The possibility of using Twitter as a campaigning tool was recently tested by LabourStart.
We were inspired by the example of American Rights at Work (ARAW), a union-supported campaigning organisation, that has recently taken on the American Chamber of Commerce (the equivalent of the CBI here in Britain) using Twitter.
ARAW took advantage of a new web service called Act.ly (http://act.ly) that allows the instant creation of Twitter campaigns. (Their slogan is “Tweet change.”) They succeeded very quickly in mounting one of the largest campaigns ever using the microblogging service, with over 1,200 messages sent.
We decided to try the same thing in support of our more traditional global web and email campaign in support of striking Canadian workers at Vale Inco, a mining giant.
It turned out that Vale Inco had a Twitter account for its Human Resources Department. The company is using Twitter to announce new job openings, though it is not recruiting strike-breakers this way.
With the HR department a perfect target for our campaign, we came up with a text that read “petition @ValeIncoJobOpps to show your support for 3,500 striking Vale Inco workers in Canada http://act.ly/1es RT to sign #actly #valeinco.”
Of course much of that won’t make sense to readers, so let me explain.
The at sign (@) refers to a Twitter user. ValeInco’s HR department is known on Twitter as “ValeIncoJobOpps”. So this petition is directed to them. The target company or government needs a Twitter account for a campaign like this to work.
The hash sign (#) is what’s called in the world of Twitter, a “hashtag”. It’s a way of bringing together messages on the same theme. In this case, we’re using the “actly” hashtag (because Act.ly requires it) and the made-up hashtag of “valeinco”.
Finally, the “RT” stands for re-tweet. We’re encouraging people to forward on these tweets to fellow trade unionists, hoping to create a viral effect.
Very quickly, our campaign took off, and after a day or two online was the most popular petition of the week — and one of the most popular ever on Act.ly. The United Steelworkers issued a press release about the Twitter campaign entitled “Petition Denouncing Vale’s Attacks ‘Catching Fire’ on Twitter.” Ken Neumann, USW’s National Director for Canada, was quoted as saying that the union “and its allies continue to break new ground with our response to Vale Inco’s attack on Canadian communities and working families”.
Neither the Twitter campaign nor the more conventional email campaign (which has already resulted in 7,000 messages being sent to the employer) have yet brought Vale Inco back to the bargaining table. But it demonstrated that this new technology, previously thought of by many as merely a gimmick, can be one more way to mobilize public support for unions and to ramp up the pressure on difficult employers.