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  • Writer's pictureBig Sky Public Relations

Need to put out a fire online? Emergency responders will show you how it's done.

In nearly every position I've ever had, and in my role with Big Sky PR, it's my job to encourage best practices for online content and social media platforms. However, as most communications professionals will tell you, putting theory into practice can be a challenge when working in large, complex organizations, or agencies that have lots of research and history behind their projects.

At the recent Active Threat Intervention Symposium presented by The Montana Disaster & Emergency Services, presenters emphasized best practices for communicating on the web. Who cares about providing the most accessible and effective content? Emergency responders. They know that lives depend on clear and effective communication in a crisis. It was refreshing to hear best practices given such weight: when lives are depending on it, these are the most effective tactics to use. Why not use these tactics when public trust is at stake


Presenters at the symposium listed the following facts to guide online writing. These facts are relevant for writing about non-emergencies, too.

  • Readers are impatient. You have 3 seconds to grab their attention.

  • People don't scroll. If your content is long enough to require a reader to scroll, edit it down.

  • Most people don't "read" on the web - 79% of people only scan content online.

  • Reading from a screen is 25% slower than reading from a printed page.

  • Numerals have the ability to stop or capture a wandering eye - use facts and/or figures strategically.

  • Chunks of text should be 100 words or less. That doesn't give you much room to work. (This simple list of bullets is already a boring 102 words long!)


If you're leading a project where best practices are being squished out, or if crucial space is being dedicated to yawn-inducing content, it's a big job to keep your team's eyes on the prize. The goal is not to write an exhaustive thesis on the project, the goal is to educate the public in an accessible way.

Changing the way we think about the written word online will shape how information is consumed by the public. Starting

with the basics and framing content within these guidelines will help you cut through the noise online.

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