Unions have some of the best trained organisers and campaigners, so while there is a lockdown, these staff could be redeployed from “field” (i.e. visiting workplaces) to doing their outreach via phone and video contacts to delegates, activists and members. Most organisers would already be doing this, but for dedicated “field” organisers and campaigners, it will mean going to basically 100% remote contact. Later in this newsletter, I discuss how remote video tools can be (and are being) used.
The latest generation of video conferencing tools (such as Zoom or Webex) present significant opportunity for mass, online meetings of members and activists. Online live video broadcasting (e.g. Facebook Live) can also allow hundreds or even 1000s of people to watch and engage with online activities.
Recently Victorian Trades Hall led a nationally coordinated union movement “virtual picket line” using Zoom and Facebook Live (see here
). This online action remotely engaged members and supporters to take real-world actions like calling their local MP to support a wages subsidy
(a major demand for the Australian union movement on the Federal Govt). This style of “online-picket”, where activists and members are engaged and mobilised online via video tools, is also being used by unions like United Workers Union to mobilise casual hospitality workers who were excluded from coverage of the wages subsidy.
This type of virtual engagement has been undertaken for a long time (by years, pre-dating the current crisis) by mega-churches in the US. In addition to holding their “mass worship” sessions via Zoom, they are also focusing on engaging their “small groups
” via video tools. Many of these megachurches also have regular TV and radio shows that they broadcast via digital radio channels or publish as podcasts.
Events management companies were also pioneers for online events, but they have rapidly transitioned to online mass events such as large Expos (see here for an example
of how Salesforce changed its World Expo into a virtual event, including live-streamed sessions, pre-recorded sessions and more… this Salesforce Expo had around 1 million views across its various channels, including 80,000 through their main live video channel).
The question facing the corporate sector is how they can use virtual events to drive sales. (Remember: the reason these companies hold these expos is to sell their products & services.) The evidence at this early stage is that “digital native” businesses are able to continue to drive sales, whereas more traditional businesses that haven’t adopted new digital tools and don’t have a lot of online experience are struggling.
The other obvious benefit of virtual meetings is that most of the video conference tools can integrate with major email platforms. With a modern CRM, a union can use participating in these virtual meetings to help identify future members or leaders.
Remote video for recruitment
As noted, the corporate sector uses video conferencing tools to sell their services and products. This can serve as a template for unions to recruit.
Prior to the crisis, many businesses used webinars as a primary tool to qualify new leads. Basically – they invite potential customers to participate in a free webinar about a “business problem” and then pitch their service as the solution.
In a similar vein, unions could use webinars or virtual mass-meetings that are held primarily to non-members. A webinar-specific tool like Crowdcast would then let you follow up participants with a join message, advertising and a phone-call. Obviously, a modern CRM
is essential to do this effectively.
1:1 engagement is the gold standard for organising, and what I am seeing with a lot of unions is that this can still continue via a video-call or standard telephone call.
Despite the innovations from digital tools, it is still hard to scale 1:1 organising and contact. This remains one of the biggest barriers for the union recruitment model – most members are signed up by organisers or delegates in a face-to-face interaction.
Later in this email, I go through a range of remote and online video and communications tools that organisers can use for 1:1 conversations.
Cold SMS is when you send an SMS to a contact in your database that you don’t have a pre-existing relationship with. An obvious example would be a potential member who provided their mobile number after signing a petition, but it could also include previous members that have not heard from your union in a while, or a supporter of a campaign you are running that is not eligible for membership.
Unions have been using SMS broadcasts for years, but there is increasing evidence that cold SMS broadcasts are effective communications tools that can cut through the noise of digital comms. For cold SMS, the “best practice” advice from research groups like the Analyst Institute, continue to show that broadcasts are better than “back and forth” SMS (like peer-to-peer tools such as Hustle, RumbleUp or Callhub). To be effective though, cold broadcast SMS should be “fact-based” or informational, rather than questioning or trying to persuade.
The commercial sector is also using SMS for sales, and there are an increasing number of e-commerce tools available that would be worth unions taking a look at specifically for recruitment. For example, you could use an SMS tool like Save My Sales
for automating an SMS follow up for people who visit your join page but don’t join. The conversion and engagement stats the commercial sector are seeing for cold, automated, non-conversational SMS are similar to what some unions report for warm, conversational SMS.
Warm SMS (including “peer to peer”)
More and more unions are using SMS-bank (or peer-to-peer) tools, that allow organisers or volunteers to send and respond to a large number of SMS conversations simultaneously. Evidence for campaigning over the past few years shows that these tools are effective only when there is already a pre-existing
There is also evidence that using images (MMS) improves response and engagement rates.
Only a handful of unions still run direct mail programs, and these holdouts mainly send membership cards and journals in the post.
Although email and SMS outperform hard copy for campaign purposes, sending real-world letters can continue to be a part of your retention or recruitment programs. One of the tactics used in the charity sector for example, is to send hand-written letters to members at key “churn” dates. Hand-written letters can also be pre-written now for use later on – and the evidence from the US (both for charity donation and also political/electoral campaigns) that they perform very strongly.
Email and automated messaging
With news, events and updates changing daily, it is important that any automated messaging, social media or email are reviewed or rewritten to light of the current crisis.
For example, at UnionsACT, we use an extensive number of automated supporter email journeys. As the crisis developed, we had to go through all of the automations to update or pause them, so that they reflected the new situation.
Not all of your communications needs to mention or acknowledge coronavirus, but they should all be mindful of the crisis.
One thing to not do is suspend your email campaigning. The charity sector (especially large charities) have continued to increase the volume of emails they send – member/donor engagement, new member/donor acquisition and standard newsletters – throughout the coronavirus crisis.