Best practice use of Facebook for unions

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Many unions now have a presence on Facebook. However, I am aware of only a few unions that make full use of Facebook’s many tools.

[box border=”full”]UPDATE: Because Facebook is constantly updating and adding new features, please read my most recent posts on Facebook for up-to-date tips and advice on using Facebook for union purposes.[/box]

The SEIU has a customised Facebook fan-page.

I also suspect that most unions that are using Facebook do not have an online or social-media strategy. Thus, their Facebook activities are haphazard, ineffective or even counterproductive.


Facebook is a business. Unions should never forget that. While it presents itself as a social networking tool, it has shown no compunction about its arbitrary attitudes towards unions and union organising. There are several instances where Facebook has intervened to shut down union accounts, ban unionists and so on. Mercifully, most of those instances are from several years ago. Nevertheless, we should be aware of the severe constraints that are present when using Facebook.

Examples of Best Practice

UNITE HERE uses a Facebook Page rather than a group

1. Use Fan Pages, not groups

When Facebook first got started, it didn’t have Pages. Instead, users created groups, which allowed people to join, and for administrators to “email” members. However, groups were and remain relatively limited.

The most limiting aspect of groups is that they cannot interact (at the moment, Facebook may be changing this soon) with users’ News Feed (the live updates on the main Facebook page). Since many users rely on this to navigate around Facebook and to get updates from their friends, it is a severe limitation.

Fan Pages are far more versatile and useful. You can publish updates directly to your fans home page.

UNITE-HERE (the textile and hotel workers union) uses a Facebook Page. The image on the right shows that the Page by default has information about the union for people who are not yet fans. This can be set up by the administrator, and there are a lot of different options. For example the SEIU (at the top of this blog post) have by default a banner image promoting visitors to the page to sign up. Someone who is already a fan would not see this image by default.

The Teamsters have an open Facebook Page.
The Teamsters have an open Facebook Page.

The Teamsters also use a Facebook Page that by default allows visitors to see their “Wall”. The Wall is the area on the Facebook page where your updates will be shown. You can also allow your Fans to leave updates on your Wall, although you can chose whether they are shown by default or whether users have to choose to see them. In the case of the Teamsters, their default Page shows their own Wall updates, but not their fans.

2. User interaction is the point of Facebook

Unions should be on Facebook to interact with members, supporters and potential members. Millions of people are on Facebook, so it is likely that every union will find either existing members, or people in their industry who use Facebook.

Page Walls are useful, because they allow you have your fans interact with you. When you publish something to your Wall, your fans have the ability to “Like” what you have written, or to comment on it. The “Like” feature is a relatively new one that is also available on profiles. It allows fans to show their approval for what you have written. The number of people who “Like” something is shown to all your fans. The image of the Teamsters Facebook page shows that their most recent Wall post has 16 people who “Like” it.

Comments are also important, as they allow you to have a conversation with your Fans. In the Teamster example, the most recent Wall post has 27 comments. This means 27 Fans have left a comment. This interaction by fans with you is a great opportunity to further spread your message, and you can be sure that the comments are read by many times the number of people who actually leave a comment.

Depending on your settings, you can also allow Fans to upload their own photos and videos. This was used very successfully, for example, with the Save VCA campaign, where supporters of the campaign uploaded photos and videos of the rally and other flashmob activities. Administrators generally can remove unwanted or inappropriate user generated content.

Fan growth for Creative Unions
Fan growth for Creative Unions

3. Use Insights from Pages

Facebook Pages are more versatile than groups, but they also give administrators more information than groups and profiles. Pages allow administrators to get a range of statistics about their Fans.

The image to the right shows just some of the Insights from Creative Unions. As well as the total number of Fans that Creative Unions has, it also gives a demographic breakdown – ages, gender, geographic location, language, and so on.

Facebook Insights also allows you to see page views, unique views, and the number of interactions (that is, comments, “Likes” and so on) that your Page has had.

This information is not available for groups, or for profiles.

4. Promote your Facebook Page on websites

Facebook has a range of tools to promote your profile or page on web pages. This is fairly simple code that can be cut and pasted. There are also options to decide what you want to show.

For example, the image here shows the promotional box for Mashable, a very popular social media blog. This allows someone who has signed into Facebook to become a Fan straight from your website, without having to go to Facebook first.

5. Use Union Profiles to find your existing members

Depending on your union membership demographic, it is likely that hundreds, if not thousands of your members are already on Facebook.

By creating a Facebook profile for your union (that is, by registering your union as a “person”) you can locate your union’s members. Facebook allows you to upload a contact list or CSV file of emails; it then cross-checks those with existing Facebook users.

Unions of course should be wary of privacy issues. As I understand it, Facebook does not store the data, but simply uses it to allow you to find “friends” ( that is, members). This feature is not available for Pages.

The benefit of doing this is it allows you to immediately find a significant number of your union’s members who are on Facebook.

NTEU Vic Profile on Facebook
NTEU Vic Profile on Facebook

An example of a union Facebook profile is the one for the union I work for, the NTEU Victorian division.

You can see here that the NTEU has located over 400 of its members who use Facebook. The benefit of a profile for your union is that your “Wall” updates are published to the news stream of your friends. The NTEU publishes links to its website, and updates on collective bargaining, other campaigns, members meetings and so on. Members can “Like” updates and leave comments, allowing the union officials to have a dialogue – just like with a Page.

Of course, profiles have limitations too. There are no Insights for example, and you cannot create special landing pages, like the SEIU has done.

6. Keep your updates relevant

Facebook now allows users to “Hide” updates from friends or other applications. If a person or page is hidden, this means that their updates no longer appear on the user’s home page news stream.

Users choose to hide updates for a range of reasons, but one common one is that the person updates too frequently, which drowns out other updates.

By keeping your Page or profile updates relevant, interesting and varied, you can help ensure that as few people as possible hide your union’s Facebook updates.

2 responses to “Best practice use of Facebook for unions”

  1. John Avatar

    Good piece thanks Alex. Just one thing that might be worth saying about profile pages is that this is how some of the unions you alluded to came unstuck. profile pages for organisations are against the terms of service, so Facebook will have less compunction about shutting you down. Either do it fully aware you might lose your work and contacts, or do it as individuals, making clear you're union organisers. Of course whilst the latter has advantages of openness and approachability, it may be awkward for your people to reveal more personal information about themselves in the course of their union activity.

  2. Alexander White Avatar

    Hi John,Good point. I know of several union organisers who have two Facebook accounts – one that is personal, and one used for their organising work. I see Facebook primarily as a communications tool, rather than an organising one, and the caveat at the top of the post is intended to serve as the warning you mention.CheersAlex

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