Using social media on a smartphone. Photo: Teera Konakan / Getty Images

What we’ve learned from growing the TUC’s social media comms

The TUC has been evolving our approach to social media in the last couple of years. Here are a few of the principles of what we’ve tried, and what we’ve learned in doing it.

Social is a battle for attention

The starting point for a lot of our content is that on social media most people basically don’t care. That can be quite hard to adapt to. You can get into a bubble in your union, with policy and industrial officers who are working on something important for our mission and everyone can be very passionate about it.

And so it’s very easy to get into a mindset that everyone in your audience shares your perspective, that everyone realises how important this thing is or why they should pause to check it out.

But most people have their families, friends, their lives and all their interests on social media. You’ve got to really fight to get their attention and make them care about the thing which you want them to care about.

So that can be a really healthy starting point when you’re thinking about what content you’re going to make.

Tweets are not free

Tweets are not free in the sense that a bad tweet will make people less inclined to look at your content in future.

So if you put out something which is boring or not relevant to them, or too complicated to understand, then when they see your logo and your name in future, they’re going to think it’s probably not worth their time or energy to check it out.

In a lot of organisations, there can be a tendency to say “oh, we can just put it on social”, if a story isn’t strong enough to get media coverage for, or to make a feature of for membership channels.

But just be aware that if you’re doing something on your main social channels which is niche and not of interest, that’s going to damage your channel’s effectiveness for the future.

Ideally when you’re thinking of putting content on your channels, it should be as high quality as possible, and as interesting as possible to the widest range amongst your audience.

How do people react when they see your name or logo next to a post? In our personal social media use we all have pages that we like. And when we see their name and logo when scrolling past, we instinctively think, oh, this one will be good.

Know what works for you and stick to it

It’s a good idea to be thinking about content consistency.

What do you want people to expect they’ll be getting when they see your name and our logo? It that it’ll be something interesting and exciting, or something shocking, or insightful? When you’ve found what it is you want to build an expectation of, then try as much as you can to be consistent to that for all your content.

We try hard to rehearse our core themes and stick with them. The TUC plans annual campaign priorities, which gives us major themes for the year. We need to adapt to the news cycle, but we try not to stray too far from our core lanes, which helps keep up a level of consistency.

Being led by the audience, rather than being leading edge

Everyone dreams of getting a huge viral hit on social media. But that’s really hard, and we can’t afford too many misses when chasing hits.

So next time someone in your team suggests they’ve had a great idea for a new type of video, maybe take a breath and try to look at it the other way around. Make the starting point for any bit of social media content: “has this type of content gone viral elsewhere?”

If it has then that’s great, and it’s more likely to be a good use of resources. The worst thing is for you to put loads of money into an expensively produced video and it just dies with the audience you had wanted to see it.

Gone in 3 seconds

Work hard on the hook for a social video. When writing a script or outline, we can spend half a day just trying to think of what the very first line is. If we can’t think of a really compelling first line, then often there isn’t likely to be enough in the idea to make those opening three seconds work.

When people scroll through TikTok, Facebook or any platform, you have three seconds to grab their attention before they just scroll onto the next thing. So you’ve got to have that compelling opening hook.

Pick your channels

If you were looking to go viral on a particular platform, you could look at what works on the channel already for similar messages. If you find an individual or organisation whose account goes really far on, then look at what is it about their successful posts, and which of those aspects could you realistically make use of within your own campaigns and tone of voice?

We’ll devote more time to dedicated content that suits our core channels, rather than trying to optimise it for too many different channels. Sometimes we’ll recycle content on other platforms, where it seems to be being picked up and engaged with in a way that suits that platform – like a breaking news tweet screenshot on Facebook, or a funny TikTok video on Twitter.

View social as an end, not a means to something else

In the past, we’ve often viewed social as a way to drive people towards content on our websites. But in recent years, platforms have increasingly shown your content to fewer people if it takes you away from their own platform.

We now won’t do a tweet with a link in it – It just isn’t going to get cut through anymore. If you need to do this, it’s probably better to post it in a linked, second tweet to direct people to the link. Most people won’t see the link, but so many more will see the first tweet that it will likely balance out better.

That’s particularly the case with blogs. Given the high level of political engagement on Twitter, there used to be a big overlap for us between blog readers and Twitter followers. But as Twitter started de-prioritising links, we started trying out long threads, finding a way to give an informed take, but to keep the content within Twitter.

It’s important to resist the temptation when we have a big new policy report, to try to promote it directly on social media as a report.

We’ll try to get the best parts, and the clearest findings of the report and create content that gets them onto social media – whether it’s a graphic or a quick response video – that can get the message out appropriately to the audience, rather than expecting them to click through to a report that they probably aren’t in the frame of mind to read at that time.

The same goes for big events like conferences or rallies. It can be easy to fall back on the process rather than the content, with hashtags and coverage of events that are more of interest to people who are there than people who aren’t. Rather than assuming that people care about your rally, it’s often safer to assume that they care about the themes of the rally. Tap into emotional responses about that, and then plug the rally at the end.

Overnight success takes years of focus

We’ve been following these principles for the last couple of years, and it’s paid off for us so far. Previously, we were getting about 800,000 to a million impressions every month on Twitter. Now it’s around 30 million.

As part of that, we’ve worked on how we get social media understood and valued within our organisational reporting processes, seen as being as important as media column inches or website page reads.

Every quarter we analyse the best performing pieces of content, and present that to senior management. It can be a great opportunity to talk about any successes of what you’re doing, why you’re doing it in that way, and how elements of a new approach to social fits into an overall strategy.

Written by Declan Seachoy and Paul Nicholson, TUC social media team