This is one of the stranger social media meltdowns I’ve seen from a fire department. It began yesterday (Monday) on the Facebook page of the Ludowici-Long County Fire Department in Georgia. It started with a warning to citizens by the department that they may not have fire protection. It devolved into a back and forth that now has some citizens saying the fire department insulted members of the military.
Here’s the rather vague post yesterday at 4:47 p.m. that started it all:
Some on Facebook did not react kindly that there was no explanation why there might not be fire protection. The conversation got pretty heated at times. There were at least 39 comments posted and additional replies.
It’s the exchange below that has garnered the most attention in follow-up posts by the public. In it, the Ludowici-Long County Fire Department referred to “just another idiot in acu’s”. Long County is the home of Fort Stewart and those complaining know that ACU refers to Army Combat Uniforms. There were a number of other pointed remarks in replies to the public from the fire department including one that said “I see the need to educate some of you about our service.”
Today at 7:26 a.m. an explanation for what happened yesterday was offered by the Ludowici-Long County Fire Department. It says there was word the department’s “part time staff had walked off the job” and members were quitting. It now appears that problem has been solved. The post explains the intentions of the original post were good and meant to warn the community. There is also an apology for comments made in reaction to some of the posts made by the public but it also said some of what the public wrote was “uncalled for and undeserving”.
I’m not sure what those in charge at the Ludowici-Long County Fire Department were thinking, but an unsolicited vague statement about an issue you can’t talk about is a recipe for social media disaster. It looks like you just want attention.
Be very cautious about airing internal battles that will impact a department’s image. While I understand the goal of warning the public, you need to think about what’s going to happen after you post such a message and have a plan to deal with the reaction.
When you drop a bombshell like there may not be fire protection, be prepared that some of the public will be unkind in their comments. The whole idea of social media is that it’s interactive. Before you even start your page, you should have a plan on how you are going to deal with critical comments.
Attacking and insulting the public is never a winning plan. Here’s an article I wrote a number of years ago called “Hazmat for Toxic Comments” that may give you some better tactics for dealing with critics. In short, if you are easily insulted and react emotionally, running a social media operation for your organization is probably not a good job for you.