How are union members using the Internet?

This article appears in Stronger Unions, a news and comment blog about the UK trade union movement, managed by the TUC.

Unions that want to communicate with their members using the new technologies face a problem. And the problem is that we don’t actually know very much about how our members use the Internet.

Of course there are general surveys and studies which show that masses of people use Facebook and Twitter, that smartphones and tablets have come to replace desktop PCs as a way to access the Net – but is that the case for union members?

After all, union members in the UK and elsewhere are not typical – we tend to be older than the average, for example.

The only way to know how our members use the Net is to ask them, and this year for the third year running, LabourStart is doing exactly that.

In last year’s survey, we learned that a very large of number of trade unionists had started to use Google+ and LinkedIn, in addition to Facebook. And yet unions were not really responding to this, and had done little or nothing on those social networks.

Nearly 42% of the nearly 3,000 respondents last year told us that they accessed the Net with a smartphone and a third that number were already using tablets (like the iPad). But less than 6% thought their unions had apps for these devices.

We learned that nearly two-thirds of the respondents rated their national union websites as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’, but that number dropped dramatically when we asked about local or branch websites.

These numbers and many more like them can be very useful for unions in Britain and around the world. We should, for example, invest more in training local and branch unions to do better and more useful websites. We should learn which social networks our members use (such as LinkedIn) and exploit the possibilities there, rather than solely relying on Facebook. We should be designing apps for smartphones and tablets which are increasingly becoming the primary way our members access the Net.

This year’s survey will run through 18th March – and the more members of trade unions participate, the more useful it will be for all of us. We don’t just want those who love new technology to respond – it’s also important to know how ordinary members of our unions use the Net.

Please spread the word in your union – you can take the survey online here.