04 Aug 2011

Viral marketing and Unions

Viral marketing is a way of using existing social networks to reach an audience for campaigns and advertising on the internet. The idea is that, if the message is good enough, people will tell their friends about it through email, Facebook posts, Tweets etc.

People are more likely to value the opinion of their friends, so if the message is successful then a large amount of viewers can be reached for a relatively small outlay. Unions have been experimenting with viral marketing for a number of years, with varying degrees of success.

The TUC was one of the first to experiment with this approach with the ‘Comfort breakdown’ [Update - link removed as page now deleted] animation in 2005. The humorous video featuring a dog undergoing work break issues was aimed at younger, white collar non-union members to promote the ‘join a union’ feature on the Worksmart website. More followed, including the ‘Why the long face’ song and video targeted at betting shop workers for the Community union.

Since then, there have been numerous attempts by unions to use viral marketing to send out messages. For example, CWU Royal mail members created an anti-privatisation song that became a YouTube hit. Whilst at Prospect, I produced a song and video during the successful recognition campaign in the National Trust, showing how the Union was aware of the issues facing Trust staff.

The highest profile use of Union viral marketing so far is the ‘Andrew Lansley Rap’, a song opposed to the NHS reforms and funded by Unison. The video received national coverage and featured on BBC’s “Have I got news for you” programme, leading to over 400,000 views on You Tube. This approach has been criticised though, as in order to attract the attention of users, humour is almost always used which can make it difficult to make a serious point. Also, competition for attention has never been higher, making viral marketing more difficult.

Viral marketing has proven useful though and, while its effectiveness can vary, it’s a low risk strategy as the production costs are usually minimal. I’ve been working on the most recent addition, a song and video just released to promote the role of Union Learning Reps in the workplace. It looks like viral marketing is here to stay.

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