We recently helped the Los Angelese Fire Department (LAFD) improve the design of their subreddit – reddit.com/r/lafd. After the project was over we asked Brian Humphrey, the Communications Director and Fireman at the LAFD, a few questions about their experience on reddit as a public organization.
Our interview with LAFD’s Brian Humphrey
Question: When and why did you start the reddit account and subreddit?
Brian: The Los Angeles Fire Department joined reddit in January 2006, when it was a small but active site with an amazing trajectory. We came to build upon our successful agency presence in public forums of the era, such as Telnet, Usenet and sites that would later morph into Yahoo Groups. On reddit we found a community with a strong developer presence, actively focused on the promise of what was then called Web 2.0, prior to the now common moniker of social media.
The LAFD subreddit came much later, circa 2013. That it was not created sooner is a pure testimonial to redditors, who kept us so engaged with their content, that we all but forgot to create our own subreddit.
Question: What do you use reddit for? How do you use the LAFD subreddit versus other subreddits?
Brian: The LAFD user account’s digital mantra is to help people lead safer, healthier and more productive lives. Our online strategy for forums was inspired by Google’s 70/20/10 model for innovation – in our case 70% reading, 20% thinking and 10% talking – and that strategy is consistently reflected in our overall reddit presence.
We see the LAFD subreddit as a place where our Department and its many stakeholders can hold common ground. The public can read what we have to say, or post their own thoughts on any matter related to the Los Angeles Fire Department. All we ask is that redditors be specific to the topic heading and genuinely polite in tone – regardless of opinion. When redditors wish to highlight an LAFD shortcoming, we ask them to offer suggestions for improvement. When they applaud our services, we ask them to let us know why, and how we can hold that benchmark. As an agency actively protecting nearly 4 million people in America’s second-largest city, we need to listen, learn, serve and share. We can’t think of a more passionate forum for doing so than reddit.
Our periodic postings in other subreddits may not always be LAFD specific, but is centered on our passion for “helping people lead safer, healthier and more productive lives”, often by leveraging our experience in public service, and our love for the people we serve.
Question: You respond to a lot of redditors questions and feedback. Do you ever bring their comments to other firefighters and your superiors?
Brian: When redditors offer actionable feedback, we’re all ears. Over the years, we have benefited from the wisdom of the crowd, and reddit is no different. While we can’t put our finger on a single issue that has been resolved via reddit, we routinely do take such crowdsourced opinions and suggestions to the meetings we have with LAFD Command Staff.
Question: What mistakes have you made on reddit and what did you learn?
Brian: Our biggest mistakes were being fearful of the Condé Nast takeover of reddit in late 2006, and not having sooner created the LAFD subreddit. We feel foolish on both counts, and have learned (many times since) that digital sustainability takes both a healthy ecosystem and community – and that reddit offers both.
Another key mistake was not to better use the RSS feeds associated with our accounts.
And finally… my insistence in using the “Royal We” extensively in our posts, has led many to believe our agency has a large team devoted to digital interaction. I (there I said it!) am an army of one. That’s not due to a lack of interest by our Department, but the reality of limited staffing.
Question: How has reddit surprised you?
Brian: The overall helpfulness of redditors has been a pleasant surprise – as has the actions of several who have gilded our account, and offered guidance and support. That a government agency such as ours can be so warmly welcomed is encouraging to others.
Question: Would you recommend reddit to other government departments?
Brian: We suggest that agencies strongly consider reddit, understanding that they must be committed to the community in both time and tone. If they think of reddit merely as a broadcast platform, they will fail.
Question: Do you have any future plans for communications on reddit and the LAFD subreddit?
Brian: We are hoping to expand our team to better support reddit and other platforms, but times remain austere. As tools for audio, video and imagery evolve within and parallel to reddit, we’re hopeful of adding multimedia, and more content that furthers our goal of being SLIM (Social, Local, Instant and Mobile) in our online offerings.
We are really excited about the potential for more public organizations to engage redditors. Brian and the LAFD have proven that reddit can be a valuable resource and communication tool for organizations that serve the public.