Developing your supporters through online actions

March 5, 2012

How do you engage your union members and supporters? More and more evidence from communications experts working with non-profits suggest that asking supporters to do something significantly increases their engagement and future levels of commitment.

By having something relevant and meaningful for members or supporters to do, especially online, you can deepen their engagement.

There is a lot of research about engaging supporters and donors for non-profits and charities, and unions can learn from this. For example, some interesting research by a leading charity technology platform suggests that supporters who “advocate” for a charity are seven times more likely to donate. For unions, this points out the importance of having an engagement ladder for members, moving supporters to members to activists to leaders — online actions help build on the commitment and consistency principle. (Similar research shows that asking someone to do something small makes them 30% more likely to do something big for you later on.)

If you’re a hard-working union that has a lot of off-line activists, then you’ll probably already have lots of delegates and “advocates” (to use the non-profit lingo). The trick is to build on those activists (and gain develop ones) by engaging them online by interacting with them on a regular basis.

So what is some practical advice to achieve this? For unions that don’t have large communications teams — if you’re the only official who cares about online campaigning — here are some ideas that will help strengthen your members’ engagement.

  1. Assist them reach out to decision makers. There are simple tools you can use to target decision-makers, whether CEOs or politicians. The largest and (in Australia, newest) is Change.org but there are others, like Facebook Causes, that let you encourage members to put the pressure on. Although petition sites are of limited use for public targets that are used to this kind of pressure (federal politicians likely get 1000s of emails from 100s of different causes) — the right petition at the right time targeted at the right person will deliver (check out this case study). If you don’t like Change.org or Facebook Causes, check out this round up of e-Advocacy tools (which goes beyond just petitions and is probably more useful for unions in the USA).
  2. Give them opportunities to learn and spread knowledge. Most union campaigns involve some level of education — getting your message across and arming your members with the facts (for example, the employer’s ability to pay). There are excellent tools to help members engage with educative stages of campaigns — and to give feedback to their unions. Short quizzes or polls on your website are examples of low-level engagement but proper online surveys can go deeper. Survey Gizmo and Survey Monkey are two ways (beware of over-surveying your members though), but Facebook now lets you make on-the-fly polls as well. Asking for feedback on Twitter is another way to get engagement. This leads to…
  3. Ask them to offer their two cents. As a union, getting feedback about the progress of bargaining or a campaign is important for union leaders to gauge members’ commitment and enthusiasm. In addition to field reports from organisers, online polls and surveys. By letting union members influence decisions of the union, even if just symbolic, can really step up their engagement. For example, you could let them vote on a campaign logo, or choose the cover of the union’s calendar or diary.
  4. Draw our their creativity. Are you sending out campaign stickers? Do new delegates get caps or t-shirts? Are you going door knocking against a conservative government? Ask your delegates and members to send you a photo. (The AFL-CIO did this to great success.) You could expand this by having a photo contest. (This is not suggest you get members to submit amateur poster design though — professional design is important.) Encouraging members to share their stories can also draw on their creativity.

[box border=”full”]…And those few ideas are just the tip of the iceberg. What easy or creative ways have you been engaging your members these days? I’d love to hear your thoughts — please share them in the comments![/box]


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