Trade Union Youth Sections and Social Media - Evidence from the UK

Friday, 3 July 2015: 2:15 PM-3:45 PM
TW2.1.01 (Tower Two)
Andy Hodder, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom; University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom; University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom
David Houghton, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom
This paper looks at the use of social media by the youth sections of three UK trade unions: GMB, the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) and UNISON. The Internet is considered to be an important way of engaging with young workers as it offers a wide array of opportunities for people to engage in political activities due to its multi-channelled communication abilities. Much has been written about unions and the Internet (Greene et al., 2003; Martinez Lucio, 2003) and many have noted the need for unions to engage in social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube (Bailey et al., 2010; Bryson et al., 2010). It has been suggested that new technologies are ‘changing the face of community engagement because of their ability to recruit people to causes, organize collective action, raise awareness, influence attitudes, raise funds, and communicate with decision-makers’ (McAllister, 2013: 93).

Young people in particular have high levels of engagement with social media. In January 2014 89% of Internet users aged 18-29 years were using at least one social media platform (Pew Internet Research, 2015). The use of such technology has been shown to have a positive impact on improving participation. In a number of studies, social media has increasingly been shown to be effective in campaigning (Castells, 2012; Hill, 2013) and studies by Panagiotopoulos (2012) and Panagiotopoulos and Barnett (2014) provide useful insights into how social media is perceived by trade unionists. However, what is lacking from the research is a discussion of how and for what unions use social media. This is of particular importance to young workers as unions ‘need to adopt the communication technologies used by young people’ (Bailey et al, 2010: 57).

This paper builds upon the work of Hodder (2015), Panagiotopoulos (2012) and Panagiotopoulos and Barnett (2014), providing one of the first systematic examinations of union social media use in terms of method, scope and content. The paper examines differences in Twitter usage between the youth sections of GMB, PCS and UNISON.

Data were collected over a five month period (1st January – 31st May 2014). A total of 1,048 tweets (including original tweets, retweets and mentions) were collected from three accounts; GMB Young Members (n=148), PCS Young Members (n=624) and UNISON Young Members (n=276). Two raters coded the tweets as to their message type/focus, i.e., whether the message was for recruitment, engagement, or campaign updates, amongst others. This paper aims to analyse the differences, if any, between the ways in which the three youth sections use Twitter.