VIRAL COMMUNITY: How the viral parking warden video started in a Facebook group… and what we can all learn


If you’re not thinking about Facebook groups you’re missing a huge chunk of how the population is consuming the media.

Your corporate page is fine. But the reality is that most people are in groups or following local pages.

Last year, I ran some research on what an average week looked like in a town of 150,000 people. The results blew me away. There were more than 570 groups and pages in the town of Braintree.

But that was a quiet week. How do things play out on Facebook groups and pages in a busy week?

Let’s take the example of the parking warden ticketing the ambulance.

You may have seen it.

A parking warden tickets an ambulance: how it plays out

A private parking warden is issuing a parking ticket parked on double yellow lines outside Tesco in Kingsmead Square, Northwich. The ticket is for a North West Ambulance Service ambulance and its crew remonstrate that they haven’t had a break since early morning and eight hours later they are buying water. Their vehicle is too big for a parking bay, they say.

Facebook escalates it

A passer-by sees the incident play out, films it and intervenes, calls the warden ‘an idiot’ and uploads the video to the Northwhich Life Facebook group which has 23,000 members. This video alone is shared 158,000 times with 995 comments and 26,000 reactions.

But that’s the start of it. It gets picked up from the group by other news outlets and Facebook groups and pages.

In 43 hours, the video is ripped and re-posted more than 30 times with those new videos being shared 5,359 times with 7,477 comments.

Who shares it? ITV, BBC and a whole lot of newspapers that don’t cover Northwhich. Step forward Banbury Guardian, Mansfield Chad and Northampton Chronicle. Yahoo News and others further afield share it, too.

BBC and ITV local news boost the figures to more than two million views. You can see the ITV clip here.


The media story plays out

On Google Trends, the search term ‘ambulance parking ticket’ goes from zero to 100,000 in a day.

google trends

As Google News shows, the story is picked up quickly by the wider news media and an appearance on ITV’s Good Morning from a representative of the parking industry didn’t play out well for the industry.

The parking company didn’t issue the ticket. But things escalate anyway. Things are out of control.

London Cambridge Properties, who own the site where the parking attendant was contracted to patrol, issued a statement on the web and more than 24-hours later on Twitter to their 1,300 followers attracting one retweet, two likes and no comments in the first three hours it was posted. The West Midlands-based company’s LinkedIn page was unchanged.


And then things get a bit weird

On Facebook, there’s abuse for the parking warden. Heaps of it and some of it is borderline racist. There are comments calling for the warden to be sacked and far worse. When a mob forms – online or offline – it’s never nice.

And council Facebook pages get people complaining.  Even though they’re in another part of the country.

And the memes start.

ambulance meme_LI

What we can learn from this

Anyone can shoot video with their smartphone and post it online.

It starts with one Facebook group and gets shared.

Things escalate out of control quickly.

When things escalate you can quickly lose any pretense of control of the issue.

Your response on Facebook needs to be on Facebook and in a shareable format.

You need to communicate swiftly.

There are many organisations in the frame here. Tesco. The landowners, the parking enforcement company and the ambulance trust.

If you have frontline public facing people they need to be well trained and have an expectation that they will be filmed in the despatch of their job. With that in mind, basic media training skills for public-facing staff are essential. Uppermost is how to respond if someone starts to film them.

When things escalate your staff can expect a duty of care from you as an employer.

EDIT: Cheshire police officer and Twitter vlogger @sgtTCS has gone through the incident from a police officer’s perspective here.

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