7 things for unions to think about when updating member contact data

We’ve been working with RCM recently on how unions might work with members to keep contact data up to date. An automated SMS campaign succeeded in getting some great levels of engagement (read the full report here), but making the process as simple as possible for the member to complete.

We talked about the project at our last Digital Lab office hours session, and had a really useful discussion between practitioners from across our affiliates.

I wanted to share some of the points made by our colleagues, as there was a lot in there for unions to consider if they’re planning their own data check projects.

1. Should you be moving away from using work emails?

Unions may want to move members away from receiving comms on employer controlled email addresses.

There are a whole bunch of reasons. The employer may be listening and sending it through their systems could compromise sensitive information. Or the employer might simply block access to it.

Employees might also be concerned about reading union material in an open plan workspace. And work email is more likely to be used during work time. If you’re looking to mobilise members, that might well be for activity outside work hours, when a timely message might be less likely to be seen.

However workers may well instinctively want to give their work email for something they see as an extension of their work – especially for craft unions where your email address shows your professional connection. Unions will have to think about whether to capture multiple addresses, which is seen as the main address for communication, and how to describe the rationale for that if needed.

2. Should you be getting more than one digital contact point?

Multiple points of data are valuable if you can get them. If you only have an email address on record and it fails, your options to easily re-establish contact are pretty limited.

There is a challenge here in that the more data you try to ask for, the less likely people are to give you any of it. And you’re always more likely to succeed if the user can understand a reason why you’re asking at that point.

Unions might want to consider how they can work mobile phone number collection and contact permissions into interactions early in a member’s time with the union.

3. Should you be doing more with mobile?

Mobile contact is much more expensive than email, but also more powerful for the right types of content. As our project showed, engagement rates (if the ask makes sense to the member) can be really high compared to other channels.

Also people keep mobile numbers for ages. Work emails change. ISP provided emails may change when you change supplier. But it’s the default position to keep a number that you and your friends are familiar with whenever you switch network.

SMS can also get to members at work on their own devices, without relying on employer communications, more discreetly in the workplace, and more effectively to workers who aren’t based at a desk.

4. Consider the grounds you’re using for communications

Using new contact points like SMS brings in issues around GDPR, and should be handled transparently and sensitively with members, but don’t assume it’s necessarily impossible. For example, providing membership services can be covered under contract in GDPR, so it’s only marketing comms that need specific new consent.

If you plan out how you want to be using these data points, you can then think about how you communicate that to your members at point of signup. There’s a balance between not giving enough detail to comply with data protection, and churning out long terms and conditions that will cover you for everything turn people off.

Try instead to explain it clearly in ways that members can see sense in from their own perspective, rather than from yours.

5. Data hygiene is a good habit to keep up.

It could be a good idea to work a checking project like this one into an annual cycle for your membership team.

Can you find a “hook” for members that makes it seem appropriate to be asking at that time? For example, is there a time when people are more likely to change contract or placement? Getting to them at the right time could be doubly effective.

6. Don’t assume because an email address isn’t bouncing that it’s still good.

Members might have started up a new main email and not be checking the old one so often now. Or they might have originally registered with a shared family one and since got their own personal one.

Putting the email you have on record up front in an SMS to them might prompt them to respond, eg “is member@service.co.uk still the best email to get you on?”

7. People will have questions.

If you’re asking people to update information, some will have valid phishing concerns, and some may just want to ask questions. In doing a data checking project, make sure you can respond quickly to them, outside of any automatic flow. Even if people realise an SMS is automated (many won’t), they will likely expect that they can get a response to it, so make sure your back channel works and that it’s staffed to respond for the duration of your campaign.

This can help establish confidence in the union, and it’s certainly worth spending time. Making the effort in helping someone get their email right helps all your engagement to that member be more effective going forward.