If you are familiar with my article entitled The Top Ten Reasons Unions Aren't Using Social Media (which is conveniently posted right before this one in case you aren't), what follows is the kinder, gentler version of it. Tom Campbell, publisher/editor of Western New York's online-line regional labor newspaper WNY Labor Today, encouraged me to soften up the original in order to publish it on his site. So, what you will find below is the result of taking the Top Ten article and mixing it well with a spoonful of sugar to ensure it was more palatable to a larger audience. The final product, I must admit, is pretty damn good. Tom, thank you for putting the finishing touches on it for better presentation!
I recently met the business manager for a U.A. Local out of Wisconsin and after we started chatting, I asked him (as I do almost all Labor Leaders these days) if his Local was on Facebook or Twitter. He laughed out loud and said, “Are you kidding me? Hell no, we’re not doing that! Why would I want to tell people what we’re doing all the time? No one cares about what we had for lunch or what kind of steel toe boots I’m wearing today. Besides, why would we open ourselves up to possible attacks? I don’t want any idiots contacting us.”
I get this a lot.
So I asked: “Do you maintain an e-mail list of all of your members and use it to blast e-mails out to the entire membership for organizing efforts, get-out-the-vote campaigns, newsletters, announcements, etc.?”
The answer in most instances is a resounding, “No.”
However, this guy actually said, “Yes” – and meant it! So I give him credit for that - I really do.
What I’ve found is that Local Unions are often led by older leaders who are steadfast in their unwavering dedication to upholding traditions of the past. The Local is structured and managed in much the same way it was 20 or 30 years ago. Work is down, membership is down and dues are down. And not enough younger members are moving up the ranks fast enough to help influence or encourage change.
I’ve also found Labor Leaders to be satisfied with their techie prowess if they have an e-mail address and/or an iPhone and use it to read their e-mails.
I’ve also found that Labor Leaders consider their Local to be “progressive” if they have a website (even if it hasn’t changed in the past five years or more and still posts an announcement on its home page about an “upcoming” Labor Day picnic that occurred back in 2006).
I’ve also found that Labor Leaders think Facebook and Twitter are for “kids” and are a fad. They don’t trust the Internet and are afraid of putting their Local’s information out in a very public way. And Labor Leaders who are not experienced in using the Internet and/or social networking may feel threatened by those who do.
Those who aren’t familiar or comfortable with social media and networking assume that it would be cost-prohibitive. Of course, operating funds are tight these days, so “playing” on the internet isn’t worth the imagined cost. And the Internationals aren’t pushing social networking down to the local level.
So, International leaders, listen up!
It isn’t good enough to be incorporating social networking on just your level.
The excuses I usually hear concerning why a Local Union is not maintaining a social media presence includes: “I don’t know, we just don’t;” “No, we set up phone banks or we do a mass mailing;” “We tried e-mail alerts, but our older members often don’t have an e-mail address or they don’t want to give it our; “None of our members are on there; “Blog? What in the world is a blog?,” and“Facebook is dangerous.”
Oy vey - Social media is not a fad, folks. It’s here to stay, and every expert will tell you that it has forever changed – significantly changed – the way we communicate in this country and around the world.
The established Labor Movement needs to recognize and accept this if we want to take a step towards establishing relevancy to our members under the age of 45, corporate partners (those we currently have relationships with and those with which we want to), voters and future members.
If we don’t, then we’re missing out on a very important and quickly growing component of our cause – the On-Line Labor Movement.
It’s already happening.
It’s already moving.
The question is – do you want to be a part of it?
If you’re still skeptical, consider this: Almost 45% of Americans have a Facebook account. This equals 128,936,800 U.S. residents and the top three age groups utilizing Facebook – combined - represent the ages of 18-44, making up 66% of all Facebook users.
Chances are that every single Labor Leader that is elected into office after the year 2030 is actively taking part in on-line social media right now.
They learn about current events on-line, they send birthday cards on-line, pay their bills on-line, download their music on-line, order groceries on-line, talk to their friends on-line, find their spouses on-line, apply for mortgages on-line and look for employment on-line.
Everything they do, learn, and seek out revolves around the internet – except possibly you.
So - how do you plan to reach, recruit and inspire our future Union Brothers and Sisters to join and lead this movement that we’ve fought so hard to preserve?
Don’t be afraid to think out of the proverbial box on this one.
Lead by example.
Start to take steps to get Labor’s story out there, because if you don’t take the leap into social media, then you’ll be losing out on the best and brightest young minds that might one day be running this Labor Movement.
Do you know who won’t lose out?
You can be rest assured that the Walmarts, Mott’s, Dunkin Donuts, BPs, Microsofts, Starbucks, and Fed Ex’s of the world certainly won’t.
Internationals, you have to give your locals the tools necessary to utilize it.
The next time you host a conference, convention or workshop for your local leaders and staff, add a Social Networking 101 break-out session to the mix.
When you have all of your International Training Directors and Instructors in town for atrain-the-trainer conference, add Social Networking 101 to the agenda.
You have to teach them how to do it and give them enough support and exposure to it so that they’ll be more comfortable with the topic.
Show them examples of successful initiatives.
Show them what you’re doing.
Put them in a classroom that is set up with laptops and walk them through the process, step-by-step of setting up a social networking profile.
Explain the differences in social networking sites.
Help them start to add friends and followers.
Most importantly, ensure there’s someone on your International’s staff that is dedicated to social media and can provide guidance and assistance to Locals when they need it – training, troubleshooting, encouragement and referrals to other Labor Organizations that are doing well with it.
You - our leaders - are masters of your Trades: Plumbers, Electricians, Laborers, Teachers, Cooks, Painters, Operating Engineers, Nurses, Government Workers, Miners, Steelworkers, Sheet Metal Workers and Pilots. They are Writers, Musicians, Bricklayers, Carpenters, Instrument Technicians, Actors, Barbers, Shipbuilders, Insulation Workers, Embalmers, Millwrights and Fitters.
The list goes on and on.
What our leaders are not are Public Relations experts – nor should they be.
We’re notorious for not telling our story in a pro-active way, because we’re always playing defense. But given the current economic climate in this country, and a steadily declining percentage of the marketplace, we better become experts – and fast – and it’s up to the Internationals to see that we do.
Social media and networking are tools for combating the negative reputation Labor Unions have carried on their backs for decades - true or not.
They are very important tools that we cannot afford to ignore any longer.