Like any Fortune 500 company, public safety agencies should be active users of social media if they want to thrive in today’s information-rich environment. Content on the big four platforms—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube—is accessed by more than a billion people worldwide. For many people social media is the first thing they check in the morning and the last thing they see before they sleep at night.
While most of us all have personal social media accounts where we post our cat videos and vacation photos, there are still agencies that don’t have official social media presences. My argument is that all public safety entities should maintain an active presence on at least one of the larger social media platforms, because the benefits of doing so far outweigh the costs in time and effort.
While there are many reasons why every agency should have a vibrant presence online (many of which are unique to individual departments), my favorite benefits all relate to recognition: staff recognition, agency recognition, and interagency recognition.
Staff recognition is the biggest reason for an EMS agency to be on social media. As more millennials enter the workforce, it is important to adapt how you recognize your employees so they feel valued. For some workers public recognition, on social media and in front of their peers, is a way to feel valued by their organization.
That said, take the time to really understand how your staff as individuals like to be recognized. Do they like to be praised in front of others in a large ceremony? Would they want their photo posted for the world to see? Or would they prefer to be quietly and sincerely thanked but otherwise left alone? Keep notes, either mental or physical, on the methods your staff respond to most strongly.
When you choose public recognition, make it something worthwhile to share. Create certificates and awards to celebrate staff anniversaries and years of service. Buy pins and medals for cardiac arrest saves, field deliveries, and internal promotions. The small outlay in money and time will prove worth the amplified feeling of achievement in the staff you’ve recognized.
And don’t just take the time to showcase milestones like retirements or critical 9-1-1 responses. Recognize staff for performing well during their daily work and allow staff to recognize each other for activities that build a sense of teamwork. This broadcasts to the whole organization that every task undertaken on shift is important, not just the critical trauma or cardiac calls. Impromptu public relations, training while on shift, and cleaning the station are all behaviors to celebrate. As long as it’s an attribute valued by the organization, it should be recognized staffwide.
These activities help to build a culture of recognition that can be self-sustaining. And when you promote the behavior you want to see loudly, sooner or later it will be the only thing you hear.
In this time of financial hardship, if you want to maintain a strong budget, you have to show value for money spent. While it’s true a stellar reputation gives value far beyond what’s tangible, proper use of social media can help to show the value you provide.
It’s important to understand that even if your agency is a small one, you still have a presence online. Right now it’s being controlled by what others are posting about you. Instead of passively letting that speak for you, control the narrative by releasing your own information. Don’t assume your constituents know the value you provide—be proactive and show them what you do and why it matters.
Frequent training is a great topic to showcase. Tabletop exercises, lectures, orientations for new hires, simulated patient interactions, and equipment familiarization sessions are all outstanding things to post online. Not only does this build the habits of a learning culture in your agency, it shows the world your staff are spending their time wisely and not just watching TV at the station.
Critical incident responses are also popular topics to post. Who doesn’t love photos of a complicated multiagency accident extrication? But even more important than the occasional critical incident is recognizing your agency for the routine services you provide. Let people know the range of tasks you do every day—whether those are ambulance station tours, sporting event standbys, public education offerings, or vital signs checks at the local nursing home. Publish end-of-the-month and -year transport numbers and infographics breaking down response times, incident types, and the more frequent types of patients you care for. This allows the public to connect in a meaningful way with the services you provide.
Showcasing training, agency responsibilities, and incident photos will also have the side benefit of allowing you to build a larger recruiting catchment to capture quality staff. Posts can be shared widely and viewed easily not just regionally but also nationally. If you build a strong reputation as a leader within your industry, applicants will come. All other things being equal, what person wouldn’t want to work for a forward-leaning agency that trains often and provides a wide range of valuable services to its citizens?
One of the best ways to build relationships with the agencies you interact with is to recognize them online. Every day we interact with a whole host of different agencies and disciplines to do our daily work. One agency may be primary, but we shouldn’t forget the secondary and tertiary agencies that contribute to mission success.
It always comes as a surprise when I see photos online that ignore that fact. Take something like a trail or park rescue. Photos or social media updates will be posted by an agency showing only one aspect of the incident—the part they were responsible for—without any acknowledgement of the effort other public safety groups gave. Sure, you provided outstanding ALS care in an austere environment, but chances are it wasn’t just your department there. At the same time you were trailside packaging the patient for transport, the local fire department was marking out a landing zone for the helicopter, park rangers were prepping a Stokes basket to carry the patient out, the nearest level 1 trauma center was paging out a surgical team, and so on.
Because most EMS services lack the resources to keep a dedicated public information officer (PIO) on staff, an easy way to capture these moments is to empower your EMS supervisors and field training officers to take photos from incident locations. Make a point to capture all the moving parts that contribute to positive patient outcomes, while prioritizing patient care and observing privacy best practices.
Critical incident response or multiagency training can show teamwork between a wide variety of public safety organizations, but keep in mind those events are rare for most of us. Highlighting interactions in daily work will allow recognition to occur more frequently.
Even the most routine transports can require coordination between several inpatient hospital departments to successfully complete. A simple post on any social media platform acknowledging that fact, along with your appreciation, can do wonders for future interactions.
Building the reputation that your agency is one that prioritizes teamwork and collaboration will pay dividends far beyond the cost in time and effort. It may sound goofy, but teamwork really does make the dream work.
Social media recognition is an easy way to acknowledge the importance of your team and working partners and show appreciation for what they do. But to reap the benefits of social media and not just go through the motions, you have to take a proactive approach.
Communicate the why behind the action, then empower your staff members at all levels to recognize each other in accordance with your department policies and procedures. Post those interactions online and highlight why they matter to your culture. Radiate appreciation.
Establish a reputation as a progressive agency that promotes excellence at all levels by training hard and spending downtime in a productive way. Show your stakeholders how an investment in money now is an investment in increased safety and security for them later.
Build collaborative relationships both inside and outside your region by making a point to recognize positive interactions with other disciplines using social media platforms. Freely show appreciation for the groups you interact with and respond to posts they make about you and your agency. To be most impactful, the social aspect of social media should always be emphasized.
And above all remember, just like in a patient narrative, if you don’t say you did it (or have photographic proof), it didn’t happen. If you don’t get any credit after the fact, your agency only has itself to blame.
Jake Waller, NRP, has been in public safety since 2006 and has served as an EMT, paramedic, and EMS supervisor. He currently coordinates operations for a suburban EMS service in the Midwest. Connect with him on Twitter at @jakeification.
— to www.emsworld.com