Why has your union joined the social media world?
Some unions may be there because of the motivations of a single person — the secretary, or an eager organiser or communications officer. They join because they feel they must.
Some unions may be there to broadcast their activities – they don’t want a conversation, just an audience. They simply set up their accounts and wait for the followers, fans and friends to start listening.
Others join “just because” — and abandon their profiles after a few days or weeks when other priorities arise.
The real motivation for unions joining a social network is “connection” and “engagement”. You should want to connect with your members, supporters and potential members. You want to take part in a conversation, not a monologue. You don’t want to come across as spam or a megaphone, or someone who doesn’t “get it”. If you set up your social media account for the wrong reason, it may be hard to shake off bad habits.
Unfortunately, making real, thoughtful and strong connections with people using social media takes time, effort and most of all, planning. If you set up your Facebook page and never return, you and your union will not only have squandered an opportunity, you will seem unconnected, lazy or clueless. On the other hand, posting too much could get you viewed as a pest, resulting in people unfollowing or unfriending you.
Unions aren’t unique in the hit-and-miss approach to social networks. Almost every organisation, whether charity, government or business does the same. They don’t post to their blog or twitter for weeks or months at a time. They don’t reply to @ messages or comments left on their page. Looking at some profiles of unions out there, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they’d closed up shop. Spurts of sudden activity of long absences show that your approach to social networking is distracted, sidetracked, disorganised or overworked. There’s no plan. No strategy. And therefore, the spurts of activity won’t really influence anything.
Whether your union has a team of one responsible for communications and marketing, or a large team, your approach to social media should be consistent. Engagement and connection doesn’t happen through sporadic contact — it occurs through regular, repeated contact and sharing.
The key, early on, is to assess realistically your resources and commitment, and set a schedule based on that commitment. The goal should be consistency. Choose a schedule for at least six months. Prioritise your main social networks. For example, if you don’t think you will be able to keep up a LinkedIn page, Facebook and Twitter, not to mention union blogs, then just pick one. It’s better to do a smaller number of things properly than lots of things poorly.
In order to provide some practical advice, I’ve copied down a “social networking agenda” that you can use to design your own. I’ve also suggested a few tools for you to use to make things a bit easier.
Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn
These three social networks are the most used networks and have different implications for keeping on top scheduling.
Twitter is by far the most fast-paced social network. It operates at the “speed of now” — which means it requires more time and attention. Things move very quickly, so if you set up a Twitter account, you should expect to spend more time updating and replying (especially as your following grows). If you can only update Twitter once a week or once a month, then you should probably stick to Facebook.
Facebook is the largest social network on earth, with over 800 million users. It moves more slowly than Twitter and is based on promoting “engagement” — so the more people comment or like your union’s Page updates, the more it will appear in other peoples’ feeds. Multimedia updates are especially important. Facebook isn’t quite as hectic as Twitter — so focus more on quality than quantity. You can probably get away with updating Facebook once or twice a week, as long as they’re thoughtful updates rather than links to your union’s latest media release.
LinkedIn is used by “professionals”, especially IT, marketing, and finance professionals (with medical, recreational and education coming next). With over 100 million users, it is the third largest social network and is primarily used for “professional networking”, posting jobs and keeping an online resume. However, a lot of users are active on company pages and the LinkedIn forums. If your union covers doctors, engineers, bank staff or any high-tech workers, then you should consider setting up a LinkedIn union page, and keep an eye on the company pages that will represent your major employers. Because it is smaller, LinkedIn updates aren’t as time-sensitive. You can afford to update your LinkedIn page or participate in forum discussions on a weekly basis.
Social Media Monitoring
Keeping abreast of what’s going on is an important part of social media. It’s one of the great uses for any organisation, whether a union, a political party or an NGO. People talk about you, your industry, sector or activities even if you’re not there. Getting involved in the conversation not only means you can put your point of view in a controversial circumstance, but it also helps you build networks with people interested in your cause or activity.
But how do you keep up to date?
I regularly use three tools — all of which are free — called Google Alerts, CoTweet and Postling. (Note: I have no affiliation to either of these services.)
I have regularly used CoTweet for the last two years. It is an exceptional Twitter tool that lets you easily manage multiple Twitter accounts, track custom searches, and manage teams or groups of people to monitor your social media. It also acts as a CRM (client relationship manager) so you can make notes on particular users and keep track of questions or comments from people, and so on.
Finally, it lets you schedule updates, so you can arrange to send pre-arranged tweets. When I set up a social media schedule at the start of each week, I look at as many updates that can be done in advance and set them up on Monday.
CoTweet is mainly useful for Twitter, although you can use it to update Facebook with a bit more complicated set up. I use the free version, but there are “enterprise” versions that cost money (and more easily integrates with Facebook).
Postling has more uses than the one I use it for. The paid version lets you update and monitor your entire social media presence, from Facebook to Twitter, blogs and more. The free version lets you monitor social media accounts — and provides you with a daily digest via email. This is very useful for me, as it saves me doing custom searches or trying to track down tweets or Facebook updates.
If you want to pay for it, Postling is probably one of the most comprehensive social media tools out there (that doesn’t cost a fortune, like People Browser).
Both of these tools will help you keep on top of any social networking accounts you set up. There are of course many others. Quite a few people I’ve come across use HootSuite (I’ve never used it) or TweetDeck (I only use the Android app).
Google Alerts is a fantastic, flexible tool and useful for a lot more than social media. It is basically a free media monitor, where you set up custom searches for specific stories or phrases (like the name of your union, major employers you cover, legislation or individuals) and Google will then email you when a new story or web page is published that includes that term.
Even if you aren’t interested in social media, Google Alerts is useful for keeping track of fast-moving stories, or making sure you’re ahead of potential PR crises (like during industrial action). It also finds updates in hard-to-find conversations taking place in forums.
A social media timetable
Use this as a framework for your own timetable — based (obviously) on how many social networks you use for your union and how much time you have to devote. Put the timetable in your calendar as appointments so you don’t book yourself during these times and also so you get reminders (if you use Outlook or Google Calendar).
Twice Daily in the Morning and Afternoon
- Check Twitter via a program like CoTweet. Respond when necessary. (CoTweet lets you save messages to reply to later, so you could check in the morning and reply in the afternoon.)
- Check LinkedIn. Reply to emails and comments when appropriate.
- Scan Twitter followers for relevant conversations to join.
- Check your business’s Facebook Page for questions and respond when necessary.
- Scan Google Alerts. Respond as appropriate.
Weekly or on Weekends
- Build Twitter Lists to better organise ongoing discussions and special interest groups. Set up saved searches in CoTweet to find out if people are talking about your union.
- Catch up on LinkedIn discussions (especially if you’ve set up your union as a company page) and the pages of companies your union covers. Add to discussion when appropriate.
- Send LinkedIn invitations to connect with members.
- Add new content to Facebook like a video or photos.
- Think of ways to repurpose this content for other purposes (such as your union’s journal, blogs or email newsletters).
- Identify new social networking influencers (for example, people with high Klout) and build relationships where appropriate.
Through the Week
- Mondays: Schedule tweets through CoTweet to go out once or twice a day at regular intervals.
- Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays: Add new content to Facebook (e.g. photos, events, links to news articles, videos, questions, polls, etc).
- Tuesdays and Thursdays: Respond to blog comments.
- Fridays: Check traffic at your blog or website (especially pay attention to referrers).
Obviously, your daily social networking to-do list will be much different, given your available time and commitments. Just be sure to make the schedule achievable. If it’s not working, change it. Be prepared to scale things down if you find you’ve bitten off more you can chew.