This toolkit provides a variety of resources and strategic advice to help affiliate leaders become better communicators and create a communications plan.

It’s important for every affiliate to have a strong communication plan in place on how to communicate effectively with your membership, the media and the public. An effective communication plan is also essential in contract negotiations or fighting back against cuts to retirements and other benefits, as well as to fire department resources. This ability to communicate effectively is even more important in a crisis – you never know when a crisis will hit and require a media response in adverse circumstances.

The IAFF Communications and Media Department is also available to assist with web site development, social media programs, direct mail and other printed collateral, community outreach campaigns and crisis communications efforts. Contact your district vice president to request assistance.

For more information, email [email protected].


What is messaging?
Messaging is the story you want to tell in your communication outreach.

Determining your message involves incorporating the most important characteristics of your local union into one focused and concise directive.

After arriving at your message, messaging entails consistently expressing that idea across all mediums of your communications strategy.

Why is messaging important?
Messaging is important because it impacts how prospective participants or policymakers perceive your union. People do not know what your union is or what it stands for unless you are able to effectively communicate those elements to those audiences through your messaging strategy. In order for your union and fire fighters to be permanently associated with the key characteristics expressed in your message, audiences need to be consistently informed and reminded of how your union demonstrates those qualities in all of its many safety services.

Why is messaging important to your local?
The IAFF has a mission and an important one at that. As the leading voice for legislation affecting the progression and safety of fire fighter policy and practice, having a quality messaging strategy is essential. For your union, having a strategic messaging plan in place can be the difference between getting lawmakers to effect legislative change or not. In other words, mastering your messaging technique is crucial to achieving your objectives.

Know your audience
An important part of executing effective messaging is learning what factors affect each audience that you interact with and understanding how those factors push members of those audiences to behave or react. Factors include:

  • Demographic information, including but not limited to age, gender, education, professional experience, and religious affiliation
  • What they already know about your organization vs. what they don’t know
  • What their personal concerns are (give a little, get a little)
  • What their attitudes are toward your organization and its purpose (maintain positive attitudes, tailor message to change negative attitudes)

Being aware of these contributing factors will allow you to properly modify your message in a way that will yield the optimal outcome.

Primary goals of messaging

  • To inform: More often then not, you’ll simply wish to inform potential members or supporters about the local union in and of itself, current events, new movements or concerns, etc. Whatever it is that you may want your audience to know about, your overarching message should always pierce through the specific information that is being distributed.
  • To persuade: Many times, especially for IAFF locals, your communication goal will be persuasion. Unfortunately, legislators don’t just go around fixing problems that obviously need fixing. Real change occurs when legislators are persuaded that a specific change is necessary and that majorities are in favor of that change. Again, give a little to get a little. Legislators want to stay in office. Therefore, your message has to prove to them that a certain change in policy resonates with fire fighters and the public at large.
  • To motivate: It is important to make sure that your message motivates and encourages participation for your causes. So it is important for you to address real concerns that fire fighters have and not make assumptions. The more your message is tailored to actual concerns, the better equipped you will be to stimulate interest and involvement.
  • To build mutual understanding: There are times when your audience may seem totally against an action that you are trying to push. It happens. In such a case, your message needs to be modified in a way that will allow your audience to better understand why you are in favor of a particular action. A lack of understanding is sometimes the only thing in the way of effectively communicating a message and achieving the desired outcome.

Being a Media Spokesperson

What is a media spokesperson?
A media spokesperson is the person designated to talk to media, discuss issues/programs and provide quotes to reporters on behalf of your local. In most cases the media spokesperson is the local president. The media spokeperson is not the same as a media coordinator which has the role of organizing the media interviews.

As the media spokesperson it is important to always be interview ready and know how to speak with the media on behalf of your union.

How to be an effective media spokesperson?
Proper preparation prevents poor performance! When talking with the media, preparation is key. Usually, the reporter or journalist you’re speaking to will have an agenda and so should you. Create a list of talking points that captures your message. Reporters will ask some tricky questions, so make sure you know every detail of your story to keep you in control of the message. Being a media spokesperson is an opportunity to tell your story with your words and your understanding of the subject. Don’t let the interviewer hog control. When sharing your message, be sure to use appropriate language. Avoid jargon, or terms that only fire fighters would understand.

To ensure that your union is being respectfully represented, follow these rules when talking with the media:

  • Define your objective
  • Plan a clear message
  • Practice the art of persuasion
  • Avoid the use of obvious propaganda
  • Use the correct style and format
  • Ask “Who Cares?” when developing messages
  • Stay on target – don’t mix messages
  • Be brief – command attention
  • Use action words – calls to action
  • Always remember you do media interviews for the benefit of your union, NOT the reporter.

What’s the terminology for a media spokesperson?

  • On-the-Record –  Reporters can use any information given and quote anything you say. Assume every conversation you have with a reporter is on the record unless otherwise specified.
  • On Background –  Reporters can use the information but not attribute it to you. Designate a title for attribution, such as “campaign strategist.”
  • Deep Background – Reporters can use the information but not any quotes. This is just information for filling in the back story.
  • Off-the-Record – Nothing discussed can be used, though if the reporter hears something newsworthy, he/she may try to get it on the record another way.
  • Hooking – This is used to lead and interest your interviewer in your upcoming message.
    Ex. “But that’s not the most important finding.”
  • Flagging phrases – These are used to emphasize a certain message.
    Ex. “The key thing to remember is…”
  • Bridging phrases – These can help smoothly transition your story into the next topic and also help avoid difficult/unanswerable questions.
    Ex. “I can’t speculate on that, but what I can tell you is…” or “An additional aspect to consider is…”
  • Connecting phrases – Similar to bridging, connecting phrases prepares the interviewer for your next sentence.
    Ex. “Let me add…”
    “And, don’t forget…”
    “That reminds me…”
    “That’s important because…”
    “Here’s a point I think your audience should know…”

Who is the target audience?
When talking to the media, it’s important to know what outlet is being used to cover your story. Television stations, newspapers, magazines and online news sites are all places where your story could be seen or heard. Each media type has a different mission, different audience and different delivery system. Be sure you know who you are speaking to, what they want to know and why before you give them any information. As a fire fighter, youe primary audience is your local community. Keep that in mind when speaking with the media about issues involving your local.

Editorials/Op-Eds/Letters to the Editor

The editorial pages are the only section of the newspaper where opinions – not unbiased facts – are welcomed and encouraged. This section includes three tools that local unions should take advantage of:
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Editorials
  • Op-Eds 

Editorial Board Meetings
Most major newspapers have an editorial board, which is responsible for choosing topics and forming the newspaper’s opinions for editorials on current events. It is composed of all of the editors on the newspaper staff, which could range from five to 20, depending on the size of the newspaper. The Editorial Board is responsible for creating the collective opinion of the newspaper on current issues.

Why are editorial board meetings important to fire fighters and your local?
The editorial board determines the collective position of the newspaper on issues, which in turn has a big impact shaping public opinion. Therefore, your local leadership should meet with the editorial board a couple times a year in order to educate and convince the editors to support your issues and to write favorable editorials.

Meetings are a good opportunity to build positive relationships, present your positions or discuss unfair treatment. An editorial from a well-respected newspaper can have a significant impact on how the public treats your issues.  Moreover, the newspaper staff would rather hear positive input before an editorial appears than complaints afterwards.

How do I arrange an Editorial Board meeting?
Arranging a meeting with the editorial board is not difficult or complicated. Just call the newspaper and ask for the person who is in charge of scheduling editorial board meetings. Find out if there is an editorial writer who is assigned to or is interested in our issues.

Small papers may have only one editorial writer, who is often the editor. Large papers may have a staff of five to 10 editorial writers. If there is a reporter who would cover the issue, request that he or she join the meeting as well.

What is an editorial meeting like? 
You will probably only meet with two or three members of the editorial board – often the editorial editor, an editorial writer and perhaps the general reporter assigned to the issue at hand. You will most likely only have a half hour, so prepare your talking points accordingly and leave enough time for questions from the board.

How do I prepare for an editorial meeting?
Only bring those people who are crucial to effectively presenting your case. The local president should always attend, and perhaps the media relations person and a member of the union who is best prepared on the issue of the day.

Know all sides of the argument so that you are better able to defend your point of view against any opposition in the meeting. Before going into the meeting, catch-up on all the latest news regarding the issue. Be aware of how the newspaper has covered the issue in the past and who wrote the stories. If you disagree with the past coverage, be prepared to note the discrepancies.

Op-Ed Articles 
The term “op-ed” comes from “opposite the editorials,” because the op-ed pieces are placed on the page opposite the editorials in the newspaper. Op-ed articles are opinion articles about current issues that are written by people outside the newspaper staff. They are not editorials or news articles, both of which are written by a member of the newspaper staff. They differ from letters to the editor partly due to their length, but also because the author is typically considered somewhat of an expert in the subject. Op-eds also follow a specific format, whereas the only rule regulating letters is the length.

Why are op-ed articles important to fire fighters and your local?
Op-ed articles offer local unions the opportunity to present their opinions on an issue to a wide readership. While an op-ed serves essentially the same purpose as an editorial written by a staff reporter, it is more personal since it is coming directly from your union or someone the union asks to write the op-ed.

When should I write an op-ed article?
Since op-eds cover topical issues, write an op-ed whenever a big issue in current events is relevant to fire fighters. It’s beneficial to have basic drafts or templates of op-eds saved in your archives so that you can act quickly when a pertinent issue comes up. Develop templates and drafts on political issues, such as pensions and staffing, and store them for quick release.

How to write an op-ed:

  • Start strong with an attention-grabbing sentence that will make the newspaper want to publish the article and make the readers want to read it.
  • Pick a point and back it up.
  • Even though op-eds are longer than letters to the editor, you still have limited space. Maintain one point throughout the entire piece, backing it up again and again with supporting facts and evidence.
  • Consider the byline (the author). An op-ed is often chosen on the basis of who wrote it, so it may be the in the best interest of your local if the president “signs” the op-ed, rather than the media relations person. Of course, whoever is listed in the byline must give permission and must understand and agree with the points made.
  • Include a bio line at the end. This should be a short sentence that briefly explains who is listed in the byline and why they’re important. Similar to the byline, this should impress both the newspaper and the reader with some level of prestige.

Letters to the Editor
Letters to the editor are a way of publicly voicing your opinion on a highly important issue, and can be very useful in shaping public opinion or informing the public on an issue. Letters to the editor reach a very wide audience and are among the most widely read features.

Why are letters to the editor important to fire fighters and your local? Similar to editorials and op-ed articles, fire fighters can use letters to the editor to address their issue(s) to a large audience. Letters to the editor can also be in response to a previous editorial, whether a positive review or a dissent.

How do I submit a letter to a newspaper? 
The best way to send a letter to the editor is actually not through the post office, but rather through an email. Emails are much faster than postal letters, and it’s much easier for the newspaper’s staff to transfer the letter to the publication’s layout than it is to type it into their computer. In addition, many news organizations now allow you to submit letters through a web form on their web site.

How do I write a letter to the editor?

  • Open with a salutation: “To the Editor:” or “To the Editor of [newspaper name here]:”
  • Grab the reader’s attention with your opening sentence.
  • State your opinion clearly.
  • Keep it short. Letters should be between 100 and 300 words. Some newspapers have policies regarding length, so check the editorial page or call the newspaper to ask.
  • Include a call to action. Letters to the editor are not an opportunity to whine and complain, but rather to rally your readers to act – whether through voting or volunteering or other actions.
  • Sign the letter with your full name and your title, if it’s relevant. Letters can also be signed by more than one person. Include all pertinent contact information, such as email address and phone number. Newspapers only print anonymous letters and articles under extremely special circumstances.

Will my letter get printed?
The likelihood of your letter being printed depends largely on the size and popularity of the newspaper receiving the letter. Larger newspapers receive more letters than smaller newspapers and, therefore, have to be more selective. Your letter has a better chance of being printed if it is well written, concise and articulate. If your letter is not printed the first time, revise it and try again.

Crisis Communication

What is crisis communication? 
Crisis communication is the opportunity to communicate with the public when an unexpected event occurs that could have a negative impact on your local union’s reputation.

Understanding crisis communication can play a significant role in transforming the unexpected into the anticipated and in responding accordingly in a crisis situation.

What is a crisis?
By definition, a crisis is an unexpected and detrimental situation or event. It is anything that disrupts normal operations, threatens the well-being of members, causes major media or government scrutiny, jeopardizes the public image of the local or the IAFF, or has a negative impact on the union’s ability to do normal business.

There are three forms of crises:

  • Immediate surprise: a sudden event
    Example: A member doesn’t follow protocol while putting out a fire and someone gets hurt.
  • Emerging threat: larger issues that may erupt in the future
    Example: Threatening political issues coming up in Congress or on the local level
  • Sustained threat: ongoing problems and issues
    Example: Pensions, health care benefits, etc.

Crises can be caused by a variety of things, such as outside forces (political, community or natural), union member issues or union officer issues.

Why is a crisis communication plan important to fire fighters?
An effective crisis communication plan puts you in control of what may be a very volatile and confusing situation. Having a plan provides discipline and ensures accurate, timely and consistent information while eliminating rumors and misinformation. It can protect the local union and members and help you maintain relationships within the community.

What are effective crisis communication strategies?
Maintain favor with the news media by being readily accessible and transparent Avoid dependency on paper-based processes and streamline the communication process by supporting multi-channel communications, such as web sites, newspapers and social media. Deliver high-volume communication while maintaining information security. Most importantly, show empathy for the people involved in the crisis.

Crisis communication rules:

  • Define the real problem
  • Know the facts
  • Identify and isolate a communication team and define the message for all communication team member(s)
  • Have a centralized control of information
  • Resist combative instincts
  • Understand what the media wants
  • Consider your audiences
  • Be honest. DO NOT LIE!
  • Write all statements
  • Do not ad-lib or “wing it”
  • Only release information once all facts are accurate and confirmed

When should local unions develop a crisis plan?
All IAFF locals should have an established crisis team and plan. If your local doesn’t have these yet, you should create them as soon as possible. Do not wait for a crisis to occur before establishing a crisis plan; rather, when a crisis occurs, use the crisis plan to deal with the situation.

How do I develop a crisis plan? 
Establishing a crisis communication plan starts with identifying a crisis team and identifying each member’s role and responsibilities before any crisis occurs. Provide rules and frameworks for decision-making so that things run more smoothly in the midst of a crisis.

How do I establish a crisis communication team? 
The crisis team should be comprised of members who are critical to the situation and can make decisions for the union. Put together a crisis communication team that will be responsible for responding effectively and quickly once it becomes clear that the crisis will become public. Make sure all of the union leadership in your local who needs to be involved in the public response are fully briefed. Develop a contact list for the team , including cell phone numbers, home phone numbers and email addresses. Share this contact list among the group.

Who is my audience? 
The key audiences during a crisis are city officials (elected officials, the city manager, the fire department, law enforcement, etc.), voters/taxpayers and union fire fighters (IAFF locals in the area, your local’smembers, etc.). Depending on the situation, the media can be either a member of the audience or a mouthpiece with your message.

When considering your audience needs, break the audiences into groups and think about the impact of breaking news on each. Set a plan for communicating with those groups that you can activate as soon as needed. Develop different messages and use different mediums to communicate with each group, but understand that there will be considerable overlap. So, while you will stress different things to different audiences, assume that something said to one group will be seen and heard by others.

Who should be the spokesperson for the local? 
Designate one individual as the primary spokesperson to represent the local, make official statements and answer media questions throughout the crisis. In some cases, the media spokesperson should not be a member or elected leader. Identify a backup to the designated spokesperson to fill the position in the event that the primary spokesperson is unavailable. Both the primary and secondary spokespersons, as well as other members of the crisis communication team, should be trained in the desired message. Tough questions and rehearsals are necessary to help prepare for audience interaction.

What is the message?
The message is the overarching positioning that you present to your audience. Develop a framework for telling the story and do whatever is possible to re-establish credibility. When mistakes have been made, openly admit them. Often, the cover up is considered worse than the original wrongdoing. Never lie about a situation – this damages your local’s credibility much more than the original crisis.

What are some potential messages?

  • Public safety was never compromised
  • We have been and will continue to be completely cooperative
  • This is an unauthorized procedure
  • There were several errors in judgment
  • These were actions of a few individuals, and they are not representative of any organization or of all of the incredible men and women who risk their lives every day serving the city/town/municipality

What are some useful written materials?

  • Draft media statements that are ready to use
  • Prepare letters to members
  • Write web copy
  • Prepare information for social media, such as prepared tweets, Facebook posts and blog posts
  • Develop other potential communication pieces you know are going to be needed, such as fact sheets or brochures

What are some other ways my local union can be prepared?

  • Keep a complete, up-to-date membership list with emails and cell phone numbers
  • Know issues of concern and have official and approved stances on major issues
  • Keep a list of community organizations
  • Understand your resources
  • Make friends that care about your issues
  • Keep photos that ready to use
  • Be aware of and use communication channels
  • Identify all opportunities
  • Remember the stories and the messages
  • Create accounts on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and use them accordingly
  • Identify the best ways to contact your specific audiences
  • Establish a positive relationship with the media BEFORE you need them.

Helpful links:

Email Blasts

What is an email blast? 
An email blast is an email that you send to your subscribers – a group of people who have told you that they want to receive updates and notifications about your local union.

Why should your local use email blasts?
Email blast are a key tool that should be used to reach both internal and external audiences. While some locals use blasts as the primary tool to communicate with members, blasts can also be used to reach community groups, electeds and the media.

Locals may also want to use email blasts to dispense information about upcoming events in the community and what’s going on in other locals. You can also include information about pertinent political issues and legislation.

What are the benefits of an email blast?
An email blast is a quick and inexpensive way to communicate with members or other audiences. It is much faster and cheaper than other, more traditional forms of communication, such as telecommunication and direct mail. Furthermore, links in the email will drive traffic to your web site.

How do I write an email blast? 
Before writing and sending an email blast, take a moment to consider what you want to communicate to your subscribers. Take the time to write engaging content that is relevant to your readers, while keeping your message succinct. The purpose of email blasts is to build a relationship with your members and your readers, so avoid sending them sloppy and disorganized emails.

The subject title of your email should be pertinent to the content in the body, but also intriguing and exciting enough to entice the reader to open the email. Embed links in the body of the email to push readers to your web site for more information. Include a call-to-action for your readers and tell them how they can continue to follow the news or how they can help with an issue.

What is spam?
Spam is irrelevant or inappropriate messages sent on the Internet to a large number of recipients. Email spam, or junk email, is a subset of this that involves sending emails with links that send users to fraudulent web sites. Essentially, every email a user did not ask for is considered spam.

Why is spam relevant to fire fighters?
Locals need to be aware of spam for two reasons. First, your local can be held liable for spam if the rules aren’t properly followed. The federal CAN-SPAM law was created to eradicate illegitimate email practices that threaten the growth of the Internet marketplace. It gives people the right to block emails from organizations and inflicts penalties against those organizations. Avoid getting sued for spam by only sending email blasts to people who have signed up to receive them.

Second, fire fighters need to be aware of spam because sometimes Internet Service Providers (ISPs) mark non-malicious emails as spam. They have filters searching for certain criteria, and if your email blast meets such criteria, it will be sent directly to subscribers’ spam boxes. There aren’t any legal ramifications, but your readers won’t be getting the information they asked for.

Tips to avoid getting marked as spam:

  • Don’t use false/misleading header information. From: To: Reply-To: and routing information must all be accurate and legitimate.
  • Don’t write deceptive subject lines.
  • Include an opt-out option and honor those requests.
  • Avoid excessive exclamation points (Look at this!!!!!!!!!).
  • Avoid all caps (HEY THERE, EVERYBODY)

To whom should fire fighters send email blasts?
Send your email blasts to your members, their friends and family, and people who are invested in your local union. Just remember, you must have permission from people before you send them emails.

How do I get people to sign up for my email blasts? 
There are several ways you can build your subscriber base:

  1. Send individual email invitations to people you think may be interested asking them to sign up.
  2. Set out an email blast sign-up sheet at any meetings or conventions.
  3. Have a prominent place on your web site and social media pages where people can enter concise information to sign up for emails.

How often should I send email blasts? 
Establish a communication schedule, perhaps on a weekly, biweekly or monthly basis. This will allow you to be prepared for an email blast, giving you enough time to plan what you’re going to write without feeling rushed.

Is there an easy way to manage all of this information?
Email marketing software helps you manage a database of your email subscribers and includes a platform in which you can compose email blasts. Here are a few to start with:

Collateral Materials

What are collateral materials?

Collateral materials are any printed resources that your union uses to educate members and the public about your local services, activities, political action and issues. Brochures, flyers and newsletters are examples of collateral materials.

Why are collateral materials important today? 
In this fast-paced world where most of our daily exchanges involve digital, social, and mobile data, print collateral materials can still be an integral part of a strategic communications program and can make a strong, striking and lasting impression.

These printed pieces, when designed, written and executed properly, can be just as effective as some of the more cutting-edge new media tools, depending on the target audience’s needs, habits, and behavior.

When it comes to promoting your local, it’s important to consider what types of collateral material are best suited to your communications objectives. Collateral materials can help explain aspects of the union’s work in a simple and more accessible way.

While there are some promotional items every local should have, like a basic Who We Are brochure, there are also highly specialized forms of material, such as direct mail or door hangers during an election, which can bring your message home.

Another example of the value of printed material is sharing a flyer at an event, which may be the timeliest way to connect with your audience. By providing a tangible piece of material in the hand of someone interested in your topic, you can capture their attention more than by telling them to, “Go to our website,” “send me an email,” or, “you can find us on Facebook.”

What are examples of collateral materials?
brochure is small booklet that contains information and pictures about your local union and the services it offers. Your local could have two versions of this product, one for your members and another for the general public.

Flyers and leaflets are small handbills advertising an event, product, idea, issue or candidate.

Fact Sheet has bulleted data and information about a particular issue, emphasizing key points.

Direct mail is a method of sending various printed materials to a target audience through the mail.

Door hangers are cardboard signs that are made to fit around a doorknob, and are used to deliver messages to people in those homes.

A newsletter presents information and news to our targets, whether local members and/or friends whose concerns are of interest to our union

What questions should be asked when creating collaterals?

  • Who is the audience?
  • What is the objective of the material?
  • What is the main message that needs to be communicated?
  • How can the message be organized so that it’s easily understood?
  • Is the information presented in a simple and concise way?
  • Is the information accurate?
  • Does the material catch the reader’s attention?
  • Does the material reflect the union’s brand?
  • Does the material have contact information?
  • Does the message have a call to action?

How much impact does design and layout have in communicating a message?
Even the best-written pieces can fall flat because they have been designed so poorly that no one reads the material. A great many IAFF locals don’t take the time necessary to make their materials look professional. A full-page, type-written Word document is not a flyer!

Design and layout play a key role in success of communicating your message and here are a few things you can do to help make them more appealing.

Balance is the way your words, pictures and graphics are placed on the page. Is the design symmetrical? Does it look cluttered? Are the words and pictures evenly aligned? Do the pictures/graphics tell the story without words?

Graphics and charts can provide a great deal of information and help in telling your story. If used, make sure graphics and charts are not too complex.

Photographs and illustrations should be used to tell your story. Remember the old saying, a picture is worth a thousand words. The right picture can cut down on the words you need to use.

Selecting the right font and font size can make the difference in readability. This means no fancy cursive or miniature wording.

A few final thoughts:

  • Your local might want to prepare and use a style guide so that there is consistency across the collateral materials with regard to word usage, font size, bullets, numbering and heading styles.
  • Keep it simple. Use commonly used language. Do not use fire-ees, union-ees or legal-ees.
  • Always think about what experience your reader is likely to undergo while reading your collateral.
  • Do not forget to have someone copy edit all of the material.
  • Always check and double check numbers, dates and locations.

Social Media

What is Social Media?
Social Media are online networks in which users interact with each other, share ideas and discuss topics of interest. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are among the many social media sites that are popular for a variety of audiences across the world. Blogging is another popular form of social media, used to create articles and share opinions on certain topics. Through social media, users are able to send unfiltered messages to viewers of their choice, in a matter of seconds.

Why is it important? 
While traditional public relations practices, such as press releases and print advertisements, are still relevant, social media has taken over the top spot for reach and impact. Social media is key because it gives users the ability to reach thousands of people unfiltered. Public relations campaigns can be promoted on social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, to excite your followers and keep them interested in your union. Social media is also a great way to receive feedback, since the sites allow reciprocal communication. Most importantly, social media is FREE! The majority of social media sites do not charge for their use, however, certain sites charge a fee in exchange for additional online exposure.

How is it relevant to fire fighters and you local?
Fire fighters are responsible for keeping our communities safe. With social media, fire fighters can easily engage the community and make sure everyone is aware of relevant information. For example, a local fire fighter could use Twitter to take a picture of an accident he has witnessed to send a quick, powerful message about the dangers of drinking and driving. It allows fire fighters to tell their stories for good effect.

Who is the target audience?
One of the more valuable features of social media is its wide range of users. The Pew Research Center found 73 percent of adults online use at least one social media site and 42 percent use multiple social networking sites. Fire fighters can use social media to reach hundreds of individuals in their local community, since the sites are easily accessible through the Internet, via computer and mobile device.

When to use it?
Social media can be used for a variety of reasons. Fire fighters can send quick updates about a fire in an area, post pictures of local events they are hosting or give helpful tips on how to stay safe. Social media is a great way to promote campaigns and generate interest about upcoming events. It is important to send messages via social media sites at appropriate times, depending on the situation and target audience. Make sure your messages and posts are sent several hours apart to avoid Twitter blasting your followers. Messages about a particular event should be sent about one week in advance, so your community has ample time to fit the event in their schedule. Please plan to post regularly and be consistent! Make sure you select the right people to convey the message that best represents your affiliate.

How to create it?
Posting social media messages is quite simple, but most sites first require you to have an account. Once an account is created, all messages sent from that site will be associated with that account. Social media messages can be short and general, such as “The International Association of Fire Fighters wants to wish everyone a Happy New Year!,” or they can have a strategic purpose, such as “City of Los Angeles fire fighters are visiting local schools today to educate students about the dangers of texting and driving.” Pictures and info graphics can be paired appropriately with certain messages to attract more viewers. When creating a social media message, remember that your post will be visible online forever. Take time to review the message and remember, anything you post is a direct reflection of your union.


What is Facebook?
Facebook is a social media network where users can connect with friends and family, share opinions and ideas and post short messages. With 57 percent of all American adults using the site, Facebook is the number-one social media platform. Like most social media networks, Facebookallows you to create a personally unique account. Equipped with a profile picture, cover photo and community of friends, your Facebook profile is a form of identity. With adjustable privacy settings, Facebook users have control of their profiles and who can view them.

Facebook gives users ample opportunity to engage with each other through the following features:

  • Pages. Facebook pages are primarily designed to help organizations stay involved with the public. Pages can be “liked” – the same as a picture or post – and followed, which means you would be subscribed to the page’s posts.
  • “Like” and “Comment.” Most Facebook posts, including pictures, give other Facebook users the option to “Like,” “Comment” and “Share” them. When a viewer clicks the “Like” button, Facebook sends a notification to the person who created the post. If the viewer wishes to leave a personal message on a post, they click “Comment.” Leaving a comment gives the viewer an opportunity to share their personal feelings about the post and possibly start a conversation.
  • “Share” Certain Facebook posts will allow you to share another user’s content by clicking the “Share.” The “Share” features allows users to share posts by others with other others. This feature is sometimes limited by users.
  • “Friends.” When connecting with other users on Facebook, the easiest way to keep in touch is by adding “Friends.” A Facebook friend is a mutual agreement with another user to be able to view and create posts on each other’s profiles. Optional privacy settings allow Facebook users to choose which friends can view and post certain parts of their profile.

Why is it important and how is it relevant to fire fighters?
With 57 percent of all American adults using Facebook, it is certainly one of the more popular social media platforms. It is important to keep up with social media platforms to maximize your exposure and keep your union posting timely and relevant information. A fire fighter’s top priority is to keep the community safe. With Facebook, fire fighters have the opportunity to inform the public about possible dangers, upcoming events and post helpful safety tips. Facebook also helps fire fighters organize, motivate and bring a call to action to their community, other fire fighters and union members around a specific issue or event.

Who is the target audience?
As a fire fighter, the purpose of social media is community outreach and engagement. The target audience for Facebook would primarily be adults in your area, ages 18-50, according to The Pew Research Center’s user demographics.

When should you use it?
Since Facebook is online, it can be accessed via computer, tablet or smartphone any time. Users are encouraged to keep up with their profiles and post once or twice a day, and whenever there is pertinent information to be shared. Facebook can be a great promotional tool for campaigns and events. Tell your friends about upcoming community engagement opportunities by posting your scheduled visit to a local high school or about a new accident prevention campaign. Photos are powerful on Facebook and generally attract more attention than posts without them, so always add pictures when possible.

How do I create a Facebook page?
To create a Facebook page, click here and fill out the information boxes and click “Sign Up.” You must provide a valid email address in order to create an account. Once your account is created, personalize your profile and add administrators to create content for the page. You can assign any Facebook friend as an administrator, but make sure they understand the guidelines of posting as an organization.

Remember, when you are logged into Facebook for organizational purposes, everything you post is a direct reflection of your union. Save the opinion posts for your own personal account, unless they are supportive of your union’s beliefs.

For more information on how to use Facebook, click here.

For other helpful tips, click here.


What is Twitter?
Twitter is an online social media site used to send short messages of 140 characters or less called “tweets.” Users can interact reciprocally and create their own community of people they want to follow and who choose to follow them. Twitter allows you to create a personally unique account, equipped with a “handle” (also known as your username), a profile picture and background images to give your account some originality. The “@” symbol is placed strategically in front of every user’s handle. This way, individuals can use the “@” sign to address each other in tweets so that Twitter will send the tagged user a notification. Example: “Thanks @IAFFNewsDesk for another great year!”

Another innovative tool on Twitter is the hashtag (#). Hashtags are a form of metadata, which is simply data about data, designed to attract attention and connect users to a certain topic. Hashtags help categorize tweets across the platform. For example, a local fire fighter could tweet “I am so excited for #IAFFConvention this weekend” and use the hashtag to find other IAFF members talking about the Convention. Twitter also gives you an option to share someone else’s idea, by re-tweeting their tweet.

Why is it important?
Twitter is importantly because of its accessibility and number of users. Since it is online, Twitter can be used via computer, tablet, smartphone or SMS-ready phone. It is important to keep up with social media platforms to maximize your exposure and keep your union ahead.

How is it relevant to fire fighters?
Fire fighters can use Twitter to connect with their community and their friends, family and colleagues. Twitter is a great way for fire fighters to tell their followers about a dangerous fire in the area or post tips on how to prevent them. Fire fighters can use Twitter as another platform to keep the community safe and informed, and is a great tool to help organize your followers around a specific issue or event.  Twitter can also help fire fighters connect with members of the media and their local elected officials. Twitter is also a good way to connect with other IAFF locals to show support for what they do. There is no limit to Twitter’s reach.

Twitter is also where reporters get their information about breaking news and leads for stories. IAFF locals should make it a point to follow their local media.

Who is the target audience?
With 255 million active users, Twitter can reach just about any audience imaginable. As an IAFF local, your target audience should be organizations and people in the community, but through the site’s unique features, thousands of people have access to your tweets. Twitter’s handle concept makes it easy to attract specific viewers to your tweets. Tagging a user in a tweet, through use of the “@” character will notify them of your message. Hashtags also enable user connection, but do no not notify anyone — rather than linking a person, a hashtag connects a word or phrase.

When should you use it?
Users are encouraged to keep up with their profiles and tweet about three to five times a day. Twitter is a great promotional tool for campaigns and events. Tell your followers about upcoming community engagements by tweeting, “We will be stopping by Thomas Jefferson Elementary today to talk about preventing kitchen #fires.”

How to create it?
You can sign up for Twitter on the website’s homepage. Follow these quick and easy steps to create a Twitter account:

  • Choose a handle that will be your Twitter identity. Be sure the name suits you or your local is easily recognizable, like “@IAFFNewsDesk” to signify IAFF news on Twitter.
  • Build followers. Using the “search” box on Twitter, type in a name or handle of someone you want to follow. Click “Follow” and you will be subscribed to their tweets. Typically, once that user receives notification that you are following them, they can choose to follow you. More followers give your tweets more visibility, so try to follow as many relevant users as possible.
  • Tweet! Many first timers will let everyone know they are new to Twitter,by tweeting about it. Use hash tags and tag others’ handles to let them know you are now on Twitter. Example: “Hey, @IAFFNewsDesk! I’m new to Twitter. Will you help me gain some followers?”
  • Don’t forget, you only have 140 characters to share your message. When tweeting, be aware that everything you post is a reflection of you and the organization you are representing. Always make sure your local’s views are clearly supported through its Twitter profile.
    Be thoughtful of what your union supports and stay abreast of current trending topics on Twitter to help you form a good message. One misfire could hurt your local’s reputation so be cautious and plan to tweet often!

More on How to Use Twitter

Additional Resources:
Twitter 101


What is YouTube?
YouTube is a video-sharing website and a form of social media that allows users to search for and upload multimedia content. Approximately one billion people visit YouTube each month. With the ability to share campaigns, Public Service Announcements (PSAs) and personal stories through videos on YouTube, organizations are using the site to grab attention and gain reach.

Why is it important?
As the Internet’s second largest search engine, YouTube makes it possible for novice users to watch and upload videos. The site reaches more 18 to 34-year-olds than television, and nearly one out of every two Internet users is on YouTube. In other words, YouTube can increase exposure and help you stay engaged with the community. YouTube videos can be shared on web sites, Facebook, Twitter, etc., to increase brand awareness and take messages a step further.

How is it relevant to your local/ when should you use it?
Video is a great way to use to educate the community on public safety issues. With YouTube, fire fighters can create powerful messages in their continuous effort to keep the community safe and informed. The effects of drinking and driving and fire prevention tips are two great examples of how fire fighters have used YouTube to share an important message. Fire fighters can use YouTube videos to generate awareness for their local, while sending creative and helpful messages.

How do I create a YouTube Video?
Although you do not need a YouTube account to search for and watch videos, you do need one to upload your own. Gmail and YouTube are linked accounts, so if you already have a Gmail account, you can use that to log in to YouTube. Otherwise, you must create a Gmail account before you can sign into YouTube. Once your account is setup and you’re logged in, simply hit “Upload” on YouTube’s homepage.

You can organize your videos into playlists and interact with people who comment on your YouTube videos and channel. And it’s easy to share videos on your different social media sites!

When creating a YouTube video, remember the golden rule is the shorter the better! A short, sharp and punchy video can make a strong impact on your viewer!

Note: You have the option to make your video private, public or unlisted. A private video is only visible to the list of viewers selected by the creator. A public YouTube video can be searched for and viewed by anyone on the site. An unlisted video will not show up in a search, and can only be accessed by typing the specific link into the browser search bar.