How Do I Get Started With A Dark Site for Union Organizing?

So, you're ready to get started with an employee-facing labor relations website! Your dark site for union organizing may be the first step in a proactive UnionProof strategy, or a small part of a larger plan... or you may already be in the midst of a union organizing drive. No matter what the circumstances, the process of creating what we call a "" site can be overwhelming, so I'm here to help guide you through the process.

What is A Dark Site for Union Organizing?

First, what is a "dark site" and why would you need one? The concept of a website fully built, but not visible to the public, was first developed for companies to prepare for times of crisis. A natural disaster of any kind, server hacks or a data breach are all compelling reasons to create a dark site.

But creating a dark site for union organizing is crucial for one reason: response time. Today's union organizing drives are shorter than ever, and as an employer, you want your employees to have all the information before they decide on unionization.

Based on the need for a dramatically reduced response time, you'll want to consider your goals for your dark site. Is your primary objective to educate employees? Or keep them informed on the latest developments? If course, you're ultimately preparing to communicate during a (fingers-crossed, hopefully-never-gonna-happen) union organizing drive. No matter which of these - or a combination of all - is your primary need, you want to consider your audience and your company's culture.

Overall, before you begin building your dark site, make sure it will resonate with employees and feel authentic. Don't just emulate another site because it looks or feels good to you. The whole point of custom development is to make sure your labor-relations focused message is heard, understood and retained. That begins with connecting with your company's culture.

Step One to A Dark Site: Identify Your Team

Step one of creating an effective dark site for union organizing is to gather your team. A website is an official company communications tool on a sensitive and important subject, and will likely need to have input and sign-off from various departments. Consider including members of Human Resources, Employee Relations, Labor Relations, Communications/Public Relations, and your Legal team

All of these team members will not need to be involved from the beginning, but knowing who to contact for what you need throughout the web development and launch process will help things go smoothly. Let every member of your dark site team know you may need them. This way, when you ask for materials or assistance, you won't have to get them up to speed

Step Two To A Dark Site: A Memorable Domain Name

Most clients post their website online using a custom domain name (URL). A dark site for union organizing is only as useful as it is easily remembered! Begin thinking about what domain name you want to use. Remember that you (and all your leaders) will end up repeating that web address again and again.

If your workforce is accustomed to using an intranet to stay up on company news and developments, you may want to consider connecting your dark site there for ease of navigation. However, that can also be limiting if family members - often a powerful influence during union organizing - aren't able to access your site.

Tips on choosing your domain name for your site:

  • Including the company name often increases availability, but it’s not a necessity
  • Nothing too long
  • Adding “my,” “our,” or “your” to the address can make it feel more inclusive and personal
  • Consider words like: voice, facts, informed, works, together, resource, essentials or vote to keep a more positive tone (note: using “vote” in the domain name would be best for post-petition use only).
  • Make sure the web address doesn’t inadvertently spell another word

If there’s any negative-sounding version of the URL address that the union could potentially purchase and use, it's a good idea to secure that URL, too.

Step Three To A Dark Site: Do You Need Protection?

You also have the option to password-protect your dark site. Some companies think that password protection will keep the union out of the site, but honestly, it won't. If you've provided the password to employees, union organizers will have access within minutes.

With a single, universal username and password you're able to keep the general public out of the website. As most dark sites for union organizing are fact-based, transparent, and within all legal requirements for communicating during a union campaign, our clients often choose not to password-protect the site to make access that much easier for employees and their families.

Step Four to A Dark Site: Gather Your Visuals

As an official company resource, it’s important that your site look official. Make sure you're using the latest version of your company’s style guide or brand book. Your marketing team should be able to provide you with logo usage and design guidelines. This includes brand colors, graphics, fonts, etc. Brand consistency means that your site is instantly identifiable, inspiring trust among employees and that all-important secondary audience at home.

Pictures are a big part of helping employees connect with your message. Images of people are preferred, but always make sure you have permission to use pictures of actual employees. If you don't, stock photos or pictures of managers can also be highly effective. You can use easily recognizable pictures of your work location -- places that employees will recognize -- to truly personalize the site.

Online videos will also help to illustrate your message. Employees are used to receiving a huge percentage of their information via online video, so connecting with them in ways they already expect can be a huge advantage.

Step Five to A Dark Site: Gather Your Content

To make the process easy for you, many elements of your site can be pre-determined, including union-specific data, navigation, and various elements of interactivity. But the power of a custom site is incorporating your company content. Additionally, pre-determined content pieces should also be tailored to meet your needs.

Here’s a list of the company information you can start pulling together before your dark site goes into development:

  • About the Company
    • Brief overview, mission, vision, values
    • Company awards and accolades (for employee-centric efforts)
    • Community involvement/service
    • Philosophy/Position on unions
    • Communication programs, policies and/or tools available to employees (Open Door Policy, newsletters, employee surveys, company meetings, etc.)
    • Current list of benefits
  • Company Culture - What makes your company a great place to work, from your employee’s perspective?
    • Career & development
    • Employee recognition programs / service awards
    • Diversity & inclusion
    • Perks
    • Employee volunteer programs
    • Programs/incentives/awards-specific to the location

Step Six To A Dark Site: Your Launch Plan

If you're actively preventing unionization, you can launch a dark site for union organizing as soon as the site is ready. But if your plan is truly to have a dark site, you may prefer to delay until the union is actively organizing, providing immediate truth, regardless of the promises organizers may be making. Still another option is to launch the site as soon as the union files a petition with the NLRB for a secret ballot election.

Regardless of when you choose to launch, you'll want to make use of your launch & engagement toolkit, part of every site. This toolkit provides you with a variety of communication options from letters home to live meetings, posters and electronic signage, even wallet cards and an email swipe file.

Dark Site Launch Timing: What’s the difference -- content-wise?

A pro-company/union awareness website is always on and available to employees. It typically includes your company’s position/philosophy on unions, positive company information -- company culture, employee engagement programs, communication tools and employee rights. You can include as much or as little union-related and/or union-specific information as you need.

A pre-petition dark site is very similar to the pro-company version, except it’s only launched in response to union activity and goes "dark" again when your team feels it's appropriate.

And lastly, a post-petition dark site for union organizing goes live with union-specific information on finances, authorization cards, the union's constitution, negotiations and strike stories, with videos and calculators, campaign materials and election day details and procedures to encourage every employee in the bargaining unit to vote.

Step Seven To A Dark Site: Don't Panic!

Now, don’t be overwhelmed! You don’t need to have all of this ready or decided before we begin, but it certainly helps to be familiar with these concepts. Our team will share other dark site samples to get an idea of the most effective approach for your site. We’ll discuss your company’s needs and the content in detail; and answer questions you may have about the web development process or the website itself.

Since 1999, we've literally created hundreds of sites for union organizing, both dark and live. Our team will be there with you through every step of the project to offer our knowledge and guidance. Ready to get started? Learn More Here!

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About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

With over 25 years in the industry, and now as IRI's Director of Business Development, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

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