Increasingly social media has become part of unions’ organising strategy. More unions than ever now have a presence on a whole range of digital media; but we’re still learning to use these tools effectively in our work and activism. Here are my five practical suggestions for how unions and trade unionists could start to make better use of social media.
1) Timing is everything
The very nature of social media is an expression of a society in which everything is speeding up. The pace of information, the rate at which we receive news, the very lifespan of events, information, stories – all occurring faster and changing the way people experience and access media.
In terms of campaigning, this thing means one thing – you have to keep using it regularly. If your Twitter account or Facebook page goes quiet for a week, two weeks, a month – then essentially it becomes useless to your campaign. People make the assumption that your campaign no longer current, or even worse that you lost the issue.
The key lesson here is post every day – even if it’s just a daily post on Facebook, or maybe a few times a day on Twitter. Regular posting to strong, interesting content can help drive a campaign forward in terms of new audiences and enthuse the people you already have.
2) Left wing campaigns do not run like marketing campaigns.
There’s a mountain of books, papers and advice out there about how to run your business using social media. Some of it is very useful, some of it management-speak gibberish. However one thing is the definite – if you’re using social media for a left-wing campaign then the dynamic is much different from a business campaign.
Yes, it’s about getting people to look at your account. However that’s what similarity ends. Companies want you to positively buy into something to take one action – buying the product, using the service. Campaigns are slightly different in; we want people to take a step not just in buying into the campaign and also buying into the ideas of action beyond the moment of buying in. We want people to access our campaign, then become part of the campaign, and then take action around the campaign. In blunt terms, your campaign should seek to “recruit”.
We often ask people to take actions which go against the norms they are used to – going on a demo, going on strike. These are often things people initially feel very uncomfortable with. It may set them at odds with their previous experience and the opinions of their peers. You have to take this into account in how you pitch things on social media. Don’t be afraid to use social media to have a two way debate with people. Make your case. Win hearts and minds one post at a time.
3) All of your posts must reflect anger, hope and action.
These three words sum up the elements needed to mobilises people into political action. Anger and injustice mobilises. Hope sustains. Action frames your strategy and tactics. Every post or tweet should reflect one of these elements. Without them your posts become just info and opinion. We don’t want just to inform people like a news service. We should be seeking to get people off their sofas and into action fuelled by hope, anger and a burning sense of injustice.
That doesn’t occur spontaneously. Part of our role as activists should be to highlight and frame the injustices and anger that are campaigns are based around; and part of social media’s role is to help build and amplify that anger.
4) Never pass up an opportunity to blame your opponent
Anger isn’t enough. Blame sustains campaigns. However if your tweets and posts place blame for the problem on “the system” or “capitalism” it won’t help you to mobilise great numbers of people. They are too big and vague concepts for people to feel direct anger at. The system needs a face. So use your posts to point the finger – blame a minister or an employer if they’re the one in the wrong; create hash tags which show users where the fault lies.
Remember, whilst ‘the system’ may indeed ultimately be to blame for a situation, the issues we face right now have been created through decisions made by people. We should not hesitate to use social media to show our audience where power is, and make sure our tweets and posts speak truth to that power.
5) Statistics and logic don’t get people active
….but values do. People make snap judgements about tweets and posts based on how they make them feel. Emotions – anger, hope, happiness, humour, grief, rage – these are the frames through which people experience politics personally. If your tweets are nothing but facts, figures and graphs, and don’t convey emotion or values, people will switch off. Instead talk about right and wrong, the values of your campaign. A skilfully placed simple infographic can really help frame your issue or values. Too many of them will drive people away. Use stats on social media to illustrate your values and why you are fighting. Don’t bore people with numbers – enthuse them with the ideals your campaign embodies.