Social Media Policy Development for EMS


Social Media Policy Development for EMS

By Jason Busch Nov 13, 2013

It’s amazing the things some people will post on social media sites. Some of it is merely embarrassing, while other information, photos or videos can be outright damaging.

As we all know, social media is not going away—and with some of its inherent advantages it shouldn’t. But it also has the power to quickly and decisively harm an individual or organization’s reputation when used inappropriately, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC), in partnership with VFIS, recently hosted a webinar on Social Media Issues and Concerns for Emergency Services Organizations. The webinar was recorded and is now available on demand.

The key to social media use in public safety is the ability to use it and manage its use effectively for the betterment of the organization and the community. EMS leaders must be proactive in using and managing it, not reactive.

While we tend to think of social media in terms of sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn, an agency website also qualifies because it provides information and a means to interact with the public.

Social media can have many benefits to an EMS agency, including communicating key information about the organization, its members, events, or health and safety issues. However, when inappropriate messages are released, inappropriate photos posted or use of the site for non-agency business occurs, it is important to have established rules to follow and a method to deal with those who use social media inappropriately regarding the organization.

NVFC has samples of such policies available on its site for members: Similar sample policies can be found online easily, but it’s important to remember these shouldn’t just be used to cut and paste together a policy for your own agency. Rather, they’re a guide for developing a policy appropriate for your unique organization. It would be helpful to seek assistance from legal and/or labor relations counsel when crafting a social media policy as well, as the rapidly changing social media landscape could soon render a well-intentioned policy insufficient.

Some things EMS leaders might want to consider incorporating into a social media policy include:

  • Provider use of personal laptops, tablets or smartphones while on duty, agency property or otherwise engaged in agency-related business.
  • Provider use of social media off-duty, which under a variety of circumstances can be tied directly to business-related activities, personal or professional reputation within the community, or co-worker relationships.
  • The dissemination of agency-related or patient information on your providers’ personal sites, which could violate confidentiality laws and/or agency policies.
  • Discussing co-workers, or posting photos or videos of co-workers.
  • Discussing patients, or posting photos or videos of patients.

Often, something as innocuous as one inappropriate comment on an online article can start a firestorm for members of the public safety sector. EMS leaders need to make their employees aware that the way a provider represents him or herself on a social website can easily be misperceived as a representing the views of the agency. To that end, every provider should receive and sign a form acknowledging their understanding of the parameters of the electronic communications system, including social media, for their organization. This form should include the agency’s ability to monitor usage while on duty, within agency facilities and while engaging in agency-related activities.

These days implementing a policy that outright bans providers’ usage of social media networks isn’t realistic or practical and would be perceived as overreaching by membership. Instead, focus on a policy that’s grounded in common sense and places reasonable restrictions on content and usage. Also seek input from various persons within your agency when developing policy language. Discuss the goals of the organization, as well as the needs and the expectations for such a policy.

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