Soaring to safety

London Air Ambulance uses social media to remind followers that it is an emergency service that is a charity

In the wake of tragedy, there is a quote from American TV personality Fred Rogers that often finds its way onto social media to offer comfort: ‘When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’

After the attack on Westminster in March, London’s Air Ambulance found itself being looked to. Journalist and activist Jack Monroe tweeted ‘If you want to do something tangible to help, text SAVE to 70800 to send £5 to Londons Air Ambulance – they rely entirely on donations.’

It’s a message that London’s Air Ambulance is keen to convey. ‘Our absolute key message is to try to communicate that we’re a charity,’ explains head of PR and communications Siobhra Murphy. ‘Generally, if someone has heard about London’s Air Ambulance, they understand it is something that is life-saving or any air ambulance but they associate it with something that is entirely Government funded. For us, trying to educate them that we’re a charity is our number one key message that we’d love people to take home.’

Social media plays an important part in that education process as well as providing a platform to raise funds. After the tragic events of Westminster, London’s Air Ambulance received around £50,000 in donations over a period of two weeks. ‘In a horrible time, everyone rallied around to do it,’ says Murphy. ‘Social media was one of the biggest drivers of that.’

The charity’s current audience is remarkably broad, ranging from journalists to medical professionals, existing supporters and new ones and its use of social media reflects the spectrum of people the Air Ambulance is trying to reach.

London’s Air Ambulance has accounts on Twitter, where @LDNairamb has more than 44,000 followers, Facebook, where it runs monthly caption competitions, giving supporters the chance to win replica models of the helicopter, and YouTube. After conducting brand research, it is looking to expand, creating more video and potentially an Instagram account, though Murphy notes that a strategy for the platform has to come first.

It’s really difficult to get across that we are a charity and then educate people about what we do, that we deliver the hospital to critically injured patients using the helicopter and cars, all at the same time

At the moment, social media is the jack of all trades for the charity. It is a research tool, a newsroom and a place to share content on what goes on within the organisation, whether it is tweeting live dispatches (albeit with a time-delay to ensure people don’t rush to the scene) or showing people what’s going on behind the scenes. ‘When our doctors, paramedics and pilots aren’t out helping to save lives on the streets of London, they are here, doing training, kit checks,’ explains Murphy. ‘What our teams would consider quite normal information, people find this insight really interesting.’

Murphy and her team try to give vital insight into the day-to-day workings of the London’s Air Ambulance, which treats an average of five seriously injured people every 24 hours.

Social media allows London’s Air Ambulance to thank supporters, driving them to their website where they might find opportunities to volunteer or donate, but also to source pictures of locations where the helicopter has landed to tend an incident and engage with the onlookers who took them.

London’s Air Ambulance is also paving the way for new procedures in the medical profession. In 2014, its team performed the world’s first roadside balloon surgery to control internal bleeding.  Using pre-hospital Resuscitative Endovascular Balloon Occlusion of the Aorta (REBOA), a technique used first in the UK at The Royal London Hospital, to control haemorrhage in trauma patients was ground-breaking and described by then-Mayor of London Boris Johnson as a ‘stunning’ advance ‘being pioneered and delivered by an incredible group of men and women – the doctors, paramedics, pilots and support staff of the London Air Ambulance’.

 A nine month campaign Your London, Your helicopter also helped to fund London’s Air Ambulance’s second helicopter, raising £4 million, including a £2 million donation from the London Freemasons. Social media played a significant part in this campaign. In order to extend the reach of the campaign, and keep it fresh in people’s minds, Murphy and her team engaged the help of influencers and supporters, such as the  London Ambulance Service, Metropolitan Police, the London Fire Brigade, as well as celebrities and official sponsors, such as Aberdeen Asset Management, all of whom have large social media followings.

 ‘Ahead of the campaign, we sent them all a brand pack and a key focus of that was Here’s how you can help on social media. We sent them social media posts that they could easily adapt,’ explains Murphy. ‘They could do their own but we sent them some suggested posts so it was easy and  when we launched, there was already a lot of chat about it on social media.’

 The charity took delivery of its second helicopter in January 2016, which enables the service to reach hundreds of additional patients a year by air . But the extra benefits also come with extra running costs, meaning the work of Murphy and her team is far from complete.

‘We really want people to get to know our staff and what these guys are doing each day so they can gain an understanding of what the job is and what the charity does,’ says Murphy. ‘It’s really difficult to get across that we are a charity and then educate people about what we do, that we deliver the hospital to critically injured patients using the helicopter and cars, all at the same time.’