Using endorsements for your union recruitment

February 22, 2011

Deloitte’s third annual State of the Media Democracy report was recently released and it has some interesting reading for union communication professionals.

Within that decision-making process, recommendations continue to be a powerful influence. Overall, 53% of respondents said they had decided against making a purchase based on an online recommendation, but among 18-24- and 25-34-year-olds this proportion was much higher (see graph). Clearly, as consumers research products online, negative recommendations can have a substantial impact on them.

In fact, half of respondents agreed that online reviews and ratings influenced their buying decisions more than any other form of online advertising, while only 26% disagreed (the rest had no strong opinion).

Online Recommendation - New Media Age

Recommendations from people who have already used the product or service. Outside of the commercial mind-space, there remains a large knowledge-gap amongst unions about the willingness or otherwise of union members to recommend to their friends and colleagues that they also join a union. There is only one piece of research that I have seen (an ACTU report) that suggests that unions could do a lot better on this front.

And yet, unions have intuitively known that recommendations and third-party endorsements are powerful. The axiom that “like recruits like” readily springs to the lips of many an organiser who relies on their delegates and activists to sign up new members, rather than doing it themselves. We know that members in the workplace have more credibility in encouraging new members to join their union than an organiser who only visits the site once every few weeks.

Somehow, this truism has not necessarily translated into a more systematic approach to recommendations in many unions.

The advertising industry has long understood the power of third-party endorsements – as have our political parties.

Barack Obama and Bill Clinton

During the 2008 election and the primaries before it, Barack Obama relied heavily on third party endorsements – including celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and (pictured above) Bill Clinton. Building on the trust and credibility that the endorser has with the audience, the endorsee (Obama) benefits from the pre-existing relationship.

Obama’s campaign also relied on normal Obama for America volunteers sharing their stories about why they would vote for him. By talking to their friends and family, these OFA volunteers were able to help sweep Obama to victory in 2008.

Unions do use recommendations – member-organisers for example, or by putting their members’ faces on promotional material and membership forms.

But there surely is a lot more that we can do.

Online campaigning for example could include an effort to get existing union members to “review” their union – and encourage members to share positive stories.

With more and more potential members doing “research” about unions online, it’s important that unions engage more thoroughly in countering negative – and anti-union – stories. Sites that denigrate or attack unions are especially dangerous – as the Deloitte report shows. People are very likely to be influenced by negative “reviews” – and anti-union sites more often than not portray themselves as disinterested or neutral, rather than partisan.

[box type=”info”]I’ve written more about union communication and what union members want here.[/box]


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