Making first contact with non-member workers in a new workplace is getting steadily more difficult for unions. Our changing economy has for a long time meant that there are increasingly industries with higher union density, and others with little or none. Changing work patterns towards casualisation have made it harder for workers to meet each other or form relationships over time. And since the pandemic, the drive to working from home in many sectors has further reduced the scope for unions to meet workers in person other than in small numbers.
The first step to organising workers is always finding them, and the TUC has undertaken a number of pilot projects to make contact with new potential members. Alongside our wider campaigning work on outsourcing, we had another opportunity to learn more about this.
Over a 5-week period in July and August 2023, we ran a small pilot aiming to engage predominantly non-union childcare and early years educators via digital channels. Our primary ask was for workers to fill out a short survey about their experience at work.
Our aim was to test whether this approach was viable, efficient and cost-effective. We wanted to:
- Know if and how unions could utilise digital campaigns and social media to reach non-union members in a target sector.
- Trial ways of engaging non-union members that could be replicated by unions wanting to organise in difficult patches.
- Know which tactics and platforms were effective and which were not.
We recognise that the most effective way to recruit new union members is with a face-to-face conversation with someone they trust. However, this approach is resource intensive and unfeasible in many workplaces. This project takes a small step to uncovering if union members could be recruited online and at scale.
Our secondary aim was to support the TUC’s policy work in this area, by collecting workers experiences for the TUC’s care workforce strategy. Our experimental approach helped us reach 270 non-union members, which would have been expensive and difficult with a traditional approach.
What we did
- Created a survey, for childcare workers to share their experiences about work. This was built in Typeform, a platform that produces surveys well optimised for workers to fill in on mobile phones, and which provides useful data on how well the surveys performed at each stage.
- Started a petition calling for £15 an hour for childcare workers. This was done on our Megaphone platform, which is optimised for petition signers to share the action onwards to colleagues and friends. The platform also enabled us to include an “I work in childcare” tick-box. We then asked petition signers who ticked the box to take the survey.
- Asked Megaphone supporters (people who have previously taken another action on the platform, so who are more likely to be positive to union campaigning messages) to send the survey to a childcare worker they knew.
- Joined and posted open questions, a direct link to the survey and the petition in childcare-focused Facebook groups.
- Posted the survey on the TUC’s Twitter and Instagram pages, and asked people to share with a childcare worker they know.
- Ran ads on Facebook and LinkedIn, promoting the survey and petition. This enabled us to test language, imagery and targeting methods to see which performed well.
- Asked unions to promote the survey with their own members.
We were able to track how well each of those methods performed in driving people to complete the survey.
- 670 survey responses
- 270 were not union members – 40%
- 400 were union members – 60%
Of the total responses, 136 (20%) came from unions promoting the survey with their members. 544 (80%) came from the TUC promoting the survey via the other means above.
Where and how we found non-union members:
- Social groups – 7.5% of non-union member survey responses came from posts to childcare-themed Facebook groups. This was quick, easy and replicable for union organisers. These posts included:
- posts linking directly to the survey.
- open questions to spark a conversation followed by a survey ask.
- direct messages to workers who had engaged with our posts.
- Existing supporters – The Megaphone supporter list was our most effective route to find childcare workers. We found 38.2% of non-union members were already on our email list. The list is now over half a million in size, so is likely to hold reasonable numbers of people in many different professions, demographics or localities.
- Online petition – 22.6% of non-union members came after a worker had signed the petition. This showed the petition was an effective way to engage new people, before asking them to complete the survey. People were more likely to take that as an easy initial action to start with, and after taking one action were reasonably likely to take a second if asked.
- Sharing – Asking workers who had already engaged to share the survey with childcare colleagues was effective, collecting 17.7% of non-union members.
- Social content- 4.9% of non-union members came through TUC Instagram posts. Instagram is one of our most widely followed channels, but also has a very general audience, which likely includes many childcare workers.
- Twitter posts and a TUC Facebook post were much less effective. These are more likely to be followed by activists only, and less likely to reach a wider public than Instagram.
- Social ads – LinkedIn ads and Facebook ads direct to the survey were ineffective, yielding just a handful of responses.
- Advertising the petition on social media was more viable however, given its higher take-up rate. We were able to collect the contact details and opt-in of childcare workers on a petition for £0.80p per signature. This represented greater numbers and lower costs than advertising the survey direct. We were then able to direct people who had signed on towards the survey as a second step.
This approach showed potential to reach non-union members in a “hard to organise” sector using digital channels. With limited resourcing and a short time frame, we were able to reach hundreds of non-union members and learn about techniques and platforms that unions could replicate in their own organising.
We believe we have developed a strong case study to present unions, encourage further investment and investigate these approaches further. If you’d be interested to talk through our results and how they might potentially apply with audiences you’re interested in, please do get in touch.