First Line: September 2018

Social media can be used for safety messaging
September 05, 2018
Written by Samantha Hoffmann
How does a yoga pose and a #NationalDayCalendar help you educate your community on the importance of testing and maintaining smoke alarms? Pretty easily if you know which yoga pose faces towards the ceiling and involves raising your hands above your head.

A 2016 study (Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance) revealed that almost 80 million people practice yoga. They come from all walks of life, different cultures and age demographics. They’re exactly the type of people you want to educate about fire safety.

Of course, you need to have a message that is relatable, that makes people think and drives home the fire safety message that alarms only last 10 years. Make it even better by linking it to the companies that teach yoga in your community and you have a winner.

A tweet by Barrie Fire & Emergency Service about National Yoga Day that prompted people to test their smoke alarms generated a lot of conversations and had people testing their smoke alarms. By tagging the yoga providers, we were able to reach all of their followers too. We started a lot of conversations, exactly what social media is all about.

We know that people learn when they are interested, engaged and involved in problem-solving. If you can successfully create positive emotions around fire safety, the ripple effect can be more pervasive and influential than you may think.

Traditionally, fire departments educate their communities through presentations in schools, churches, general interest groups, or at mall displays. Social media gives you the ability to interact with people in different geographic locations, different occupations and of different ages, all at the same time.

Recent Canadian statistics indicate that 91 per cent of all Canadians use social media. Facebook is still the number one choice, with more than 19 million people looking at it at least once per day. Facebook allows you to tell stories, share pictures, videos and have conversations with your followers and their followers.

More than four billion videos are viewed a day on the Internet. People love to consume video and we have to adjust to that fact and serve them with the type of content that they prefer. A lot of the online video consumption is driven by recreational and entertainment videos, so if we can entertain while messaging we have a better chance of reaching our audience.

If you follow Barrie Fire on social media, you will see we are often putting ourselves out there for fire safety. It allows us to humanize our fire service, share some personality and, in rare cases, showcase some hidden talent. All done with important fire safety messages embedded throughout.

Technology has evolved so much that it is fairly simple and cost-effective to create short videos. Survey your department, find out what talents you have. I am sure you will find, artists, musicians, videographers and editors.

Reach out to your community in search of partners to help you. You can do this in the creation of messages or just by tagging them or mentioning them in your post. Find groups that have large followers and/or similar messages. If you are having issues with outside fires caused by carelessly discarded cigarettes, look for groups of people that are also having issues with cigarettes.

This is where a hashtag comes in. A hashtag is a word or phrase preceded by a hash mark (also used to be known as the pound sign on a telephone), used within a message to identify a keyword or topic of interest and facilitate a search for it. Thanks to hashtags, your post is not limited to just your followers. With thought and the right hashtag, you can get the attention of anyone interested in similar topics. So, just by adding the #smokingcessation hashtag to your fire safety message, you will reach a much larger audience.

It doesn’t have to be a big group with a large following. Just spending time learning about the Internet can help. For example, since cats are the unofficial mascot of the Internet, a social media post with a picture of a cat would get you the attention, then you need to include the fire safety message and finish by linking back to a web page with more information.

Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat and Instagram have become powerful marketing and communication tools. It makes sense to start using these channels to communicate with your community.


Samantha Hoffmann has been in the fire safety field for more than 25 years. She is the public fire and life-safety officer for Barrie Fire & Emergency Service in Ontario. In 2014,  Samantha was named Public Fire and Life Safety Educator of the Year by the National Fire Protection Association – the second Canadian and first Ontario educator to receive the award since its inception. Email Samantha at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow her on Twitter @shoffmannpflso.

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