Josh Weiss is a featured speaker at EMS World Expo 2015, September 15-19 in Las Vegas, NV. Visit EMSWorldExpo.com.
A lot of social media experts aren’t going to like me saying this, but too often, we make social media harder than it needs to be. This is especially true for fire and EMS providers who are sharing information through digital media.
“What if I violate HIPAA?”
“I just don’t have the time for social media.”
These are concerns that many EMS agencies share, but the truth is that you can implement an effective social media strategy in just five hours per month. Yep, that’s per month, not per day.
Most of the suggestions here are intended for agencies using social media for the first time or those who need to restart a stagnant effort, but I’m confident that even seasoned social media gurus will walk away with a few new ideas or tips to make their efforts even more successful.
Today there are three kinds of media: paid media, which is advertising; earned or free media, which is getting stories in the newspaper or on TV/radio; and owned media, which is social media. Think of social media as your own newspaper or TV station, allowing you to promote yourself directly to those who choose to watch or listen. You’d be crazy not to share positive information about your agency with people who volunteer to hear good things about you.
Focus on the most common and popular platforms, specifically Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. If your HR department plans to use social media for hiring administrative or management employees, LinkedIn should be included too. If you have a major SEO (search engine optimization) strategy, you’ll want to use Google+, but that won’t apply for most ambulance services.
Assign your social media management duties to someone who is already personally active in and enjoys social media. If the person in charge only uses social media for work and not on their own time, there’s a good chance your social media effort will fail.
Set a goal of four posts per week. That’s not a lot; in fact, many active companies share four posts per day. However, four per week will allow you to stay visible, and you’ll be considered active (at least according to the social media sites and your followers).
Don’t worry about how many followers or likes you have on your page. Likes and followers will come in time if you’re consistent and appeal to your intended audiences. Your numbers will likely be horrible for several months, so don’t be discouraged.
How to Create a Cohesive Social Media Strategy
It’s important to have your key decision makers and implementers in the same room for about 90 minutes to set your strategy. It’s essential that everyone agree on who your target audience or audiences are. Your team needs to collectively debate and fill out the audience and interests grid (pictured) for each platform. The grid includes space to list four unique audiences and four “interest buckets” for each audience.
Before filling out the grid, you first need to understand the differences between the platforms and how to use them.
Facebook is the best-known social media platform and tends to be very social and fun. While you want to be brief, you’re not limited on characters for your posts. You should include photos whenever possible. Individuals are more likely to “like” your page than companies are. Also, it should be noted that when companies like your page, they don’t show up in your numbers; Facebook only counts likes of individuals.
Twitter is more of a news source and headline machine because you only get 140 characters in which to share your story. Think of the text as a teaser with a link for more information. Your followers are more likely to be companies or people representing companies or organizations.
YouTube is a collection of videos uploaded by users. While most people think that Google is the king of searches, YouTube now completes more searches than any other website, all for videos. Since YouTube is owned by Google, they work hand-in-hand for search results. Viewers tend to be individuals.
Completing the Grid
The grid should be filled out for each social media platform. Starting with Facebook, create a list of all your potential audiences. Simply saying “patients” are an audience doesn’t work; you need to break it down more specifically. Are you referring to EMS patients or general transport patients? Nurses in the ER or care facility nurses? Current employees or potential employees? Hospital administrators, fire chiefs, elected officials or community charities?
After creating your long list of potential audiences for Facebook, you need to narrow that list to the top four most important audiences for your agency and write them on the grid. Yes, you’ll have to leave some audiences off the list, but if you try to create your Facebook page for everyone you’ll end up appealing to no one.
The next task is deciding what you believe each audience would want to read on your page. Let’s say one of your top audiences is the call makers at care facilities (RNs and case managers). On a separate sheet of paper, list all the things you think an RN or case manager at a care facility would want to read. Do you think they want to see the name of their facility mentioned in a positive way? How about new techniques that would help them perform their job? What about new equipment that would help their patients, health alerts, news about your agency, profiles on agency employees, or community involvement and charitable efforts that relate to their patients? You then need to narrow down the list to the top four and add them to the grid in the “Interest Bucket” section.
Fill out the grid for all four audiences, leaving you with 16 interest buckets (four for each audience). Then, color-code the interests by matching topics. You might find that all four audiences want to see company news, while three audiences may want to read about other partners listed by name.
Filling out the grid is very important because ultimately, everything you post on your Facebook page needs to relate to at least one of the 16 interests within the grid. For topics that overlap across multiple audiences, you want to post on those more regularly because every time you do, a higher percentage of your target audiences will be interested.
After you finish the grid for Facebook, restart the process for Twitter and YouTube. When possible, repeat the same words between audiences and grids. A lot of the grid for Facebook and Twitter will overlap, but it won’t completely overlap, which is why it’s important to go through the process.
Once the grids are complete you can let the executives leave the room. Chances are they’re already getting antsy anyway, and only those responsible for implementation (or executives who are interested in participating) need to be part of the next phase of the strategy.
How to Implement Your Grid Strategy
Here’s the key to successfully implementing a social media plan: every post you make needs to fit in one of the 16 “content bucket” boxes on your grid. If an intended post doesn’t relate to at least one of the boxes, you shouldn’t post it. Why? Because it won’t appeal to your target audiences, and if your followers don’t like what they see, they won’t remain followers and will eventually unlike your page.
Create a schedule for your posts. Use an empty calendar for the upcoming month and write in your planned posts in advance.
Tips for filling your social media calendar:
Look at your existing agency calendars for events you’re scheduled to attend, such as standbys, community charity events, health fairs and school visits. On your planning calendar, a few days prior to the event date, write “We’re looking forward to attending the HOSPITAL EVENT on DAY” or “Looking forward to Tuesday’s Touch a Truck event at XYZ preschool!”
Create themed days of the week. For example, start “Safety Tip Tuesday,” when you post a community health tip, “Thankful Thursday,” when you post a patient compliment about an employee, and/or “Flashback Friday,” when you post old pictures of your agency or old equipment. Knowing that you need to identify and plan a safety tip for the same day every week will allow you to look for tips in bulk, saving you time and improving your consistency.
Do a Google search for “today in history” to see what occurred in the past that could relate to one of the interests on the grid (like EMS industry or medical anniversaries). Also look for different “months.” For example, September is disaster preparedness month. You could easily post numerous messages in September explaining how to prepare for a disaster, along with examples of how your agency prepares for disasters.
Following these tips, you’ll easily be able to come up with four posts per week.
Here’s the beauty of creating the calendar: once you have the month planned, you can set up every message to auto-post by date and time. My favorite way to schedule posts in advance is through HootSuite (www.hootsuite.com), a free platform that allows you to control all your social media accounts at the same time. You can type in one post and schedule it for any upcoming date, giving the time you want the post distributed (within five-minute blocks). Plus, you can have that one post go out to multiple social media platforms at the same time, which can save you a lot of time.
The calendar and pre-scheduled posts should be about 70% of your posts for the month.
The other 30% are immediate, day-of posts. Luckily, these are easy after you get into the habit.
Every time you or someone from your agency is at an event, such as a hospital charity lunch or a health fair, a member of your team needs to take a photo from their smartphone and post it on the Facebook page immediately. All they need to add is a quick caption of where the picture was taken and who is in it.
The rest of your ad hoc posts will be responses to questions that others put on your pages. Your social media manager needs to spend five minutes per day checking your pages. Try scheduling this first thing in the morning and right before leaving work; this will allow your team to respond to questions within a reasonable amount of time.
Word on the Street
Jessica Castle is the social media manager at Richmond Ambulance Authority (@RAAEMS). Jessica’s advice should be considered by every social media manager.
Instagram, or other image sites such as Flickr, can be used to gain more engagement and interest. Nothing ranks higher in engagement than photos on Facebook, and adding some visual interest with an Instagram filter can help. Additionally, this lets you recycle content by using a plain image one month and a filtered image of the same truck or group of employees the next month for a completely new look.
Your employees can be a great source for all of your images and posts. Just make sure you have a social media plan in place and that they know the rules.
Implement an employee of the month feature. Not only will it gain great engagement from your employees “liking” their friend, but you can also gain potential employees by promoting your positive work environment and reward system.
Take advantage of Facebook’s tab feature by creating custom tabs for your agency. A good place to start is by linking tabs for each of your other social media accounts so they are easy to find. Additionally, you may want to include a tab for signing up for your newsletter or blog, or include a contact form for those holding events. If you’re a non-profit or can accept donations, create a "Donate" tab that leads directly to your Paypal account.
Use social media to help build stronger relationships with your community and government officials. Follow them, interact with their status updates and share local information that will be relevant to your local audience.
Follow and interact with authority agencies and information sources, including EMS World and the American Ambulance Association. Submit your news and photos to them. They may use your content since they need to fill their days and weeks as well. For fire and EMS agencies connected to the city or county, drawing positive attention through national recognition is a valuable way to increase your funding.
Thaddeus Setla, DP/chief content officer of Setla Films (@setla), says social media is all about a regular schedule of content. Companies that see the value of video today and invest in the delivery of video on a regular basis are far more likely to get attention and gain a reputable name in the industry.
Richard Huff (@richmhuff) is a journalist, communications executive and former three-time chief at Atlantic Highlands First Aid (NJ). He emphasizes that social media becomes even more important during a crisis or natural disaster. For example, before Hurricane Sandy, social media was an excellent way for agencies to share pre-storm info. When phone lines went down, social media became the way to get information and to request help. Agencies (especially dispatch centers) should follow hashtags during outages, as people who need help and can’t get through via phone may request help through Twitter.
Greg Friese (@everydayemstips), MS NREMT-P and director of education for CentreLearn Solutions, LLC, suggests following lots of fire and EMS agencies via social media to get ideas.
If you’re going to post to multiple platforms at the same time, you need to make sure your post still makes sense to your target audiences and is written in a neutral way that works for the reader. Remember that Twitter only allows 140 characters, so if you’re posting to multiple platforms, the post needs to be very short.
Twitter tip: Try to keep your tweets at 120 characters instead of the full 140. It’ll make it easier for others to retweet your post with your text staying intact and not edited or the last words removed.
YouTube tip: Create short videos of all your press and media events. If you’re trying to get a TV station to cover an event, you should cover it yourself and post the video on your page. You can then share the link on your other social media outlets.
If I haven’t convinced you to start a social media effort yet, let me ask one more question: Would you be upset if a competitor or a disgruntled former employee controlled your website? That may be exactly what’s happening if you’re refusing to participate in social media. You need to participate simply so that you can own your company’s social media name and space.
Josh Weiss started 10 to 1 Public Relations after successfully serving as the national director of public relations for Rural/Metro Corporation, public information officer of Arizona-based Southwest Ambulance, and national director of communications and public affairs for American Traffic Solutions. During the past 15 years, Josh has worked with hundreds of external and internal clients including public and private companies in the healthcare and technology industries, government municipalities, police and fire departments, and community organizations, to build positive brands and manage reputations. To contact Josh visit www.10to1pr.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.