We have a love/hate relationship with social media, don’t we?
But social media in and of itself is not the problem. It’s the way people use it. At its worst, social media can create echo chambers of misinformation. At its best, people miles away from each other can share facts and have intelligent conversations. Labor unions across the country have found that social media can be a powerful tool for advocating and organizing. Conventional wisdom says organizing needs to be face to face, but the pandemic made that all but impossible for a time. Plus, people communicate more and more on their phones, so workers are using digital methods of communication more and more to organize and mobilize in the workplace. Take a look at the recent labor resurgence and the role social media has played. Amazon Labor Union, for example, started their Twitter page in September 2020 and they now have 123.2K followers. Starbucks Workers United started their page in August 2021 and they’ve garnered 78.1K followers to date. Those followers add to the unions’ collective strength. Public support adds pressure to corporations behaving badly, like Amazon and Starbucks.
Of course, unions are also organizing and mobilizing coworkers through social media — sharing information and events, telling personal stories, and creating a compelling narrative that workers can see themselves in.
What is digital advocacy and organizing? Digital advocacy is the use of social media to connect and mobilize a group of supporters into taking action, as opposed to digital organizing, where we’re trying to reach non-supporters and persuade them to our side. To use social media effectively, you must have a clear plan in mind. So, before you jump in, take a step back and ask yourself a few questions.
Do you want to mobilize or organize?
Do you have a clear idea of who your audience is and which social media will be most effective to reach them?
And, most importantly, what do you hope to gain?
In the overcrowded social media landscape, it’s important to stay focused on your objectives. You don’t want to chase every new feature or use social media in ways that don’t advance your objectives.
How do you start? One of the best things about social media is how easy it is to get started. You just need access to a computer or mobile device and an internet connection, assuming you have the time and resources. Look at what other communications channels you already have and how much time you have to devote to a new channel. Be realistic. Managing social media communications takes time and energy. Some union members have likened it to having a second job. Everyone's social media strategy will vary depending on their audience and what they want to accomplish, but here are some basic steps you can take to get started.
If you don’t already know, you’ll need to do some research to find where your supporters are most likely to be online. Certain platforms are more popular among certain communities and age groups than others. For instance, according to Pew Research Center, 52% of Latinx and 49% of Black Americans say they use Instagram, compared with 35% of White Americans. Instagram, along with Snapchat and TikTok, are also popular with people under 30. Just like IRL (in real life), you listen to your audience to understand where they’re coming from. Follow other labor organizations with whom you likely share an audience. Read their audience’s comments. Pay attention to how they phrase their messages. You should also study how each medium differs. Learn what kind of messages break through the noise.
2. Measure your efforts Before you determine how you will measure success, you need to set your objective(s). Try using the SMART format, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Make sure it furthers your organizational objectives. Example:
Organizational objective: Build locals’ capacity to be more relevant to members
Social media SMART goal: Increase engagement on social media posts about Oregon AFL-CIO initiatives and events by 20% in one year
Your SMART goals will determine your metrics. Metrics help you determine if your social strategy is working. Learn more about social media metrics here. Many social media platforms offer built-in analytics. Free or low-cost analytics such as Google Analytics and HootSuite are also available.
3. Branding Be sure to brand your channel. This includes completing your profile and setting your cover image and profile picture, but it also means:
Defining roles and responsibilities
Defining your organization’s “voice”
Defining reporting intervals
Creating a content calendar — It may be created by you, crowd-sourced from your community, or curated from relevant, reputable sources. Keep in mind that content can also be repurposed from one channel to the next. Make sure to post consistently and that your content conforms to the branding you’ve established.
“Over time, your customers will see the consistency in posts and begin to recognize when a post is from you with or without seeing your brand’s logo or social media handle. This type of brand recognition is the ultimate goal for your social media branding efforts.” — 5 Actionable Strategies for Social Media Branding Learn more about branding from Canva, a free graphic design tool used by labor communicators across the country.
Moving onward Social media is constantly changing and we learn more about how to use it effectively every day. It is important to continually educate yourself about those changes. Try out these resources that get more details about specific aspects of digital advocacy and organizing. Managing a digital program is work, but it’s also fun and so worth it! Online Resources 10 free social media monitoring sites you should try 50 (More) Social Media Tactics for Nonprofits Building Your Online Community & Social Media Presence Cause Collaborative: Social Media Strategy for Nonprofits Creating a Social Media Policy for Your Nonprofit Nonprofit Tech For Good How a Small Nonprofit Effectively Used Facebook Ads HOW TO: Curate Nonprofit Videos on YouTube The Future of Social Activism: How Young Adults Are Supporting Causes, and Why You Should Care RadioActive - The Magic Sauce of Social Media, Activism, and Social Change Social Media For Nonprofits Social Media Monitoring -- 5 Tips To Make It Easier (video). Social Media Strategy for Beginners: Principles of Social Content & To-Dos Ten Tips for Nonprofits on Facebook The Ultimate TweetDeck Tutorial (video) Using Social Media as a Tool to Complement Advocacy Efforts The Whys and Hows of Twitter Writing a social media strategic engagement plan