3 steps to promoting union work online

Discover how UNISON East Midlands are using social media and high quality videos to engage with members and the wider public

Hi, I’m Sean. I started at UNISON as part of a three person team to try and locate, recruit and represent homecare workers across the East Midlands – with a particular focus upon Nottinghamshire.

Since then we have spent most of our time organising stalls, calling up existing members, visiting sheltered housing, hanging around specific shops, designing and distributing surveys e.t.c. It’s been a lot of fun!

A few months in, I discovered the current appalling situation that our paid carers face everyday. I also discovered how little my friends, family and the general public are aware of the conditions that they face. Did you know, that most carers are limited to only providing fithteen minutes of care at a client’s home – and they don’t even get paid for their travel time?

Something had to be done! So, this is when we thought we would try things a little differently. It was only a first step, but it was definitely a step in the right direction for us.

Here’s what we learnt.

Step 1: Identify the problem, find the right people and make sure you have the tools.

Yes we had a Facebook page, yes we had a Twitter page, yes we uploaded pictures and the occasional video, however, were they being used to their full potential? No! This may sound familiar to you. We were doing things predominately because we thought we should. However, the majority of our posts were boring and not interactive, the pictures were blurry, the videos looked like we’d taken them on our phones whilst jumping around.

The problem was that we didn’t know where to begin. This is why we decided to start from scratch. The plan was to try something new and see where we got to. Here’s what we did:

  • Key players. Talked to colleagues to discover who ran our social media accounts, dealt with the press and who would know about our communication strategy. (You might be the one trying to improve your online presence, but that shouldn’t mean that you’re alone in doing so!)
  • I gained access to our social media platforms to see what is regularly posted as well as the reach we are getting.
  • Best practise. This involved a lot of phone calls and emails with other regions to see what they are producing as well as the comms staff based down in London. This gave me a good understanding of where other regions are at, what is achievable and it also gave me contacts to bounce ideas off later down the line.
  • Checked our equipment. I had to see what tools we had to work with. (When looking at our camcorder for the SD card slot, I was surprised by the fact a rather large tape popped out- clearly this needs updating).
  • Submit a bid. You cannot produce high quality work without the correct tools. We put in a bid for a brand new HD camera, a tripod and appropriate sound equipment.
Step 2: Try everything and see what works. You won’t know until you try. 

Remember this, there is no golden rule, what works for one region or campaign will not work for another, so get out there and see what works. That is exactly what we did.

I began by improving our Facebook and Twitter profile pictures, looking to make them more relevant to our #savecarenow campaign. By regularly posting articles and asking our members questions in statuses we saw our engagement increase. There were opportunities, such as when the dispatches program about ‘Sevacare’ was broadcast and there was quite a lot of social media noise- a perfect time to share our own survey and get our message across using #dispatches.

We decided to do something big for ‘National Carers Week’. We organised stalls in markets across the E. Midlands, got our local MP to shadow a homecarer for the day and worked with our local branch to sign UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter. This was the perfect opportunity to make a real local impact during that week but to also test our new ‘online campaign’.

I took hundreds of pictures (with my posh new camera) from across the region, tweeting them as we went along. Yes, we had pictures of a popular and vibrant stall but we made sure that we focussed upon taking pictures which had some meaning, as you can see from the image on the right.

I then got video footage of everything so we could produce a snazzy video later on and in case we ever needed it in the future. We even did a few interviews of local councillors/ UNISON staff and put them on our brand new YouTube account.

At the end of every day I would post updates on our Facebook and Twitter accounts, tagging as many people as I could. I would post our images in FB groups we know carers were in (images showing the public supporting their work is a much better way in than posting links to UNISONs website).

Step 3: Continue engaging online, see where it takes you & bring colleagues along with you.

National Carers Week was a huge success and got us a much improved reach online. However this was just a start.

So, what did it achieve?
  1. It showed the potential advantages of using a high quality equipment. Evident from the enhanced reach we got.
  2. It enabled us to reach home carers that we would not necessarily have come across.
  3. It showed our audience that UNISON is active locally.
  4. It gave us more likes/followers as well as credit for working hard for carers.
  5. It got us to a point that we could replicate again-with much less organisation required.
  6. It showed colleagues what’s possible. I produced a short video (which you can watch below) that showcased what we could be producing as a region. We will be putting on some training shortly so colleagues can replicate this process themselves.
  7. It was fun and helps to make UNISON look more human and not just the people that take your money every month.

I am not going to lie and say that this process is always easy. However, giving it a go is a must. It is not to say that a strong online presence is there to take over from on the ground organising, it is there to complement it. I am no expert in comms or social media but I can recognise the value of showing the world what we are doing and producing high quality footage to try and expand our reach.