LRD Booklets May 2016

Social media at work - a practical guide for trade union reps

[pages 3-4]


Social media appears to be an unstoppable force. In the last decade people’s usage of social networking sites has exploded and for many they have become an integral part of how they connect with the world. It is now normal to share information, ideas and opinions with virtual communities through websites and other online technologies. The popularity of these sites has also been revolutionary for trade unions who can now reach out to hundreds of thousands of people at minimal cost.

It is hard to believe that social media barely existed 10 years ago. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), more than six in 10 of all adults participated in social networking in 2015 – up from 54% in 2014 and 45% in 2011. Of the 61% of adults who used social networks in 2015, 79% did so every day or almost every day. Its reach is widespread across all age groups: although the youngest adults have the highest usage, with 92% of those aged 16 to 24 engaged in social networking, it is also used by 44% of those aged 55 to 64.

Social networking site Facebook dominates the field with 1.6 billion monthly active users, a billion of whom use it every day for on average 20 minutes each. Other popular sites include: YouTube for media sharing; Twitter for the exchange of quick, frequent messages; LinkedIn for professional networking; Instagram – a video and photo sharing service; Snapchat, which is popular among teenagers and young adults for sharing photos; and various blogging sites, where people write about their lives and experiences. New sites are always appearing and there are also many specialist sites such as UnionBook, a social network for trade unionists.

But the wide reach of social media means it also poses many risks for workers. While looking at the innovative ways unions are using social media, this booklet will primarily focus on how developments in social media have expanded the scope for members to find themselves in trouble at work for reasons linked to their use of new technologies.

Union reps are increasingly finding themselves having to defend members accused of bringing their organisations into disrepute because of something they have posted online or trying to negotiate what is meant by “acceptable use”. Where management is failing to communicate policy, reps are stepping in to explain the risks to members. This booklet offers some practical guidance to reps, as well as highlighting the approach taken by employment tribunals, illustrated by the latest tribunal rulings.

Among other sources, the information in this booklet is informed by the experience of local union reps, who were surveyed by LRD in 2016.

This guide includes:

• union guidance for members using social media;

• guidance for reps representing members in social media disciplinaries;

• a summary of how employers are using social media to engage with staff;

• a look at how employment tribunals are dealing with social media cases;

• the rise of cyberbullying;

• advice on how to draw up a social media policy; and

• a look at how unions are using social media for their campaigns.