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Brigades making Facebook work
The rise of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, is giving canny brigades the chance to reach more people. The benefits range from more communities getting vital fire preparation and safety information through to new members recruited.
There are currently 246 CFA brigade, district or region Facebook pages and some have built up a steady following with their strategic mix of fun, solid information and pride building.
Tim McNeilly has been a member of Golden Square brigade for 15 years and started their Facebook page three years ago.
“We are very nestled in suburban Bendigo,” says Tim, “and there was the perception that everyone in the community was covered by career firefighters. We identified that as an issue and decided to increase our community profile.
“We wanted a professional image and made the good decision that only two of us can post content. We try to be strategic and polished, building a feelgood feeling in the community around our brigade and generating high interest and reaction.”
Strong examples of this strategic approach include the posting of a New Year’s Eve photo of members back at the station after turning out to a job as the clock ticked over to 2015 with a caption, “Out there doing what we love doing”.
Postings in the lead-up to the brigade’s annual garage sale generate donations of goods, while updates across the day prompt more locals to drop in and buy. About 150 locals showed up for CFA Sunday in 2013 after reading about it on Facebook. The brigade also posts information about call-outs, often linking to a local freelance photographer’s images.
For the past two years the brigade has only recruited through Facebook with a “now taking applications” posting. A marketing push including paid Facebook advertisements in the lead-up to a recent information night brought in five new members. It’s a healthy boost to a brigade with a relatively young membership, 55 on the books and about 200 incidents a years.
“The media is always monitoring Facebook,” continues Tim. “We regularly get calls from the Bendigo Advertiser and WIN News to follow-up what they’ve seen on our page. We’re in the Addy every three or four weeks and that public exposure does a huge amount of good for us.
“We don’t post fire updates though because we can’t guarantee consistency. We don’t have a delegated person, so our community is funneled to the CFA Facebook page.”
Upwey Fire Brigade is fortunate to have a volunteer who also runs his own social media marketing business, and Ryan Vanderhorst makes sure the brigade’s Facebook page follows the number one rule: be engaging.
“If you want the community to listen to you even once a year, you need to have their attention all year,” he says. “The community needs to be engaged and already paying attention when the Fire Danger Period comes.”
A large part of their success rests on the regular features on the Facebook page. “Faces of Upwey” profiles a different brigade member each week, while “Throwback Thursday” presents historic brigade photos and detailed captions. This latter feature is eagerly followed not only by locals but also ex-members who have moved away from the area.
They’re compelling examples of online community building.
“When you have a rich history, talk about it,” says Ryan. “We have so many photos, so I sit down with older members and take down all they remember. The message underlying all this is, ‘have fun with us, share with us but also listen to us’.
“We sent a strike team to the Hastings fire and posted a photo of our members resting on the back of the truck that received 398 likes and reached 8000 people. The comments from the public thanking the crew for their effort were fantastic to see and really encouraging.
“We reach on average between 6000 to 10,000 people every week.
Upwey brigade also provides live updates of their turnouts on Twitter and has 1700 Instagram followers.
"Regular interaction with the community is paramount to what we do,” continues Ryan, “so it's important we continue to grow on social media to spread our messages further. Social media is the future of community engagement for brigades.
“I love it. You put the time in and you see the return.”
Back at Golden Square, perhaps one of the greatest benefits is all the messages of appreciation seen by members.
“It’s great for member morale and retention,” says Tim who gathers positives message and distributes them to all members. “We do specialist response – gas flare-off and manning the new field operations vehicle – so we have big training requirements. The more we give back to the members in terms of showing them that the community appreciates and respects their work the better.”
A Facebook social media managers group 500-strong gives members who administer CFA pages the chance to share good content, or seek an answer to a tricky question asked by a member of the public. It’s a virtual informal networking space where administrators observe trends and share tips.
If you think Facebook could work for your brigade, phone the Digital Media team on 9262 8317 for tips. Access the CFA Facebook digital media policy here which Ryan describes as “commonsense”.