This guide aims to empower trade union activists – whether reps or lay members – to use social media to campaign for change. The movement needs diverse voices and grassroots activism if it is to survive and grow. However, there is sometimes a clash between what your union has an official, democratic mandate to say, and what you would like to express from the heat of the picket line.

We encourage you to think carefully about how you use social media, to protect yourself and your union from people who would love a new angle of attack. Work as closely as possible with your union’s official structures, and don’t contradict the messages that come out – that will confuse and dishearten people. Your union has a communications department that has a democratic mandate to communicate policy, analysis and news to members, the media and the wider public. The people working in this department are professionals, and the communications strategy is approved by the union’s democratic structures. As a union activist, it is not your role to challenge this, or attempt to replace it.

However, it is often difficult for union communicators to capture the full flavour of life at the workplace. Also, information coming directly from activists and not people in the union office has real credibility and authenticity.

People spend thousands paying PR companies to fake “authenticity”. You have a real, lived experience that money can’t buy. You are the expert at what is going on in your workplace, branch or community. It is important that you develop a way to communicate this effectively.

Workplace activists should develop media strategies too. Using the principles in this manual, you can develop and target messages that will make your campaigns more effective. This works best within a network of activists – including those in other unions and the community. You can reinforce each other’s campaigns and support each other. Ideally, every union branch should have a communications officer, trained in different forms of media and responsible for e-communications.

When you establish an online presence, don’t expect the viral effect overnight. Be consistent and patient. It takes a while to establish a presence and credibility.

Being safe at work
Trade unionists are seeing a growing trend in cases of people disciplined or dismissed for comments made on social media, typically Facebook or Twitter. We suggest that you are very careful about identifying your employer by name in any social media.

Also be aware that accessing social media from work, using your employers’ servers, is not secure, and may be a dismissible offence. Your employer can read any of the emails you send from your company email address.

Please take care!