Go where the members are

Over at Cyber Unions (a website promoting new technology adoption by unions), there’s a post questioning whether unions should use Facebook. Author Walton Pantland has several reasons for suggesting that unions avoid Facebook, including (paraphrasing) “Facebook is not union friendly”, there are “privacy issues”, and “it encourages clicktivism”. He finishes by suggesting that unions promote alternative social networks or websites that are union friendly.

I’ve heard this view elsewhere and I completely disagree.

My comment over at Cyber Unions is here:

The reality is that unions need to go where members (and potential members) are. Unions don’t sign up new members or organise existing ones by insisting that the members come to them. They house visit. They site visit. They call them on the phone.

And yes, they use the social networks that members use.

We can’t insist (in fact, it would be a fundamental mistake) that union members should use small, insignificant and feature-poor social networks like Union Book on the grounds that Union Book (et al) are ideologically pure. Of course Facebook is a business. Of course they aren’t union friendly. But newsflash. Unions deal with non-union friendly businesses and environments all the time. We deal with it. We overcome hurdles. We don’t throw up our arms and say “its all too difficult” and try to set up something new.

I think its fairly clear that unions using social media need to consider why they are using it and what they hope to achieve.

The kind of straw man argument that Facebook promotes “clicktivism” or “slacktivism” is largely disproven by numerous non-profit organisations who successfully promote their activities using social networks (e.g. 350.org).

Ultimately however, it’s about simple numbers. In Australia, the majority of people in this Sunburned Country are now using Facebook on a regular basis. Workers are using the Internet and social media at work between 30 to 60 minutes per day. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to read that they are not spending all that time looking their union’s website. They’re visiting news websites, blogs, Aussie Rules forums, travel sites, and… Facebook.

Unions need to be where their members are. Simple.

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