Seven ways for unions to use Twitter

August 4, 2009

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 A quick survey of many union websites show that they are seriously out of date (technology wise, if not their content).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.

4. Interact

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.


Comments

  1. Stephen Day - August 5, 2009 at 12:10 am -

    Great ideas – I’ll shamelessly pilfer them!

  2. Nancy Hudak - August 5, 2009 at 7:07 am -

    If unions are going to use Twitter (or any social media), they need to make a commitment to it. Random and/or inconsistent messages will not help their cause.

    Creating accounts for different issues or using hashtags would be helpful, too. Personally, I tend to notice the pictures and will read tweets from those individuals or organizations I know will give me something useful.

    • Alex White - August 24, 2009 at 11:23 pm -

      Hi Nancy,

      I completely agree. There’s no point in doing social media (like Twitter) in a half-arsed way.

  3. Atosha - August 11, 2009 at 3:28 am -

    What I like about twitter is the immediacy and the feeling of involvement. I think that twitter is an amazing tool for trade unions especially but I’m yet to see it used well. It has the power to keep members informed and involved on a day to day level. How great would it be if there was a union leader who posted regularly and interestingly. Ie I’m about to meet with the minister for education on such and such issue. Any suggested questions? Or On the picket line at such and such employer a delivery truck just turned around in support. Etc etc. It’s for getting information out quickly and before the spin can be added…. People who have used it well in my opinion are the Tour de France cyclists. It added to the whole experience of the tour because it gave you an insight into what the cyclists actually went through day to day on the tour. Food, tiredness, media, bus trips, pre-cycle routines and drug tests. The kind of things that don’t make the press releases but make the reader feel more involved. Check out @lancearmstrong or @CadelOfficial. My two cents worth anyway.

  4. Atosha - October 18, 2009 at 10:08 pm -

    What I like about twitter is the immediacy and the feeling of involvement. I think that twitter is an amazing tool for trade unions especially but I’m yet to see it used well. It has the power to keep members informed and involved on a day to day level. How great would it be if there was a union leader who posted regularly and interestingly. Ie I’m about to meet with the minister for education on such and such issue. Any suggested questions? Or On the picket line at such and such employer a delivery truck just turned around in support. Etc etc. It’s for getting information out quickly and before the spin can be added…. People who have used it well in my opinion are the Tour de France cyclists. It added to the whole experience of the tour because it gave you an insight into what the cyclists actually went through day to day on the tour. Food, tiredness, media, bus trips, pre-cycle routines and drug tests. The kind of things that don’t make the press releases but make the reader feel more involved. Check out @lancearmstrong or @CadelOfficial. My two cents worth anyway.

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