By Stephanie Rothery
Risk Management Safety Specialist
McNeil and Company
In today’s reality, Social Media pages have become the immediate go to in order to regularly obtain news, special events and other information instantaneously. Social Media pages are great tools and resources that have only begun opening up opportunities to the world of emergency services. The use of Social Media by your organization can benefit your organization’s reputation in many ways. However, this new exposure to our line of work carries the potential to negatively impact your organization’s reputation if not managed appropriately. Let’s take a look at a few of the positives versus the negatives relating to the use of Social Media in the emergency services.
Social Media pages can positively benefit your organization and the public only if the right communication tools are in the proper person’s hands. A designated person, typically the Public Information Officer or Chief should be the only one in charge of the organizations Social Media pages. The purpose of your Social Media page should be to become more engaged in today’s reality and maintain a positive influence with your community. Typical Social Media posts can be topics related to travel advisories, weather conditions, special events, emergencies or natural disasters. During an emergency or natural disaster we all know that rumors spread like wild fire. When using a Social Media page for your organization during these types of events, your number one job will be rumor management. With the public accessing their Social Media pages to find out what is going on, most times multiple stories are formed with misleading information and nobody knows for sure what to believe. Having a reliable Social Media page for your organization allows the public to readily obtain the correct information. This will help establish authority and provide trusted information during major crises.
From the emergency services stand point we need to understand the possible consequences or negative impacts of utilizing a Social Media page. Strict policies and procedures should be implemented on who is able to access and add information to the organization’s Social Media pages and how often. This should include what type of content is being provided to the public (ex: photos of training evolutions to show the public what you do on a day to day basis, regular postings of traffic delays, weather conditions, special events, etc.). Policies and procedures should also include what type of information that should be excluded from the Social Media page, (ex: pictures of fatal car accidents or house fires, exact addresses or caller names on emergency calls, etc.). Not only does the organization’s Social Media page create potential liability, but each member’s personal Social Media page does as well. In addition to these policies and procedures, your organization should include guidelines on what type of information members are allowed to post to their personal page relating to the emergency service organization they are associated with. If the member is representing the department on their personal page then anything they post will be essentially representing the department as a whole as well. Always remember to discuss possible consequences BEFORE creating a Social Media page so you can best be prepared. The last thing your organization should do is create a Social Media page, post one topic and never touch the page again. With Social Media being a dominant resource to the public, this could potentially create a bad reputation and false sense of Social Media involvement to your community.
Social Media pages will always have their positives and negatives. However, it is important to take the proper steps to ensure the positives always outweigh the negatives in your organization. Become a trusted and valued resource of information in your community the right way. Be sure to establish strong policies and procedures on Social Media in your organization in order to appropriately manage today’s new reality.