Social media is one of the fastest growing modes of communication ever developed, and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is hopping on the bandwagon in using social media to promote its message. They recommend other fire departments and prevention agencies do the same.
On Monday at NFPA's annual conference and expo, held in Boston this year, three of the association's staff members shared tips about the different types of social media and how fire departments and similar organizations can get their message out to those whom they serve.
Lorraine Carli, NFPA's vice president of communications, outlined the pervasiveness of social media in today's society. In her section of the presentation called, "Using Social Media to Expand your Safety Message Outreach," she said people are spending up to 23 percent of their time on social media networks, and said use of Facebook among those 55 and older grew by 900 percent in 2010.
Blogs, micro blogs, podcasts, social media networks, videos and sites like YouTube are some of the places people are getting their information Carli said, noting that it was an easy decision to devote attention to the newest form of electronic media. To NFPA officials, it made sense to reach people where they are - on the internet - and use that as a vehicle to convey their fire safety and prevention messages.
NFPA's Top Ten Techniques for Utilizing Social Media
Carli and two of her colleagues, Lauren Backstrom, who is NFPA's social media manager, and Mike Hazell, the association's web publisher, presented their top ten techniques on using social media.
1 - Plan a Strategy
Backstrom said the number one thing any organization using social media must do is plan a strategy. She said there are literally thousands of social media sites on the internet and some of them are niche, but some are universally popular like Facebook and Twitter.
"Find your customers," Backstrom recommended. She suggested the two most popular -- Facebook and Twitter -- as places to start.
Once a fire department or a fire prevention agency has selected its medium, it's important to remain dedicated to it, she said, noting that one or two postings on Facebook per day is usually sufficient, while many more postings can be done on Twitter which is more for "breaking news," she said.
Hazell said he's a fan of blogs, and added that NFPA has nine. He finds it's a good way to engage and interact with subscribers and readers. To view the NFPA's current conference blog visit http://nfpa.typepad.com/conference/.
2 - Commit
Secondly, Backstrom said those who are going to launch into the social media venue must commit to devoting time to it each day.
"Even if it's just five minutes," Backstrom said, noting that followers expect fresh material daily.
Studies have suggested those who want to convey a message should spend 25 percent of their time listening to the customers or clients, 50 percent of their time interacting with them and 25 percent creating new material to post, Backstrom said.
3 - Be Authentic
Thirdly, those who post must be "authentic and human," Backstrom said. For many officials and agencies used to issuing press releases to disseminate news and public safety tips, that's a huge departure from business as usual of "pushing the news" with stiff, news release language.
4 - Be Current
Following that suggestion, as the fourth tip, she recommends being current and connecting entries with current events.
5 - Be Social
"Be social" is the fifth tip, Backstrom said, noting that as the name implies, people who engage in social networking and social media do so because they want to be social and have some engagement.
If they ask questions, it's important to answer them, promptly and with authenticity, Backstrom said. "They often want answers in real time."
6 - Maintain Quality
Quality and useful content is important and number six on her list. People don't want junk or inaccurate material and if that's what they get, they'll quickly tune out, she said.
7 - Tailor Content to Each Site
One of the pitfalls of social media is a tendency to post the same material on all the venues available. As the seventh tip, Backstrom said to avoid posting the same material on Facebook and Twitter and other locations, as it will reflect poorly on the organization and the person posting it. "It will make you look lazy," she said.
She recommends tailoring content to the specific sites.
8 - Be Interesting and Entertaining
At number eight, Backstrom said the information that gets posted has to be interesting and entertaining to keep people engaged and returning for more.
Hazell used NFPA as an example to illustrate the point. He said the association had a contest to give its mascot "Sparky the Fire Dog" a new voice. NFPA hosted a contest and got 26 people to audition. NFPA has also sponsored Trivia Tuesday where the association posts a question, and asks readers and subscribers to answer it.
9 - Consider Timing
At number nine, Backstrom said those who post information should be aware of peak times when the most people will be viewing, and try to hit that time slot. Along the same line, she said organizations will have to pay close attention to the frequency of postings as there becomes a saturation point where people have had enough and if they receive more, followers will drop off precipitously.
10 - Track Results
And lastly, NFPA recommends that those who use social media track performance and monitor results. Posting information to places where nobody sees it misses the mark.
Speaking in generalities, Hazell said the beauty of social media pages is they are self policing. If there's incorrect information disseminated by followers, other followers and devotees will quickly fix the error.
"They're self policing," Backstrom said, adding that organizations using the venue must be willing to give up some control to allow the exchanges to grow and enhance the site's page or popularity. That, however, does not mean that organizations have to tolerate belligerent responders out to disrupt or monopolize the conversation, Communications V.P. Carli said.
"It's my site, I'm not going to let them take it over with negativity, nor should you," she said.