Five ideas for your union’s blog

October 14, 2013

Recently I was asked to follow up on a year-old promise to write a blog post about unions’ digital content strategy.

Back in 2012, I wrote two posts advocating that unions invest time and effort into creating blogs and online content plans. The purpose of these union blogs was to “get their story out” and to “paint a picture” about the every day successes that unions have for their members.

A blog lets you paint a picture about your union’s activities, campaigns, services, and successes. They let you tell those stories in an authentic and credible way — and the best thing is that blogging about those stories is Google secret-sauce.

Search engines, like Google (the most used search engine in Australia), absolutely love blogs. They provide rich, relevant and updated content for their web-crawlers. The more content you have on your blog, the easier it is for people to find it online using Google.

A quick look at two recent innovations in the Australian union space validate my 2012 post.

Firstly, the Australian Council of Trade Unions has invested considerable time and effort in creating the union news site Working Life. Working Life is a cross between a blog, news website and action portal, a bit like the Avaaz Daily Briefing. On Working Life, union officials, delegates and members write about a mixture of topics, from politics, industrial relations and culture, as well as answer frequently asked questions about workplace rights.

Secondly, the ACTU’s campaign Facebook page, Australian Unions has seen a massive investment in the lead up to the election, especially in the creation of digital-specific content. In addition to growing from fewer than 10,000 at the start of 2013 to more than 61,000 in October 2013, the page now holds a vast library of engaging, creative and well-executed pro-union and pro-worker images and memes. Sally McManus and her team from the ACTU’s digital team deserve a lot of cudos.

For unions thinking about day to day implementation of a digital content plan, what is some practical advice. After all, during an election there is something new every day — a policy announcement, ministerial visit or campaign launch. For union communication officers trying to come up with a calendar outside of the election, it can be a bit more difficult.

The challenge for unions is to produce content that is relevant to members and potential members, as well as supporters, and to do so on a regular (weekly) basis.

Luckily, most unions are sitting on a treasure trove of relevant, engaging content for their members or prospective members. The trick is to identify it, and in most cases, rework it for the web.

Here are five places to look:

1. Member testimonials

I would go out on a limb and say that all unions have satisfied members that have been assisted by an industrial officer or organiser in resolving a workplace issue. Many of those members may have written a letter or email of thanks to the union staff member who helped them.

These kinds of stories are fantastic for union blogs. Other members and particularly prospective members, may well find the experiences of people just like them being assisted by their union to be very interesting — especially if that person is considering joining the union.

Testimonials like this add credibility to your union, and help build trust. The testimonial or story could be a letter, a video for Youtube or even a “guest blog” by the member themself. For union communication officers, building a library of these stories can help you engage with organisers and industrial officers, and be useful for a whole range of other purposes during campaigns, writing brochures and so on.

Remember to secure permission from the member before using their name or details in your blog post.

2. Stats and facts

Your union, especially the national offices of unions, likely produces reports and submissions to various government inquiries and commissions. These are often filled with little nuggets of data that your members and supporters may find very interesting. Remember that your audience is not always your membership, but can include the array of commentators, journalists, bloggers, tweeters and other people in your industry.

For example, some unions keep track of workforce data for their industries, or track major employers. Others write submissions for senate inquiries and the like. Almost every union surveys its members from time to time, about bargaining and other workplace issues.

All of these could be turned into a blog post for your union’s blog.

These stats and facts can be expanded from just simple blog posts. You can create Youtube clips of your union’s secretary or research officer giving a two minute summary of the report or survey, or upload slide shows to sites like Slideshare. If the stats are tracked over time, they could be turned into infographics for Facebook or Twitter, especially if there is a significant change in the figures.

3. Member profiles

Your membership is your greatest asset. Every union will have a group of rockstar members and delegates, whether they are recently joined up (“why did you join the union?” posts) or amazing delegates who recruit like crazy (“what are your top tips to signing up a work mate?”). A series of blog posts that features a delegate from each of your major work sites, or a feature on a group of recently joined members can help create social proof for potential activists and members.

In these types of blog posts, the members should be the heros and the union officials the sidekick.

Add photos of the members for Facebook, and make sure they’re high quality, professional photos. These member features and be used for recruitment brochures and pamphlets.

4. Your day to day activities

For most people, even members, it is a mystery what union officials do. A blog series about a “day in the life” of an industrial officer, organiser or elected official can help take people behind the scenes of the union, and showcase some of the more important work your union does. Insider views are inherently interesting, especially for members or activists on the cusp of becoming more involved.

Not everything you do every day is interesting, but following your health and safety officer as she interviews an injured member, drafts a submission to WorkSafe, gives a talk to delegates and conducts site visits are all relevant for members and prospective members looking for more information about their workplace rights.

These kinds of blog series can be expanded with short videos and a photo series, and the content generated over a few days can turn into journal articles, Facebook posts and more.

5. Frequently asked questions

Your industrial, organising and member rights centre staff are gold mines for union blog content. If your union has a member rights or inbound call centre, ask the manager or lead to compile a list of the most asked questions that the union advocates receive, then answer them. The same applies for your industrial officers and organisers.

If you have bargaining, questions that members have about collective agreements or the bargaining process are great topics for blogs.

Similarly, you may find that your organisers and other union staff (or delegates) are prolific tweeters or bloggers in their own right. Harness those urges and empower them to write for your union’s blog.

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While there is a tendency for unions to “hide the gold” behind member-only logins or similar, I disagree with this approach. As more and more free content is placed online, by industrial or workplace government departments, HR consultants or even your major employers, unions risk making themselves invisible online by locking up their content. (See more here about unions’ real competition.)

Unions must dramatically expand the range of new, fresh content on their websites to remain visible, and to give a voice to their causes and campaigns. If unions don’t promote themselves, who else will?

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