Leadership, Operations

Talk to YOUR Audience

Simplify so everyone can understand what you are saying

By Rob Reardon

We all speak a foreign language … but do you realize this?  Does your audience understand what you are saying?  Who is your audience, and when do they stop reading because they just don’t understand?

One of the very first things you must figure out with your social media account is who your audience is.  If you don’t know who your audience is, you are going to have a tough time connecting with them. 

You don’t just have to pick one audience; my fire department has two main audiences that we try to connect with.  In my department, we have both internal and external customers, and they are both very important. 

Our external customers are our taxpayers, elected officials, and residents of our community.  External customers have very little knowledge of what their firefighters are doing.  Many times, they think they know what we do, but where do they get their information from?  External customers are the people who will ultimately support your department by voting for your budget and approving the purchase of new fire trucks.  If they don’t know what you are doing and what your needs are, how will they support your department?

Photo 1: Our external customers need to be shown the efforts that firefighters go through to be masters at the jobs they perform.

Our internal customers are our firefighters.  Not that your firefighters need a pat on the back for everything they do, but some of my posts are just that.  These posts can work as motivation for the firefighters in the post working hard, the firefighters not in the post, and the other shifts.  Is your department a call or volunteer department where firefighters are working for little or no pay?  This is where motivation and pride through social media posts are important for your firefighters.

Photo 2: This photo is good for both our audiences. It shows a firefighter working hard cleaning and gives a little pat on the back and hopefully motivates other groups to do what he is doing. It also shows our taxpayers more of what we do and that we don’t have custodians or janitors.

Now that you have thought about your audience, you need to know how to talk to them.  Many departments will have an audience that is like my department.  If this is the case, it is important that you are talking to them.  We all have our own language that we understand.  It is easy for us to forget that the outsider doesn’t understand what we are saying.  This holds true for most professions–they all have their own language and lingo.  Think about your family; maybe you have inside jokes and nicknames.  If you were to use that in social media posts, people on the outside wouldn’t understand the whole message.

Photo 3: Holidays can be some of our busiest shifts. This post allows our department to thank a local business for their generosity while putting out information on how busy we are. This is a post that is geared toward both of our audiences.

When posting for your department, you must simplify your communication so everyone can understand what you are saying.  You should do this sooner rather than later before people start to tune you out.  Here are some examples of firefighter lingo that the average person doesn’t understand:

“Companies making up”: What company, Macy’s? Why are they making up? Were they in a fight?

“Throwing the stick to the roof.”

Don’t forget acronyms and abbreviations, because we are loaded with them in the fire service.  What is SCBA? RIT? FFOP? W/F? to name a few.  If you are talking like this, then you are talking to a firefighter audience, fire buffs, and people who understand the fire service.  If they are whom you are trying to reach, then you have no worries.  If you are trying to talk to your taxpayers, there is a good chance that they are somewhat confused.

It is also good to have people who follow you and will give you honest feedback if they don’t understand what you have posted.  Recently, I posted information on fire pub ed my department had done, and a person asked me what pub ed was.  Some of the simple abbreviations are not always understood by everyone, and as the “PIO” –public information officer–you must work to connect to your audience.

Photo 4: If you are not showing your audience what you are doing, they just don’t know! You need to sell all the great things your department is doing.

Rob Reardon has been in the fire service for more than 20 years and is a captain in the Duxbury (MA) Fire Department (DXFD), where he has worked for the past 18 years. He is an EFO and CFO graduate.  He is the public information officer for the Duxbury Fire Department, the Plymouth County Technical Rescue Team, and the Southeastern Mass Technical Rescue Team.  Prior to working at DXFD, he spent 10 years in the media for television stations and major newspapers as an award-winning photographer.  His photographs have been used on the covers of many national magazines, newspapers, books, calendars, trade publications, and worldwide on TV news. He instructs on Social Media for Today’s Fire Service.  Follow him on Twitter @reardonphotos and Instagram @robreardonphotos or at www.robreardon.com.