How to Use Social Media During Union Organizing to Connect with Employees

“School’s out for forever!” sang Alice Cooper back in 1972. Who would have thought he would be a bit prophetic? Today children, teens, college students, and adults don’t learn primarily by sitting in a room for hours listening to in-person lectures. In fact, this is an important reason why organizations can use social media during union organizing at their workplace. Employees use technology to watch pre-recorded webinars and videos at their convenience. They listen to podcasts; complete eLearning courses; communicate with family, friends, and coworkers via a variety of social media technologies; and search the internet whenever they need answers. They Facetime, post videos on Facebook, send tweets via Twitter, share pictures on Pinterest and Instagram and join websites offering free newsletters delivered via email.

All this happens on people’s own time, at their convenience, and without regard to location. Employers need to let “school out,” meaning old-fashioned meetings where people must either stop what they are doing or attend outside work hours should be “out forever” as a regular means of communication. Email is still used, but it should not be the only form of communication. During a union organizing campaign, regular, effective, updated, engaging, and informative employer communication with employees is crucial to winning.

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Giving Employees a Louder Voice

Companies have long used video and websites to powerfully connect with team members during a union organizing drive. One of the greatest opportunities to communicate immediately and effectively is through social media channels. Setting up a private group on Facebook group, and other popular social media sites, posting regularly, and using links to company webpages are one of the most under-utilized communication strategies.

Bottom line: You need to fully embrace social media as a communication tool and supplement it with strategies that drive employees to the appropriate social media accounts. You need a well-thought-out social media campaign that meets the union organizing campaign head-on.

The unions have already figured out how to utilize social media to organize and communicate with people. They use it to give employees a voice, which is a powerful strategy when you consider one of the top reasons employees decide to start a union campaign is because they believe they have no voice in management decision-making.

Embracing the new communication process to reach employees is critical to ensuring employees are not guided solely by the unions. Managers must “out social media the unions,” so to speak, but in a way that increases employee engagement and is not seen as an attack of the evil employer on unions. A social media strategy during union organizing begins with understanding the social media channels and selecting the ones that best fit the workforce demographics and the ones they are most active on now.

Matching Social Media to Demographics

Just to give an idea of what is happening in the social media world, the following is a sample of statistics on social media demographics provided by two organizations tracking the numbers:

Per Pew Research:

  • 69% of adults use Facebook and 73% used YouTube
  • 37% of adults use Instagram
  • 28% use Pinterest, 27% use LinkedIn
  • 24% use Snapchat
  • 22% use Twitter
  • Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook are the most popular for the 18-24-year-old group
  • Facebook use among teens is dropping
  • People aged 30-49 primarily use Facebook and YouTube
  • People aged 50-64 also use Facebook and YouTube, but fewer of them compared to ages 30-49
  • Facebook users are trending toward older

Per SproutSocial:

  • 79% of people aged 18-29 and 30-49 use Facebook
  • Facebook usage among teens (the next generation of workers) is declining in favor of YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram
  • 67% of people aged 18-29 use Instagram
  • 47% percent of people aged 30-49 use Instagram
  • 23% of people aged 50-64 use Instagram
  • 38% aged 18-29 use Twitter; 26% aged 30-49 use Twitter;17% aged 50-64 use Twitter

There are many more statistics, but the idea is to understand how your employees are getting their information.

Did you know the unions have posted pictures of union logos, flyers, strikes, and more on Pinterest? SproutSocial says 28% of people aged 25-30 use Pinterest and 35% of people aged 30-49 use Pinterest. Snapchat, on the other hand, appeals to 62% of people aged 18-29 and to only 25% of people aged 30-49. The unions are tech-savvy and reach out to younger generations in every way possible.

When developing a social media communication system, consider the following:

  • Where your employees are currently active
  • The current demographics of the workforce, what generations are represented
  • The trending demographics of the workforce, i.e. are Baby Boomers retiring and Gen Z coming on board at higher rates
  • The mix of social media sites that will have the broadest reach (if choosing one, think Facebook for now)

Making a Communication Plan

Once you decide on the best social media sites to utilize during the union organizing campaign, it’s time to develop a plan for the content to communicate to employees. Some of the information to post includes campaign updates with a positive perspective. The updates can discuss issues as they arise, provide factual information, and point out the good things going on and the company positives like benefits and open-door policy. It is also important to share the company’s union-free philosophy and use social media posts to reinforce the reasons for the philosophy.

The social media posts need to be regular and cover a variety of themes. People today are used to frequent updates – finding new information. Stale posts will lose the typical social media user very quickly. Rolling the themes for posts enables you to address a variety of topics and entices people to come back and read new information. For example, for several days you could post statistics on union finances, and the next few days discuss employee rights under the NLRA and then post about the cost of unionization, troubling clauses from the union’s constitution, employee and employer rights and so on.

Generous use of links is crucial because they drive reader traffic to the places you want your employees to visit. Links to your main union-free website, and other web pages addressing the employer’s union-free philosophy and responses to union behaviors, should be included on each social site you choose to use. The webpages can provide information about things like strikes, the cost of unions, information specific to the union involved, daily updates, additional resources, management messages, and a frequently-asked-questions page.

In reverse, your union-free website can include links to social media. The important point is to keep employee interests at the center of all content on social media and wherever the links take employees.

Direct Employees and Family Members to the Social Media Sites

Of course, you need to ensure your employees and their family members know that social media properties exist and that they contain valuable information. Employers can utilize a variety of tactics:

  • Send letters to employee homes letting them know about your website and social media sources
  • Hang posters throughout the facility
  • Hand out or mail wallet cards or small flyers
  • Post videos on the company’s union-free website explaining all the places where information is accessible
  • Add social media link information to company newsletters
  • Develop an app that employees can download on their mobile phones that leads to the locations of company information
  • Text messages with information about the campaign that include links
  • Hold brief informational department meetings (keyword: “brief” if you want to keep people’s attention)

There are some points to keep in mind. One is that employers can use an intranet or public social media sites. If using a public site, like Facebook, this is important to know: All the major social media sites now allow you to create private groups so that only your employees and managers can read what is posted.

Maintaining employee interest in social media posts, videos and the union-free website requires consistent effort. Maintaining social accounts daily and providing updated information wherever the links send to them is one of the best strategies. Give employees access to an internal feedback webpage where they can ask questions and get answers. This supports the open-door policy. Employers should never be afraid to directly answer employee questions. You also should not be afraid to talk about campaign issues.

Be Authentic While Using Social Media During Union Organizing

Maintaining authenticity is one of the most important principles of any communication process. The union organizers will make a lot of promises, and those promises will show up in employee questions and comments. Provide truthful legal answers because the truth is more powerful than the union organizer promises.

Even if your company is not currently involved in a union organizing campaign, the time to develop a social media communication system is now because it is an important way to engage employees on a regular basis. Social media is a powerful employee engagement tool when used correctly. Should a union campaign start later, you are already set up to respond quickly and regularly via technologies already in place. You can bet the union will already be using social media.

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About the Author Walter Orechwa

Walter is IRI's Director of Digital Solutions and the founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.

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