The first step to guiding your firefighters toward appropriate use of social media is developing a clear and accurate policy.
Here are a few key points to consider when creating a policy of your own.
Consider your goals
Before diving into your policy manual for social media, think about why you are developing it in the first place.
Getting clear on your values may help your firefighters honor the policy itself.
For example, if you build your social media policy on values like professionalism, safety, and morality, your team will understand you have their best interest in mind.
Defining your goals will also help you clarify the tone you want to use in social media posts. Think about the voice that would connect most with your community.
For instance, would it be helpful to be authoritative, friendly, or a blend of both? After you develop your core values, you can use them as framework for defining the specifics.
Enlist the experts
Your department’s values are a helpful foundation for your policy. But for the sake of safety, you want to make sure you cover everything necessary.
This may mean involving those with knowledge of local, state, and federal laws, even attorneys. Of course, you want to make sure your firefighters adhere to laws on all levels.
But according to the University of Florida, it’s your responsibility to make sure your social media policy doesn’t violate the law.
For example, though you can set guidelines for firefighters’ personal social media use, the First Amendment ultimately protects them.
Another pertinent law is the National Labor Relations Act, which says employers cannot interfere with an employee posting or carrying on conversations via social media regarding wage or working conditions.
Knowing these things up front will help you create a sound policy that covers your department and your community alike.
Be as clear and specific as possible
When your policies about social media are specific, your team can respond correctly.
Also, broad policies are unlikely to withstand litigation or other accusations. As you define your social media policy, think about and clarify the following:
- Which behavior is unacceptable (e.g. plagiarized content, inappropriate jokes, obscenity, offensive images, copyright infringement).
- Your department’s tone of voice in posts.
- What types of content you will post (e.g. announcing community events, notifying community of road closures or other emergencies, or recruiting firefighters or volunteers).
- How you want to engage with the community.
- How often you will post.
- Who will do the posting, and when.
- How you will be monitoring social media use.
At the same time, it’s important that your social media policies are easy to understand and ultimately, follow.
Depending on the age and demographics of your firefighters, you may even want to include definitions and instructions for social media use. Even a basic glossary of useful terms like “profile,” “speech,” and “social networking” could help.
In addition to expectations, you will also want to be specific about what will happen when firefighters don’t adhere to policies.
For example, at the end of their social media policy, the Fairfield County Fire Department lists suspension, probation, and termination as possible outcomes.