Twitter is definitely one of the new cool things on the Internet – the epitome of “Web 2.0”. Unions have traditionally been slow in their uptake of new technology. A quick survey of many union websites show that they are seriously out of date (technology wise, if not their content). Many union leaders and officials consider social networking tools to be useless, wastes of time or not compatible with the needs of organising.
Union campaigner Eric Lee has some definite opinions on how Twitter can be used by unions.
The real power of Twitter is that it’s platform-independent. You receive those messages where it’s most convenient for you. That can be through your own Twitter page on the web, or it can be as text messages to your mobile phone, or via the Instant Messager of your choice, or through an RSS news feeds.
Clearly, Eric sees Twitter as a useful communications tool, able to get short, concise messages to large numbers of people, cheaply and easily.
Unfortunately, one of the most useful parts of Twitter – free sms of updates to followers who opt in – has been turned off in Australia.
Nevertheless, Twitter is growing in leaps and bounds, just as Facebook has done. For white-collar unions especially (but also blue-collar unions), the ability to get a union message to someone’s computer or web-enabled mobile is a very useful thing.
Twitter as an organising tool is limited. But it definitely a useful communications tool, especially during sustained campaigns. Just as most unions would never run a campaign without putting out media releases, newsletters, posters, leaflets, emails and text-messages, so too must unions start to use the likes of Facebook and Twitter.
However, Twitter shouldn’t just be updates from the union’s website. Twitter and Facebook should be used to build authentic relationships with followers.
Unions that use Twitter need to have their leadership “give up control”, to allow for the immediacy that makes Twitter useful.
The following suggestions are based on my personal experience from using Twitter at the NTEU.
Seven ideas for unions to use Twitter
1. Put up original, personal ideas on your union’s sector or industry
Include reflections or opinions on your union’s industry. This is designed at making your union an authoritative commentator on your industry, and builds your relationship with your followers.
2. Share photos of events quickly
Tools such as Twitpic and similar allow immediate sharing of photos with followers. For membes or supporters who can’t attend a rally or delegates meeting, putting up a photo on Twitter can make them feel part of the action.
3. Follow Twitter trends
Look up what people are saying about your union, and the employers of your members. There are some great tools for searching Twitter and following trends. You can get a good idea of whether people are speaking positively or negatively about your union or an employer, and get up to the minute news from your industry.
Ask questions and answer them. Get involved in conversations, especially those in your industry or sector. This builds good will, and develops your relationships – this is especially good if you have lots of members as followers.
5. Build your followers carefully
Ignore the “follower builder” offers (spammers offering to increase your follower count for payment). You want to have followers who are following you because they are genuinely interested in your union and what you have to say. Don’t blindly follow people back – check to make sure they aren’t spammers or p*rn. Don’t just follow union Twitter accounts. If you can, cross-check your membership list with those already on Twitter.
6. Use a Twitter application
The Twitter website is ok, but has limitations. There are some very powerful Twitter applications. I personally recommend Twitterfox – an addon for Firefox. Some applications install into your web browser, and some are used on the desktop. Tweetdeck is a very popular desktop application, although I don’t use it. Both Twitterfox and Tweetdeck are free.
7. Finally, don’t be ignorant of the basics
There are some great 101 Guides to Twitter. Twitter’s own guide is a good start.
Check out a bit more over at Creative Unions.