#PRAwards highlight: Behind Singapore Civil Defence Force's viral social strategy

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) has not been shy in its use of social media. Last year, the organisation was seen participating in the viral #tetrischallenge, and also creating a TikTok-inspired video. All of these efforts has won SCDF the bronze award for "Best Use of Social Media" at Marketing's PR Awards 2020. Adopting a young, witty and conversational persona, SCDF used its social media platform to shift the public's perception and push public education messages.
 
Here's a look at how SCDF broke the internet with its winning campaign.

Challenge

Over the years, SCDF faced two key challenges. The first is the narrow public perception of the organisation, and the second is the need to disseminate public education messages in an engaging manner.

The longstanding perception of SCDF being solely about firefighting, rescue and ambulance conveyance is deeply entrenched in the public’s mind resulting in a narrow public perception of the organisation. This perception has been largely shaped by the mainstream media, which merely reports on accidents and emergencies in a factual manner. Due to space constraints and editorial intervention in such publications, many stories fail to convey the full extent of SCDF’s operations andthe challenges and dangers faced by SCDF responders. Furthermore, mainstream media reports did not fully explore the lives of those who wear the SCDF uniform proudly - a tight-knit community of highly motivated, innovative, talented and creative individuals.

The need for engaging public education messages such as “As the Life Saving Force”, SCDF regularly communicates public education messages in the areas of fire safety, first aid, and community first response. Such messages are created to educate the public on how they can protect and save themselves and others during emergencies. However, the challenge was the modality in the way the information had to be communicated.

Given that the general public does not engage well with officious and boring public education messages that seek to change behaviour. There was a need to explore creative and highly engaging means of capturing audience attention, and to ensure information retention to shape behaviour. As such, the brand had to find a way to be portrayed as a professional and competent force that is full of vibes, filled with individuals who are talented, creative, highly innovative and adaptive to changes. It needed to do so in the most widespread, engaging, and cost-effective manner.

Strategy

To overcome the public’s narrow perception of SCDF, social media was used to highlight the intricacies and challenges of its operations while highlighting the organisation’s vibrant culture. The platform was also utilised to emphasise SCDF as a highly innovative organisation that deploys state-of-the-art technology, and position it as a global leader in disaster management by rendering overseas humanitarian assistance.

Execution

This strategy is executed in two ways. Firstly, a young, witty and conversational persona was adopted. The consistency in this persona is engendered in all posts to ensure that netizens associate the style as uniquely SCDF. Other guiding principles included responsiveness to netizens’ comments and feedback, and transparency in addressing shortcomings and errors. Secondly, social media is used to boldly push the style of public sector communication to the masses. This is demonstrated through one of SCDF’s social media functions as a newsroom, providing round-the-clock "live: coverage of prominent and large-scale SCDF operations.

This model offered netizens exclusive and close-up insights into SCDF operations, thereby giving the public a greater appreciation of such operations that are typically out-of-bounds to the media and the public. Descriptive texts outlined the unique challenges and dangers of the incidents, allowing the public a deeper appreciation of SCDF’s efforts. A close relationship with mainstream media also provided broader outreach of the content when the media syndicates the posts onto their respective platforms.

"Trend-jacking" for engaging public education messages is a signature style of SCDF’s online engagement. Its witty takes on local and global viral online trends managed to not only engage netizens but also repackage public education (PE) messages into light-hearted and palatable formats.

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Today, SCDF becomes a natural and vogue member of the online community instead of being seen as a public sector agency trying to disseminate its officious statements online. With creative content production, SCDF’s social media also showcases videos that feature working life in the Life Saving Force. These are in the form of festive videos, short animated clips, and eye-catching infographics. Such videos are fully conceptualised, produced and edited in-house by SCDF’s multimedia production unit.

Simultaneously, SCDF collaborates with popular and vogue content-creators such as SGAG, Bonda Beda and Mak Temah (BBMT) and celebrities such as Michelle Chong to extend the reach of SCDF’s PE messages such as SCDF’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) campaign.

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Results

The success of SCDF’s social strategy and execution is reflected in the overwhelmingly positive sentiments from netizens. Shares from prominent government leaders and mainstream and online media complimenting SCDF for its operational proficiency as well as its creativity and wit. SCDF’s top viral posts were organic in its reach without a single dollar spent to promote them – this attests to the extreme relevance, timeliness and engagement of SCDF’s content.

Notable accolades include Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Baey Yam Keng and Amrin Amin among many others. It is also not uncommon for news media platforms (both mainstream media and online media) to feature articles lauding SCDF’s posts on SM, particularly its trend-jacking and festive videos.

Despite having a modest size of followers on its pages compared to other brands/agencies, SCDF’s social media punches above its weight in terms of its rate of engagement. SCDF’s Facebook has an average RoE of about 4,500 and about 30,000 impressions daily. Social media has proven to be a powerful (and free) tool to communicate to the masses on SCDF’s professionalism and competence, and to disseminate highly engaging and memorable public education messages.

All these suggests that netizens have come to rely and expect SCDF to push out engaging and informative content that redefines the convention in PE messaging and engagement of netizens. This is a far cry from the previous misconception of SCDF as being an organisation that’s only about firefighting, rescue and ambulance conveyance. SCDF’s social media content also made waves in international publications beyond the region, a rare feat for a Public Service agency anywhere in the world. Closer to home, personnel appreciate being involved in viral content creation strengthening their sense of pride and belonging to SCDF. Ultimately, the value of SCDF’s social media goes beyond equating it to the number of likes and shares but winning the hearts and minds of both the public and the very people whose blood, sweat and sacrifices make the organisation what it is.

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