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'Crash Scene Selfies' debate: Why we shouldn't criticise the emergency services

29 August 2014 | 04:24 am

This week the media has been debating the issue of crash scene selfies. Sparked (no pun intentional) by a post made by the North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service and North Yorkshire Police, reportedly shared direct from the scene of an accident.

The media have taken the line of speaking on behalf of the ‘outraged public’ (sensationalised as we would expect), who they say have responded badly to the images posted by the response crews on the frontline.  The media has gone as far as calling for resignations of the crew members, with declaration of further investigation into the posts.

Here at CrowdControlHQ we work with over 25% of the police forces in the UK. Interestingly, we get far more media interview requests relating to the use of social media by the police than any other profession, even beating the politicians (surprisingly, who come a close second) so we certainly experience first hand the media spotlight which the police (and by close association response services) find themselves under with regards to social media.

Case Study: Cheshire Fire & Rescue Service utilise social media to distribute urgent information

In this case, as is so often the case, we simply don’t have the facts to pass judgment.

To assess the situation thoroughly you would need to have a thorough understanding of the context surrounding the response team, namely:

1) the communications objectives linked to the social media channel

2) social media policy used to guide the response teams

3) the training support available

4) understanding of the social media management – especially the process by which posts ‘go-live’

Looking at the issue of objectives there could be an array of outcomes that the response team were looking to achieve in this scenario: educated about the dangers of the road? deter speeding? build community rapport? recruit newcomers by showing the ‘day in the life of..’ insight?  We just don’t know.

In terms of policy, it is essential that officers understand the primary objective of the social media, the key messages and the call to action required as well as the types of content that do or do not cut it in building the communications campaign. Hopefully, the policy will link to HR support to ensure that officers are aware of the boundaries to ensure that they know what they can and can’t do in relation to both the work and personal social environments.  And finally these policies should be easy to understand and accessible.

With respect to training, we should not overlook the fact that social media is a relatively new channel.  Even the most experienced of communication professionals would be lucky to count their years of experience in the discipline of social media on two hands.

Recent surveys have shown that there has been considerable emphasis during social media training on the WHAT rather than the HOW of social media.  Attendees report that they receive detailed explanations of the platforms - what Twitter and Facebook environments look like, statistics about the users and the mechanism for creating a post rather than the holy grail of how to create great content.  This is the equivalent in customer service terms of spending time training people on the intricate detail of how a telephone works, rather than supporting people in what to say to customers.

Case Study: Wiltshire Police successfully manage social media to provide immediate response

And finally the management process is an important part of the social media debate.  As defenders of brand reputation in social media, management platforms (software) like CrowdControlHQ allow people at the coal-face of delivery to capture content which can then be moderated, screened and tested against messaging, campaigns and objectives from the control centre, before being sent live to the outside world.

On this basis, there should never be a call for a resignation of an officer/ fire officer or support crew who finds themselves often in a pressurised, stressful situation at the scene of an accident. They may not have time or the objectivity to work through what is acceptable. They should be able to capture content in line with the objectives, the policy and the training they have received and contribute content from the frontline to the overarching campaign, with the safety net of robust social media management and moderation checks.

Finally, we must not forget that there has been plenty of stomach churning advertising campaigns in recent years designed to shock, inform and change behaviour.  And the police force as a whole should be credited for their innovation using social media within the emergency services.

So let’s dedicate intellectual debate to the issue of crash scene selfies and look at the benefits that social media is bringing to the public in regard to the delivery of the emergency services and support a drive to help those tasked to keep us safe from harm to access the delivery tools they need to excel at this form of communication.

CrowdControlHQ is the UK’s leading social media risk management and compliance platform, built for enterprise.

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