Defining Social Media

“Social media” is the broad term given to describe the latest evolution of internet and web based communication platforms which enable users to rapidly connect and interact in a variety of different formats. A social media site is a platform that allows user-generated content to emerge through interactions and collaborations in a virtual community. This contrasts with earlier websites and other forms of broadcast media where users are limited to the passive viewing of content.

Social media refers to the means of interactions among people in which they create, share, and exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks. Andreas Kaplan and Michael Heinlein define social media as “a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content.

Furthermore, social media depends on mobile and web-based technologies to create highly interactive platforms through which individuals and communities share, co-create, discuss, and modify user-generated content. It introduces substantial and pervasive changes to communication between organizations, communities and individuals.


Picture: The author training a group of trade union members on the importance of Social Media for Trade Unions, Organised by ILO-India, 2013.


Characteristics of Social Media and its Difference with Industrial Media



Reach Global Global
Type of Communication One way, two way communication level is tougher Two way communication is easier and can be done instantly
Accessibility the means of production for industrial media are typically owned privately or by government social media tools are generally available to anyone at little or no cost
Usability Specialized Skills needed Basic knowledge of operating computer and Smart phone enough
Recency The time it reaches can take a long time also information might be distorted Social Media reaches instantly
Permanence Mostly permanent, the editing takes a long time, Corrigendum Instant changes can be made, edited


Why trade Unions should use Social Media?

  1.  It challenges hierarchy. Trade Unions mostly have oligarchic situations, mostly created due to four reasons; Inequality of Knowledge between officials and ordinary Members; Differential control over means of communication; Time, energy and Space poverty of ordinary members and Uneven distribution of communication, politics and public speaking etc[1]. But with ICT and social media, it is challenged as the people have the relevant information and thus it lead from.                                                             Oligarchic Control   →   Distributive Discourse
  2. Increases Transparency and Accountability
  3. Increases the Bargaining power of the ordinary Members
  4. It reconfigures the time-space dimension of communicative space. Physical presence might not so important for meetings. Women, contract workers, daily wage workers might be separated as they might not get a chance to attend meetings thereby losing the chance to negotiate, leading to disinterest among the workers. But with social media, they can give comments, take part in meetings etc and thus can continue to keep connected with the Union.
  5. It’s cheap and easily available.

 How to best use Social Media?

  • Engage in Conversations
  • Be active in Online communities
  • Keep it consistent-Consistency is must
  • Share relevant updates
  • Choose your networks carefully-Don’t add random groups
  • Have moderators
  • Understand that the process is slow: Be patient
  • Above all communicate: Don’t advertise/market

Social media can prove to be a double edged sword, if not properly monitored and controlled. Thus a union should have a strong social media policy. While forming the social media policy of your union a few questions that can be considered are:-

  • Who will manage the site? : It is wise to choose one or two people from your union to create and manage the social media site your union will use. Treat what you post just as you would when you publish a union newsletter. Once someone posts information, it is, in theory, published for anyone to see.
  • Who can post items to the site?: Again, if your union is using the site to advance its issues and point of view, limit access to one or two trusted people. Others can submit items to them for review and posting. A strong social media policy should make clear that whoever is posting information is a representative of the union. By identifying themselves as a member of a union, a social networker becomes a representative of that union and everything he/she posts has the potential to reflect on the union and its image.
  • What kinds of items are appropriate for the site? : Use your site to announce local meetings, events, call attention to website updates, let members know when your union is in the news, when your union’s issues are mentioned at the legislature, etc.
  • Secrecy/Public: A strong social media policy will acknowledge that social networking sites are open to the public. If you don’t want the world to know your organizing goals, negotiations strategies or audit results—don’t put the information on Facebook, your blog, Twitter or any other social networking site.

A strong social media policy will state that your union’s social networking site exists to advance the goals and work of your union. It will clearly state that personal opinions that defame or tarnish the union’s image do not belong on the union’s site.

[1] Anne Marie Greene, John Hogan and Margaret Grieco, “E-collectivism and Distributed discourse: New opportunities for trade union democracy, Industrial Relations Journal 34:4, ISSN 0019-8692

(This is a part of the article series on ‘Social Media and Trade Unions’. It concludes here. For any additional information, the author can be directly contacted. Information provided here are collected from various sources and can be openly distributed for the benefit of Trade Unions)

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