Testing WorkSmart

Answering big questions by starting small – Developing the WorkSmart prototype

The TUC’s WorkSmart project explores how unions could engage with young workers who have little awareness of us. Over the last two years we’ve developed an idea that could appeal to young workers. It’s based on their desire to get ahead in working lives that too many feel are getting stuck.

The product we’ve come up with is a new careers and work advice service. It’s delivered through an app with its own dedicated brand.

There’s a problem here though. Running a new service like WorkSmart has big implications for the union movement. We don’t have a lot of spare cash, and we can’t afford to build something this big, just on the hope that it will work.

So instead we sought to build the most basic version of the service (a “Minimum Viable Product” in digital jargon). We wanted to see if that could help us understand whether the idea was viable.

You can download WorkSmart in the app stores, but if you do, you won’t find a lot there at the moment. There are only one or two of each type of content we wanted to test, just enough to show people how it might work.

1) Proving we can attract young core workers

Unions don’t have good channels to reach young workers in our target group. So the first thing we had to prove was that the career service idea we’d developed in our research phase was a goer. We needed to know that we really could use it to find these young workers and convince them to interact with us. 

We aimed to keep it cost-effective at first, recruiting only enough people to prove it could work. We weren’t looking to achieve scale yet. 

Over 3,000 young workers showed an interest by signing up to a mailing list, the majority from Facebook and Instagram ads. 1,611 took the initial survey. Over 300 young workers downloaded the app during the first pilot, and a further 100 did for a later experiment. We ran 18 user testing sessions, showing our ideas to small groups of young workers. Their immediate reactions to it  helped us understand how we could improve it.

Testing consistently showed that WorkSmart hits a real unmet need and is therefore highly attractive to young workers. We heard that participants loved the branding and concept. They told us they didn’t know of anything else like it and that it was valuable to them. People said that even at this stage there is “something for everyone”. 

Finding out what we could offer them that they wanted helped us to hone our message, often in very subtle ways. We tested different approaches and imagery for our advertising, and focused down around what worked. Doing this before developing most of the initial content meant we produced more effective materials.

Facebook ads to recruit young core workers

Facebook ads to recruit young core workers

2) Generating clusters of young core workers by employer, location or sector 

We knew that we needed to be able to segment users by sector, employer and location in order to create clusters for unions to be able to organise more easily. On their own, a lone young worker recruited to a union will benefit less than one who also has union co-workers, and they will be harder for the union to support effectively.

However, young core workers needed to build trust in WorkSmart before giving out sensitive information such as the name of their employer. We tested whether we could ask for this during the sign-up process, by putting an “employer” field on the first form. We heard in user testing that nobody wanted to fill this out. 

Through deeper interviews with users, we worked out how and when workers might be willing to disclose this information – and we discovered that using tools like the salary checker were vital, as users were much more happy to offer the information when they felt as though they were getting something of value. Asking for the information wasn’t the problem so much as asking for it out of context, and without trust.

We were able to start to group together young workers at the same employer through the information they shared with us using the salary checker. But the number who were using the tool was too small for us to see clear patterns.

So to further prove we could generate clusters of prospective new members in defined employers, we ran a Facebook ad test, specifically targeting young workers at Aldi, Lidl and Iceland. With a small budget, we quickly signed up 40 people working at those companies to the mailing list, 23 of whom subsequently downloaded the app. 

These tests in combination helped us realise that we can build clusters of workers within WorkSmart, which could provide valuable leads for organising. 

3) Moving young core workers to action and into unions

Of course, getting young workers into a career service is great, but it’s not yet trade unionism. We hoped to prove that by offering them real value on something that we know they already want, and using that trust to take them on a logical content journey from that point, we could start to overcome the four barriers our research phase found between these young workers and unions.

So we ran a further small experiment to test whether we could move young core workers from using WorkSmart towards taking an online action (signing a petition) and then on to joining a union.

We used the tracking tool Amplitude to construct a funnel for the user journeys we were interested in. We could see at each stage how many people passed the next stage, from starting with the app, using the careers content, moving to more employment rights based content and tools, then being prompted to sign related petitions, and finally expressing an interest in joining a union. 

Of 100 young core workers in this three-week test, 17% signed a petition, 10% were interested to hear more about unions when given a basic description in accessible language, and 7% wanted to join a union after having been told how much it would actually cost. 

These results are extremely encouraging. The funnels also showed us where we could do more to optimise our currently very basic journeys, to try to convert more people to the next step of the journey.

Our hypothesis was that young core workers would arrive at the app with varying levels of willingness to take action, and some would need to spend longer being warmed up to action. So we can assume that, over time, we would also see more cautious users following their active counterparts into taking action, after they had been exposed to the career and workers’ rights content for a longer period.

Qualitative findings also validated the final step in the journey. Young core workers were not drawn to union branding and logos when shown them in testing sessions. However, after building a relationship with a brand they like and trust, they were more  receptive to hearing about unions. Participants who stated they wouldn’t ever join or contact a union at the outset had been moved even during a single testing session to say that if WorkSmart recommended they speak to a union rep they would do it. This shows the effectiveness of a trusted voice that has an ongoing relationship with young workers introducing them to unions.

A big project with small steps

WorkSmart has been a huge project for the TUC, and there are many lessons in our initial findings report that could help unions develop their own approaches for young workers. 

We couldn’t have properly understood any of these lessons if we hadn’t worked to break the big vision down into the smallest testable steps. 

It has always been tempting to go with hunches throughout the project, and we’ve had to work hard to suppress the urge to just pick an idea and go with it, rather than verifying it. 

But there are many steps in this journey into the unknown that would have probably caused us to give up if we hadn’t been doing so much testing, and hadn’t worked so hard to bring users’ insights into every step of our work. 

The finding that we couldn’t get workers to provide their employer info up front could have been one of these, and the initial finding was pretty demoralising at first. Working with the users to ask “why not?” helped us to see that this wasn’t a brick wall for the project though, and we could come at the problem from another angle that users did like. 

Read the full report “The missing half million” on the TUC site.