The majority of emergency services or public sector agencies have developed really engaging social media channels that reach new people and tell their ongoing stories in innovative new ways. Social media is a part of life for everyone. Even if they don't use it, they talk about it.
However if your organisation is still slow to actively use social, you certainly aren’t the only ones but you do need be aware that there is a big public conversation already happening about you, whether you’re involved or not.
It’s actually very easy to see by a quick search just how many people living in the direct vicinity of your organisation are active social media users. Try it out, you may be very surprised. The point is, all of these people will have opinions.
If you’re an agency that impacts on their lives in someway, through providing life-saving health services, or through emptying their bins, chances are, they’ve probably expressed an opinion about you online at some point.
Everyone wants to be heard and to feel as if they're listened to. When was the last time you complained about something? Did you get a response? Was that response satisfactory to you?
As a listening organisation you should want and need to know what those opinions are.
A cursory social media search will show you in seconds what thousands of your local residents think of you. Some of it may be bad. But a lot of it will be good. Being aware of the bad helps you fix things. Being aware of the good helps you make things even better.
Do you consider it just to be your visual identity? Or is it something more than that, something more fundamental? Does it govern how you and any frontline staff interact with your customers?
If not, it should do. And this is where good use of social media is vital. Think of social media as an extension of your brand or the experience that people have of your service. If you work in the public sector, you’re in the people business.
Social media allows you to speak directly to your community and demonstrate in real time the values that make you a trusted part of your community.
Learn to present yourselves as a “human” organisation. The more open you are with your language, the more trusted you’ll be with your public. It gives employees a space to evangelise and be your finest advocate.
The best organisations have an empowering, and even liberal, approach to allowing employees to discuss their work on social media.
Though this may raise alarm bells, and may need some controlling parameters (like a policy for example - read here on how to write your social media policy), this really is the sign of a healthy organisational culture. It can offer your Chief the chance to really forge a name for him or herself by championing an open, empowered culture, through having their own blog, Twitter feed or LinkedIn profile.
If you can encourage them to share a bit about their lives outside of work (within reasonable boundaries), it makes their work-based tweets even more credible. This says that you have a human, friendly approach to communicating and involving your community. Not only does it provide realism and credibility in ‘peace time’ but it will help you act effectively in a crisis or emergency. Read here about building your stakeholder relationships for when emergencies happen.
There is a caveat; sometimes there is a fine line between what's perceived by the public as a genuine desire to engage and what can be perceived as time wasting and not doing the job at hand. Be mindful of how the work you do on social could be seen through the eyes of others who pay taxes.
What happens to comms in your organisation when a crisis of major incident happens?
Look at any recent major incident in the news and you’ll see that in most cases the first pieces of information will come through on social media.
Considering how quickly things get put out there and, in some cases, may even be a live stream of the incident, this poses massive challenges for agencies. As a comms person, you may find yourself having to answer false rumours, you may have to reassure worried people, and you may be fighting to keep your head above water with all the many enquiries and competing messages that fly around.
Anyone who says the words ‘it will never happen here’ is soon going to get a nasty surprise.
There’s a whole world out there on your doorstep waiting to be discovered and engaged with. Can you really afford not to be involved?