Five steps to a simple online strategy for your union

Your union should have an overall strategy for its organising, industrial and other activities… but very few unions have an online strategy.

Forming a clear vision for your union’s online campaigning can be difficult. Many of the decision-makers in the union may be unfamiliar with the Internet and online campaigning, social media, websites and email marketing. They may be skeptical of its potential. If you’re in charge of your union’s website, you should make sure that your online strategy links to the rest of the union’s priorities.

What is a strategy? At its most basic level, strategy is: “The science of planning and directing large-scale military operations, specifically maneuvering forces into the most advantageous position before engagement with the enemy.” Although this is a military strategy, this definition translates to a union context by thinking about how unions dedicate resources in a concentrated way to achieving your goals.

Your union’s online strategy should be clearly expressed, and be able to explain in a sentence or paragraph what the strategy is and how it achieves those goals. Whether you want to sign up new members, raise awareness about workplace rights, pressure politicians or rogue employers, or anything worth dedicating a large portion of time and money to, you need a compass to get there.

A website that tries to do everything equally is the strategic equivalent of scattering your forces on the battlefield. (The only time you’d want to do this is if you were running a guerrilla campaign… more on that later.)

Coming up with a basic online strategy for your union doesn’t need to be a lengthy process — it could take only half an hour — but you could get as detailed as you want.

Below is a five-step exercise that can help you think about what your goals are. This step should be done at “phase zero” — before you buy a domain name, choose a CMS, set up your Facebook page or organise hosting.

1. Ask “why”?

Staring with “why” frees you up from questions about what and how — some of the nitty-gritty (which social network, what colour web page, all those technology choices) that can hold you back. If you think about what you want to achieve, you set the parametres for future decisions — i.e. what tools you’ll need to get there.

Write down those goals, the purpose of your online campaigning. This is the most powerful part of the entire exercise.

2. Write it down

This is important enough to reiterate from the end of the previous point. Sit down with a pad or a whiteboard and the other decision-makers in your union. Write down all the things you want to achieve — not just big picture but small things too. Getting organisers involved is important; in my experience, not involving them will result in a very substandard website. (Of course, not everything organisers or union staff will want is always a good idea.)

Writing down those goals helps create ownership over your website, and can help others in your union, particularly the leadership, understand why they are about to invest thousands of dollars on a website.

3. Categorise and prioritise

In all likelihood, you’ll come up with a lot of goals and objectives, and heaps of features for your website and online campaign. Try to put them into categories — e.g. objectives, tech features, organising support, design/usability, marketing/promotion, etc. Your union will have its own categories.

The next step is to prioritise them in a ranked order. What is the most important part of each category. What are the most important categories. A useful shorthand for thinking about this is the “must, should, could” framework. What must your online campaign include — the bare minimum? What should it include — features or goals that would be good but not essential. What could it include, assuming the best possible scenarios and no resource constraints.

4. Build your story

Human minds think in narratives, with beginnings, middles and ends. What do you want the story for your site to be? Thinking about what your online campaign or website will look like in this way will help crystalise all the elements that you’ve worked on. Again, write it down.

This may seem a bit trite, but it is a useful exercise. One of the things that your web designers will ask for are “user stories”. What do different users do when they come to your site to do something — like a non-member wanting information about joining. A “story” for your site will help them down the track to think about a lot of those technical and technological issues, not to mention design elements.

5. Present it

Even if you do this exercise by yourself, you should show it to others at the end. Hopefully this helps build consensus in your union about getting online, or investing the resources in upgrading your website. The goals, categorisations and prioritisations, and stories will help others — organisers and the leadership — better understand what the website will achieve and what it will look like.

After this five-step process is completed, you and your team must adjust your perspective to act with clear vision and a strategic plan. Remember, strategy is basically concentrating your efforts to achieve your goals.

There are loads of other tools you could use at each stage. Using SMART objectives are a good tool in the “categorise/prioritise” phase. Doing a SWOT at the start of the “why” phase may help you ensure you don’t miss important issues.

Hopefully, from this point on, you’ll be much clearer about what you want from your site — and how it fits with and contributes to the union’s primary strategic objectives. Down the line, it should assist you with your web developers, designers and consultants.

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