Use of media by unions

September 8, 2008

One of the comments I hear a lot is that unions need to find a way to reach younger workers. But, when you look at how unions are using media, we typically approach workers using last century communication practices.

Primarily the main approaches to media by unions today are Web pages, print and e-mail. This is nice but it is not where younger people are spending their time. I suggest unions need to expand and explore new approaches to communications and organizing. Here a few of the ways we can reach out to younger employees using “new media”:

  • Social Networks like Facebook. In short, every union seeking to organize younger workers needs to be in Facebook. Facebook is the town hall social gathering place of the 21st Century. According to Wikipedia, “Users can join networks organized by city, workplace, school, and region to connect and interact with other people. People can also add friends and send them messages, and update their personal profile to notify friends about themselves. The website’s name refers to the paper facebooks depicting members of a campus community that some American colleges and preparatory schools give to incoming students, faculty, and staff as a way to get to know other people on campus.”
  • SMS/Texting. SMS is a great way to get information out to a lot of people, direct to their cell phone, much quicker than e-mail. E-mail is fine but it does not reach a big portion of our employees who are not sitting at a desk on a computer. Other people who are on computers all the time are so buried alive in e-mail they ignore it. There is so much junk e-mail these days the medium itself is threatened. Watch young people. They do not depend on e-mail. Instead they text message each other. When you send a text message, the reciever gets it now. Texting allows groups to define themselves virtually and in real-time. People can respond synchronously despite being geographically dispersed. We need to “get” texting to organize young people. Unions can use group text messaging tools to send text messages to large statewide groups or individually selected contacts defined by work site, bargaining unit or classification.
  • User generated content sites. Places like YouTube are great sites to create and disperse video to spread the union message. Videos of interest to University workers can “go viral” and be shared between workers quite rapidly. For communications, training and organizing, I feel the inability to use free tools like YouTube represents a lost opportunity.

In my opinion if we are going to organize younger employees we need to go where they are. If we expect them to be reached by using media they do not use, we will fail and will just appear as some sort of anachronism from the last century.

More and more young people are defining and relating to their social groups virtually using communication tools like facebook and text messaging. They use these tools to communicate physical social opportunities in real time. Younger folks text each other and say, “let’s meet at Starbucks now.” They often work synchronously, in the moment, with no prior planning. Older folks, who did not grow up with tools like text messaging and cell phones, tend to plan asynchronously. We might send out an e-mail or phone our friends and say, “let’s meet at Starbucks tomorrow at 10 a.m.”

Understanding the ability for social groups to define and communicate virtually using tools like Facebook, move synchronously using portable devices like cell phones and technologies like texting, and communicate dynamically using technologies like YouTube and understanding how pervasively this capability has been adopted by younger people, is a key concept to being able to organize them.