Turn your union members into advocates

Every union organiser knows that the best person to recruit a new member isn’t the organiser but another member, a colleague. The most active, passionate members, who proudly encourage their work mates to join the union, often end up as delegates or shop-stewards.

This word-of-mouth is not only the most effective way to encourage people to join, but can make up the hidden part of the ice-berg of “advertising” for your union.

For any organisation or brand, awareness is generated either through paid means (e.g. advertising, direct mail, posters, leaflets, etc) or unpaid means (e.g. news reports or word-of-mouth). As much as 80% of what someone hears about a brand can be through the advocacy of word of mouth.

Having passionate advocates for your union not only amplifies the effectiveness of your paid efforts, and the efforts of your organisers. Without those advocates, your union will have to work much harder, and your paid efforts will be a lot less efficient.

Research by firms like Ogilvy have examined the phenomenon of brand advocacy, and what spurs everyday people to talk about brands to their friends, family and colleagues.

What they found is that “features” are more important than emotion, and that things like ads and commercials were least important.

When we talk about features for organisations like unions, we are talking about a whole range of things. Unions are “service” organisations (as opposed to “product” organisations), so the basic characteristics of what it means to be union are essential for advocacy.

This means the union needs to deliver what it promises, especially in terms of providing support, advocacy and advice. The professionalism of your organisers, industrial staff or call-centre staff is important.

It is also important that unions deliver when it comes to the bread-and-butter matters of respect, dignity and protecting rights.

I am definitely not advocating a return to the “servicing model” (despite my use of the word “service” earlier) or that unions organisers should behave like they have a magic wand to “fix” workplace problems.

Instead, I mean that the reason why members advocate to their work mates to join the union is about the union’s functional benefits.

The Ogilvy research also found that few people use emotional language (e.g. “love”, “excitement”, etc) to describe their views about brands.

This is similar for unions. Few people, even the most ardent delegates, would say they “love” their union.

However, the Ogilvy research found that of the small number of brands that did inspire emotional language, advocacy was much, much higher. It also found that the advocacy was still tied to functional benefits.

For unions, this means campaigns and organising that inspires people, and give members and potential members a vision and hope for a better future. By tapping into that functional benefit (a better future), you can really drive passionate advocacy from your members.

Unions need to understand the motivations and drivers of their members better than any one else; certainly better than employers. What do your members and potential members really want, what inspires them?

Finding this out will give you an important edge for your campaigns and communication efforts, especially if you are in a dispute with an employer.

These insights and understanding of your members should also inform your union’s messaging, and even how you position your campaigns and recruitment.

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