Monday, 15 February 2016

SCDF wins fans with its social media persona

Facebook page draws more than 57,000 fans with its creative posts
By Daryl Chin, Social Media Editor, The Sunday Times, 14 Feb 2016

Strait-laced. Boring. No sense of humour. Mention the social media accounts of government agencies and more often than not, that is the image one would have.

But not the guys at the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF). Not only are they proving more than proficient in pushing out their safety messages, they are also entertaining fans in the process.

Take, for example, a Facebook post last month about how eight off-duty firefighters sprang into action and extinguished a stove fire at Causeway Point.

The short narrative, which came with a moral and a photo of the fast-thinking men, has garnered almost 34,000 likes and more than 5,000 shares so far.

"When we started our page in 2008, social media was an after-thought," says SCDF's Public Affairs Department assistant director Leslie Williams. "Now, it is the front and centre of our communication efforts."

In 2012, as its Facebook page hit 10,000 likes, many of the posts found on the page were press releases and official-sounding statements. The page now has almost 57,000 fans, and the content could not be any more different.

So, what changed? One of the secrets of this success, says SCDF's Public Affairs Department director Abdul Razak Raheem, is possessing a genuine persona.

Put it this way: If the page were a person, he (or she) would be witty, funny, informative, conversational and non-condescending in tone, and extremely knowledgeable in life-saving techniques.

This persona, Colonel Razak stresses, must be a permanent feature. "Those working in social media in an organisation may come and go, but the social media persona has to remain the same," he says.

The current team boasts just one full-time member of staff - social media administrator Faizal Kamal.

Aside from managing the Facebook and Twitter pages, Lieutenant Faizal also rushes down to the scenes of major accidents or fires to take pictures and videos to upload to the respective accounts.

"It is a passion," the 28-year-old says. But Lt Faizal is not alone. His team includes two civilian officers and two other uniformed senior officers who help him out as part of their secondary appointments.

Together, they also contribute to another factor in SCDF's success - speed.

The seven people, including Col Razak and Lieutenant-Colonel Williams, bounce ideas off each other in a WhatsApp group chat.

If an idea works, it helps greatly that the two supervisors - who have almost two decades of public communications experience between them - are on hand to give the go-ahead.

"It is a marketplace of ideas. Nobody has the monopoly on the best way to engage in social media in our chat," says Col Razak. "The current workflow speeds up the clearance process tremendously."

#ICYMI Put it this way: If the Singapore Civil Defence Force page were a person, he (or she) would be witty, funny,...
Posted by The Straits Times on Sunday, February 14, 2016

A female member of the team, who requested anonymity, said: "You have to find new and creative ways to drive home the message. And you don't want to sound too naggy while doing it."

That is why the SCDF page has been quick on the uptake when it comes to several memes such as "Be like Bill", where a stick figure dispenses pearls of wisdom in a Web comic format.

In another post, the page showed a photo of officers performing a height exercise. The photo bore a striking resemblance to a shot photography enthusiast Chay Yu Wei sent in to a Nikon contest recently, which turned out to be digitally altered.

While SCDF's post did not contain any overt references to the infamous Nikon image, the resemblance was not lost on its fans. "Love SCDF humour," said one Facebook user. "

This speed at jumping on trends as they start going viral, otherwise known as trendjacking, is also needed when it comes to managing bad press on social media.

Col Razak recalled an incident in January last year, where a fire engine got stuck in front of VivoCity shopping mall on a weekday. The SCDF issued a statement as soon as the team had a good grasp of the facts.

"You need to be upfront and honest in this age. We rather people hear the news from us. And sharing things that are perceived as damaging to you also helps your credibility," he says.

Another incident, he said, arose when a video captured an SCDF paramedic's lack of urgency in attending to a patient who collapsed while jogging in Woodlands last year.

It turns out that the patient was already being attended to by an off-duty paramedic who happened to be a colleague of the paramedic on duty.

"We clarified the whole thing within six hours. I told the team this was a race against time," said Col Razak.

The last ingredient to their success, Lt-Col Williams says, is to monitor closely what is uploaded.

Matters of national security are out of bounds, obviously. So, too, are issues on race and religion.

"You have to be very careful about pictures as well, and consider all angles. Netizens may spot nuances in our content and perceive it as offensive, and this can go viral quickly," he said.

Col Razak says he reminds his team members constantly to treat the official social media page as they would their own personal page.

"Honour what you post, and be mindful that the world is looking on," he says.

It is clear that while the team members' tone on social media is far from serious, they are certainly serious when it comes to the business of saving lives.

This morning, 8 off-duty firefighters from Bukit Batok Fire Station were having breakfast in a food court at Causeway...
Posted by Singapore Civil Defence Force on Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Fireman turns heads with helmet collection
SCDF veteran has amassed over 80 helmets and other memorabilia in more than 30 years
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 15 Feb 2016

Some people have trophy cabinets. Junaidi Rowden has a cabinet full of headgear.

These are not just any old hats, but helmets that have been worn by firemen from France to Greece.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) veteran has amassed a collection of more than 80 helmets, old and new, and countless firefighting memorabilia such as badges and fire engine models, in more than 30 years. These are proudly displayed in glass cabinets in his Hougang five-room flat.

Since the SCDF put up pictures of his "home heritage gallery" on its Facebook page last Tuesday, the post has been "liked" nearly 4,000 times and shared more than 1,000 times as of yesterday afternoon.

"For me, the helmet collection is a hobby. I didn't expect people would want to know more about it," said the 55-year-old SCDF Senior Warrant Officer (SWO).

It all started when a casually dressed German tourist showed up at the Central Fire Station in Hill Street one afternoon in the 1980s, saying that he was a fireman and asking if he could have a look around the place.

SWO Junaidi thought he did not look like a firefighter but showed him around during his break anyway. Over two hours, he gave him a tour of the station and its surroundings, and invited him to join the local firefighters' volleyball session.

Around three months after the man returned to Germany, SWO Junaidi received a parcel from him with items including an ornate leather helmet. That got him interested in collecting helmets.

Besides buying helmets through mail order with his co-workers, he would trade some of his purchases with other collectors.

Over the years, he has spent thousands of dollars on the helmets and other items.

For over 33 years, SWO Junaidi Rowden has been the curator of his own mini-museum of firefighting memorabilia. Stemming...
Posted by Singapore Civil Defence Force on Tuesday, February 9, 2016

His collection includes vintage pieces from the now-defunct Singapore Fire Brigade, as well as his own helmet from his early days in the Singapore Fire Service, which he joined around 36 years ago in 1980.

Many items in his collection are gifts from firefighters who visited the station.

"Firemen are like brothers. Wherever we go, we look for fire stations," he said. He has visited fire stations in Malaysia and sought out firefighters in San Francisco and Mecca.

Around 15 years ago, to thank SWO Junaidi for his hospitality, an Austrian visitor searched high and low at flea markets in his country to find a helmet that the officer said he had been looking for - a vintage Greek helmet. At the time, it cost around $650, he was told.

"When he gave it to me, I was very happy. It was not a new helmet, but an old one, an original," he said of his prized possession.

Others sent him photos of their collections, introduced him to other collectors and invited him to an exchange for enthusiasts in Italy.

Some European collectors prefer leaving their old fire helmets dull and untouched to preserve their value, but SWO Junaidi has made it a hobby to restore many of his pieces to their former glory.

On his days off, he dismantles a helmet to clean and polish its parts, starting with the biggest ones. He does this with a bench grinder modified to fit a buffing wheel, and a clay compound that serves as a mild abrasive to remove dirt and oxidation.

At the end of the process, which could take months, he lacquers the helmet.

The collection requires regular upkeep, said SWO Junaidi, adding that he has to polish the helmets every six months or so.

To him, the cultural exchange with foreign firefighters is the most meaningful part of his hobby.

Many of the helmets are not just vintage pieces, but reminders of his friends around the world.

His wife, Madam Salina Saini, 52, said: "All of us are proud of him. It is a unique collection."

The only worry, said the housewife, is making sure that the polishing tools are kept before their five grandchildren come to visit.

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