Saturday, September 4, 2010

Unions & Technology: A Marriage That MUST Happen

The following is an article written by Web Connectivity -Just for Unions.  They are creating fantastic websites and software - just for unions.  This article illustrates the point I continue to make through this website, and with their permission, have posted their words here for New Labor Media readers.  Thanks, Web Connectivity, for sharing this resource!

It’s not everyday we hear the two used in the same sentence; unions and technology. They aren’t exactly synonymous with each other! However, technology isn’t going away and it’s changing the way people get their information. The internet is pervasive; it’s in every part of our lives from paying bills to keeping up with friends to learning about issues that affect our lives.

What does your website say about who you are?
What’s it saying to the public? To your members? Like it or not, this is your public face. It frames the way you are perceived. When that 25 year old drives by the JATC and wonders what it is, how does he/she find more information about you? No, he does NOT go home and type a letter of inquiry on his typewriter and mail it to you!! He searches you on the internet. His world is dominated by the internet and tools such as Facebook. The messages he receives are dictated by technology. Does your website communicate with him? OR, does it reinforce misperceptions about unions? Does it look old and tattered? Does it present a compelling message for this person to want to learn more about your organization? Is the content up-to-date and relevant? Is there a secure sign-in for members to access? Can he follow you on Facebook? Twitter? Like it or not, this is your brand; it’s how you are seen by more people everyday than other form of exposure. It is your primary tool for communicating with the world.

And for the members of your local?
If the only reason they have a checkbook is so they can pay their dues, it might be time to consider simple things like online dues payment. Can your members login to a secure site to check the out-of-work list? Can they login and see a private calendar or documents that don’t need to be public? Can they modify their benefits? Check their grades? If you think about the volume of calls received at a typical local, how many could be eliminated if members could go online to get the information? Is it unrealistic to offer your members basic features that are available on virtually every other site they use? In today’s world it’s simply a part of doing business.

Oh but wait, your members don’t use the internet??? Though unlikely, it’s possible – much like it was possible that some people didn’t have a television in their home 60 years ago. Adoption rates are much different today than they were 60 years ago. It took television 13 years to reach 50 million viewers. It took the internet 4 years to reach 50 million users. Facebook added over 50 million new users in just January and February of 2010. Google has over 620 million daily visitors. Today’s technology is developing rapidly and the rates of adoption are far faster than for any other medium we have witnessed.

But MORE IMPORTANTLY, what about the FUTURE of Labor?
It’s conceivable your members aren’t quite there yet but it’s hard to argue that without reaching the under 30 population, labor will continue to dwindle. How does this population communicate? Barack Obama captured 66% of voters age 18-30. He has over 8 million ‘friends’ on Facebook and is still one of the top 6 most followed on Twitter. His campaign heavily leveraged YouTube and virtually any other ‘new media’ they could find. To communicate with this audience Labor must change the way it thinks and the tools it uses. Hand bills and post cards will remain UNREAD. And if you’re mailing this audience something, it better say ‘Pay to the order of’ or it will not get opened – ever.

The tools available to us as Labor are vast and can be confusing. Walk before you run. Your website is the foundation for your communication. Like it or not, it is your lifeline; the single most valuable communication tool available to your organization. Get a website that you can easily update with new content (photos, articles, links, videos, etc.). Make sure your site offers members the ability to login and manage/see their information. When members can login, they’ll continue to come back to the site which gives you the opportunity to better communicate with them. And, as more members begin using the site, you’ll see a significant decrease in phone calls and window visits. Huh, a service to them and a benefit to you; sounds like a great combination!

Labor has to change the way it communicates.
Websites, search engines, Facebook, Twitter, email, etc. – these aren’t trendy fads that will soon go away. In fact, these tools are redefining communication. 500 million Facebook users aren’t a goof. Over 90% of internet sessions begin with a search engine inquiry; 85% of the time via Google. It’s time to leverage these tools; not just for the sake of your members but for the future of Labor itself.

For more information about websites and communication strategies, contact Web Connectivity. We are an IBEW Signatory Contractor and proud union members. Our goal is to help our clients figure out which tools are best for their goals. We work with hundreds of locals across the country to help them interact with their membership from the Business Office to the Training Center to Benefits Administration – and many areas beyond. We stand firmly on the side of Labor and are here to support in any way we can.