Social Media Policy for the Fire Service

Using social media in the fire service can be helpful in many ways. But like any technology, you need to create a policy for your department.

December 22, 2020

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Whether or not you are prepared for it, social media is growing increasingly relevant.

According to the Pew Research Center, 7 in 10 Americans use social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to connect with one another and share content.

The workplace is no exception.

Social media is being used more and more commonly in offices around the country, Pew says. And it can actually be beneficial:

“These digital platforms offer the potential to enhance worker productivity by fostering connections with colleagues and resources around the globe.”

For this reason, using social media in the fire service can be helpful in many ways.

But like any technology you leverage, you will want to create a policy for social media use in your department.

Not only will the policy protect your team. It could also empower them to use technology to benefit your department and community as a whole.

Why You Need a Social Media Policy/SOG

According to Pew, there is evidence that workplace policies on social media affects how employees use it on the job. Whether or not you plan to use social media within your department, a fire department social media policy is crucial.

To put it simply, social media puts your department in the public eye. Inappropriate use of social media by public officials can be damaging to your department and break trust you’ve worked hard to build in your community.

Having guidelines or policies and procedures in place can help significantly.

When one firefighter posted racist content on his personal Facebook page, he made the news, and ultimately resigned from the service.

Policies may not always prevent issues like this. But they can protect your reputation by guiding your firefighters in appropriate online communication.

There are also plenty of examples of firefighters using social media for good.

During Hurricane Harvey, one Tennessee firefighter deployed to Houston posted online about two individuals trapped in their flooded home, which ultimately led to their rescue.

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Policy around social media can reap similarly positive outcomes for your firefighters and the community they serve.

Providing a framework for social media use empowers your department to be connected and build a positive relationship with your community.

It also promotes consistency in social media practices, simplifying the process for everyone so they can focus on doing their jobs well. For these reasons, a robust social media policy benefits everyone involved.

Writing Your Department’s Policy

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.

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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.

Do your research

With the rise of the internet also comes the ability to research quickly and access resources you may not have otherwise found. This will come in handy in your social media policy process.

For example, you can use Google or other search engines to look up tips for engagement from social media industry thought leaders.

You could also look up local, state, and federal laws to make sure your policy is by them.

Also consider searching for other fire departments’ social media policies, which could serve as helpful templates as you develop your own.

Training and Education

Like any other tool, firefighters need to understand how to use social media effectively.

Without the appropriate knowledge, social media can be a waste of time, even harmful. Having clearly laid-out, specific policies is one thing.

But if your team does not understand what is or isn’t acceptable – and why – they likely won’t adhere to those policies. That’s where training comes in.

With training management software you can equip your firefighters to use social media optimally.

Showing your team the actual intent behind the policy through training courses may help them retain information. More importantly, it will help them apply that knowledge when they need to.

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But keep in mind that one training course may not be enough. As you know, technology is always evolving.

That means social media will change as well. To keep everyone on the same page, be proactive. This may mean developing new policies and re-training when new issues come up.

It’s not just about reacting to an embarrassing incident. It’s about working together for the benefit of your department and community as a whole.

Social media isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s likely to continue growing, even in the workplace.

Devising a solid social media policy in your department is one step to encouraging appropriate use in the workplace. Training your firefighters on how to use the tool of social media will benefit everyone involved.

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