Fire departments are in every community, but recruiting new firefighters can be a challenge. With the continued use of social media as a forum for information and outreach, departments can employ well-produced videos and podcasts to market themselves to potential candidates. This approach can be effective particularly when utilizing younger members of the department to create content that resonates with their peers.
Why videos and podcasts?
Social media has become an increasingly important platform for businesses and organizations to reach potential customers and members. According to “How Much Time Do People Spend on Social Media in 2023?” (techjury.net), Americans spend an average of about 2½ hours per day on social media, with Facebook taking the biggest chunk of time at 33 minutes.
Fire departments can take advantage of the extensive reach of social media to connect with potential firefighter candidates. However, simply having a social media presence isn’t enough. Departments must provide engaging content that grabs the attention of their target demographic. This is where videos and podcasts come in.
Video content is incredibly engaging and can convey a lot of information in a short amount of time. It can capture the attention of a department’s viewers in just a couple of moments.
The best and most efficient place to share video content is going to be on various social media platforms. It’s significantly more likely that video content on social media will be shared compared with posts that are of an all-text or picture-and-text format. Once people start to engage in the post itself by liking and sharing it, the post begins to take on a life of its own.
As Brent Barnhart explains in “Facebook reach: what it is and how to increase yours quickly” (sproutsocial.com), posting on social media leads to one of three types of reach on Facebook that departments must be aware of when they develop their marketing strategy. The first is the organic reach: How many people saw the department’s nonsponsored post organically as they scrolled? The second is the viral reach, which comes from people interacting with a post through likes, comments and sharing. The third is through Facebook advertisement.
Given the fact that Meta owns Facebook and Instagram, anything that a department does on Facebook should be duplicated on Instagram and vice versa. A department wants to cover as much of its audience as possible.
Video content allows departments to showcase their equipment, training and the day-to-day life of a firefighter. Furthermore, that content can be tailored to the audience that a department targets. If it’s firefighters who are at another organization, video content can highlight the culture, benefits packages, training, equipment and reels from emergency incidents. The goal is to get members who are open to making a lateral move excited about continuing their firefighting career elsewhere.
For “green” recruits, videos could show what a shift is like for a new firefighter, the benefits of a career in the fire service, how rewarding the job can be and what recruit school training looks like. A professionally produced recruitment video that highlights the department, in general, can go a long way, too. There are a lot of good ones out there, including the Rutherford County, TN, Fire Rescue Department, which provides an intimate, behind-the-scenes look into its department, and Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, which seems to channel Michael Bay to provide a well-produced, glossy look into the cool world of firefighting. Both videos are vastly different from each other but do a great job of highlighting the respective departments.
On the other hand, podcasts are a great way to provide in-depth information on specific topics, such as training and firefighting techniques. In that way, they are beneficial to the recruitment process for several reasons.
Departments can build an audience by making them aware of the organization. This is great for green recruits who haven’t decided whether the department is for them. It's also good in terms of lateral recruits who want to see what the department offers compared with others.
Podcasts allow a department the time and platform to expand on concepts, ideas and programs in a way that isn’t possible through a simple social media post. Programs for firefighters, such as tuition reimbursement, paramedic school and lateral pay incentives, can be discussed in detail. Additionally, the culture of the department can be displayed while subject matter experts discuss strategy and tactics for the department, to give potential candidates a sense of how the department operates on emergency scenes. This eventually leads to gaining authority in the field, because the department would share expertise and knowledge regularly.
Furthermore, podcasts are easy to produce and can be edited from almost anywhere with very little training.
Utilizing younger members
Departments can benefit greatly from utilizing younger members (18–30) to create videos and podcasts. For some older, more seasoned firefighters, it might hurt a little to read this. Yes, older members still have a lot to offer, but it’s the members who are in that 18–30 age group who are tuned in to social media trends and can bring a fresh perspective to the department content-creation process by helping to make the content more relevant and engaging.
In addition, departments want to highlight these same members in the content. This helps with the relatability of the content and promotes buy-in to the culture of the department.
Make sure that when individuals are selected for this task that they are given insight into the comprehensive marketing plan and parameters of the content. Once that’s done, give them space and freedom to produce content. Once done, do a quick approval process and then send it out.
A comprehensive marketing plan
It’s important to note that utilizing videos and podcasts should be part of a comprehensive marketing plan for departments. The plan should include a variety of marketing efforts, such as job fairs, open houses and traditional advertising methods. Social media content should be used in conjunction with these efforts to reach a wider audience.
In addition, departments can use social media to share news and updates, showcase their community involvement and highlight the accomplishments of their firefighters. This type of content can help to build a positive image of the department and can be effective particularly in attracting potential firefighter candidates.
Measuring the success of video and podcast content can be difficult. Nevertheless, it’s important to track the effectiveness of what’s produced. Departments should measure several social media metrics to determine whether the content that’s produced works.
Audience growth by volume is key to understanding the effect that you are having on social media. According to “4 Metrics You Must Measure for Social Media Success” (mention.com), when people mention or tag a department, it shows volume. The more that a department is talked about, the more volume that the department receives. As people interact with a department’s content, they might mention the department in their comments or tag the department in their retweets.
Ahrefs and other SEO (search engine optimization) tools can be used to see where traffic to a department’s website originates. This helps a department to determine which platforms are gaining traction and what content struck a chord with people.
Another way to measure is through something that’s noted above, which is reach. Where volume measures how many people are talking about something, reach measures how many people saw a piece of content. As noted in “4 Metrics You Must Measure for Social Media Success,” every social media platform has metrics on how many impressions a post made with the audience and how many interactions it had.
In a recruitment campaign, success can also be measured by the number of applications that a department received. Did the numbers increase from year to year? Was there a noticeable difference in the number of applications after the content was created?
For the long haul
Video and podcast content efforts are a long-term investment in a department’s future. It might take time to see the results of these efforts, but they can pay off in the form of a more diverse and talented pool of firefighter candidates who otherwise might not have considered a department or firefighting as a career.