‘thing’ is infinitely more engaging than jumping aboard a wheezy bandwagon. Hot on the heels of Firey were South West Trains’ Trainy McTrainface, Bluestar Buses’ Bussy McBusface and countless other impersonators. The gun named Bangty McBangstick was mildly disturbing, though…
2. Sometimes, ambiguity is no bad thing – clarity is the golden rule of comms, right? Hmmm. Not for one moment did we believe anyone would actually think we had renamed one of our fire engines. But it quickly became apparent they did – lots of them. Did we jump in to correct them? Well, when forced to choose between truth and legend, print the legend.
3. Not every tweet’s half-life is 24 minutes (or whatever the latest guess is) – this was the tweet that kept on giving. While engagements quickly piled up in the first hour, they were still going equally strongly 24 and 48 hours later. Even into the tweet’s second week, retweets were still being posted – taking it past the 1,000 mark and impressions past 150,000. Thoughts of a follow-up or even Firey Jr were quickly shelved – less was definitely more.
4. What’s the benchmark? – London Fire Brigade's #50ShadesofRed set the gold standard for fire service social media engagement last year and as we saw the figures starting to rocket up towards – and then past – that, we sensed something was up. An even more startling comparison followed the next day – our tweet showed engagement on a par with tweets about the Brussels attacks from the BBC Breaking News account.
5. Make sure top brass see the value in the nonsense – did Firey McFireface achieve anything? I can say with absolute confidence that not a single key message was communicated through the tweet. So it was absolutely crucial to explain to senior management why this was such a landmark for our organisation. It was a huge leap forward in terms of our public engagement and, as an organisation largely marketing life-saving advice, it’s hard to put a value on that. It’s back to the old 80/20 rule, explained elsewhere on this website, and ensuring we corner that 20 per cent means there will be plenty more nonsense to come.
James Morton is External Communications Manager at Hampshire Fire and Rescue
image via the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland's photostream