Second annual survey of trade union use of the net: the results

We’ve just completed the second annual survey of trade union use of the net and by any measure it was a huge success. I think we’ve learned a lot — and now we need to apply the lessons we’re learning.

Last year’s survey was relatively large (for us) with 1,336 respondents; this year, we got more than twice that number — 2,954.

And last year we did the survey in English only; this year we did both English and French versions.

Full results of the survey are now available here.  You will need a password to view them; email me for it.

Here are some highlights:


First of all, who responded? The English survey which had 2,605 responses, came largely from these countries (numbers in parentheses are from last year):

UK 670 (260), Canada 493 (236), USA 405 (243), Australia 319 (167), New Zealand 83 (39) and Ireland 72 (45).

Most respondents to the French survey came from:
Canada 127, France 72, and Belgium 66.

Here are the responses to key questions:


The biggest change since last year is the massive jump – more than a tripling – of those using tablets, with another huge jump in the number of smartphone users. With one in seven people surveyed now using a table computer to access the net, it means that unions should take that into account, creating either websites which are suited for a tablet display, or apps specifically designed to run on Android or iOS. Unions in Francophone countries seem to lag behind on this matter – for now.

Devices used to access the net:

(The first number is from the 2012 survey in English. The number in parentheses are from the 2011 survey. The number after that is from the 2012 survey in French.)

Desktop computer 77.7% (79.2%) 79%
Laptop, notebook or netbook 68.5% (70.8%) 64.6%
Smartphone 41.6% (31.4%) 21%
Tablet 14.3% (4.3%) 9.3%
Other 2.3% (2.6%) 3.1%

As for browsers, Internet Explorer’s share continues to fall, but there was also a significant fall for Firefox. The big winners are Chrome and Safari. Unions must take into account that websites designed to work on Internet Explorer on desktop PCs that do not render in correctly in other browsers are a problem. We are back in one sense to the 1990s when there were different browsers (remember Netscape?) that we needed to design for. Union websites must be tested on multiple browsers and on multiple devices (desktop computer, tablet, phone).

Web browsers used:

Microsoft Internet Explorer 63.7% (67.1%) 59.5%
Mozilla Firefox 45.4% (51.5%) 47.6%
Google Chrome 36.5% (26.7%) 32.7%
Safari 23.4% (18.6%) 16%
Other 4.6% (5.2%) 4.4%
Opera 3.4% (4.8%) 3.4%
Konqueror 0.3% (0.6%) 0.3%


Facebook remains the king here, but a surprise was the sudden jump in use of LinkedIn by trade unionists, with more than one in three now saying they use it. This is not the case with Francophones, who hardly use it at all. Twitter experienced a big gain — though this is not reflected in the French survey. UnionBook suffered a sharp decline in the last year. Social networks which used to compete on Facebook’s terrain such as MySpace, Orkut and Bebo now combined represent less than one tenth of Facebook’s reach. Second Life, for which some unions once invested a great deal of time and money, seems to have evaporated. In next year’s survey, we’ll make sure to include Google+ — which is clearly a hit among Francophone trade unionists, with more than one in four of them using it.

Members of which social networks:

Facebook 88.1% (88.1%) 77.6%
LinkedIn 37.5% (29.1%) 8.3%
Twitter 37.4% (32.5%) 15.4%
YouTube 35.3% (36.2%) 31.1%
UnionBook 24.1% (56%) 1.8%
Flickr 10.9% (13.5%) 1.3%
Other 10.3% (10.3%) 14%
MySpace 6.3% (11.4%) 2.2%
Second Life 1.6% (2.1%) 0.4%
Bebo 1.3% (1.2%) 0.4%
Orkut 0.5% (2%) —

Only asked in the French survey:

Google+ 27.6%

Participate in specifically trade union groups in these social networks:

Yes 56.2% (63.7%) 58.3%
No 43.8% (36.3%) 41.7%

Your union has a presence in the networks you belong to?

Yes 58% (58.8%) 57.9%
No 13.6% (15.4%) 17.6%
Don’t know 28.3% (25.7%) 24.5%

Unions are making more use of Facebook and Twitter than before, and this is true for both English and French speaking countries. Union use of LinkedIn appears to be quite limited, despite the very large number of trade unionists signed up to this social network. Unions should consider forming groups on LinkedIn and using it as an additional publishing platform, as well as discussion forum. As the French survey shows, Google+ is playing a significant role, with quite a few unions — at least in Francophone countries — now using it.

Social networks where your union has a presence

Facebook 90.2% (86.6%) 85.1%
Twitter 42.1% (33.5%) 28%
YouTube 24.6% (24.7%) 21.1%
UnionBook 10.5% (21.7%) 1.7%
Other 7.8% (9.3%) 15.4%
LinkedIn 7.7% (4.9%) 4.6%
MySpace 1.3% (2.4%)

Only asked in the French survey:

Google+ 9.1%


As one would suspect, nearly all national unions have websites, but as we will see, only one in five respondents visits them daily — and that number fell considerably in the last year.

National union has a website?

Yes 91.7% (92.9%) 90.4%
No 3.6% (3.3%) 4.1%
Don’t know 4.8% (3.8%) 5.5%

How often do you visit it?

Sometimes 67.2% (64.1%)
Daily 21.2% (27.1%) 26.4%
Never 11.7% (8.8%) 8.3%

Only asked in the French survey:

Weekly 29.2%
Monthly 6.9%

How would you rate it?

Good 49.8% (50.9%) 57.6%
Average 27.7% (26%) 22.9%
Excellent 13.3% (13.7%) 12.2%
Fair 4.8% (6.1%) 6.5%
Poor 4.4% (3.3%) 0.8%


The story with local and branch unions is somewhat different. Far fewer of them seem to have websites. In many cases, people don’t know if they do. And they visit them rarely, with a significant number saying they never visit them at all. Clearly unions must make additional efforts to improve the quality of local union websites to bring them up to the level of the national sites.

Local branch union has a website?

Yes 51.6% (54.5%) 53.5%
No 33.7% (35%) 32.6%
Don’t know 14.6% (10.5%) 13.9%

How often do you visit it?

Sometimes 53.7% (53.4%) 20.8%
Never 32.5% (28.1%) 27.8%
Daily 13.8% (18.5%) 18.5%

Only asked in the French survey:

Weekly 21.3%
Monthly 11.6%

How would you rate it?

Good 37.8% (36.6%) 46.6%
Average 28% (29.9%) 29.2%
Poor 14.6% (13.1%) 7.3%
Excellent 11.4% (8.8%) 12.4%
Fair 8.3% (11.6%) 4.5%


In spite of the huge jump in the numbers of trade unionists using smartphones and tablets, there has hardly been an increase in the union presence on these devices. And the ratings given by those who do use existing union apps are quite low — one in three in the English speaking survey rating their union app as fair or poor, and fully 41% of those responding to the French survey rating the union app as poor. We seem to back to the mid-1990s when union websites were often quite poor, especially when compared to other websites then coming on the scene. Union apps need to match other, similar apps in quality. In other words, it’s not enough to invest in creating an app. The app must be useful for members.

Your union has an app for smartphones or tablets?

Yes 5.8% (4.5%) 4.6%
No 38.1% (42.5%) 46.6%
Don’t know 56.1% (53%) 48.8%

If your union has an app, do you use it?

No 82% (83.9%) 83%
Yes 18% (16.1%) 17%

How would you rate it?

Average 28.4% (22.8%)
Poor 27.6% (27.6%) 41.4%
Good 25.8% (31.5%) 13.8%
Excellent 12.9% (11%) 3.4%
Fair 5.3% (7.1%) —


Unions in both the French and English surveys, over both years, make wide use of email newsletters and members seem largely satisfied with these. Unions should never underestimate the importance of these messages. While investing in the latest social media fad (like Second LIfe) may seem ‘cool’, members want to receive information in their email inboxes and unions must continue to invest in getting this right.

You receive regular email messages from your union?

Yes 78.1% (78.8%) 83.8%
No 21.9% (21.2%) 16.2%

How would you rate those messages?

Good 55.8% (54.2%) 57.9%
Excellent 21.7% (21.7%) 25.2%
Average 16.3%(18.2%) 12.8%
Fair 3.2% (3.7%) 2.5%
Poor 3% (2.2%) 1.7%


Members seem pleased with video and audio content produced by their unions. Though it appears that barely half of all unions produce multimedia for the net, despite the widespread use of broadband connections which make this accessible to all.

Union produces multimedia content for the net?

Yes 54.7% (57%) 54.7%
Don’t know 27.6% (20.6%) 18.6%
No 17.7% (20.6%) 26.7%

How would you rate that content?

Good 50.5%( 50.1%) 59.8%
Excellent 22.2% (17.9%) 18.9%
Average 19.2% (24.3%) 15.2%
Poor 4.8% (4.6%) 3%
Fair 3.4% (3.1%) 3%


Of the five sites we named last year, four declined in popularity — with the decline of UnionBook being quite dramatic. (Only LabourStart held its own.) Radio Labour also fell by half, and is now only rated as useful by 6% of respondents. In some cases, I’m convinced that respondents were checking out these sites for the first time — we gave the URLs as part of the survey. It’s great to see that more than a third found the ILO website useful, but it’s hard to believe that they were regular visitors to it before the survey. One hopes that the survey will raise the awareness of great sites like Radio Labour, UnionJobs and the Global Labour Column, and that next year we might see these increase in popularity.

Useful pro-union websites and services

(Not asked in this form on the French survey)

LabourStart 94.7% (93.3%)
ILO 34%
UnionBook 21.8% (48%)
ITUC 20.8%
Global Unions 13.4%
UnionJobs 10.2% (15.2%)
Union Communication Services 7% (12.9%)
Radio Labour 6.3% (12.5%)
New Unionism Network 5.7%
Global Labour Column 4.5%


Written by admin in: Social networks,Surveys,Twitter,UnionBook |


  • Great stuff but I think I’ll have more to say. Unfortunately, lacking time for the moment.

    Comment | February 13, 2012
  • Next time it might be worth trying to add a few short questions about the respondents (shop floor activists, elected, senior elected, staff). I love these things. Always fun to read the tea leaves…

    Comment | February 14, 2012
  • Lucy N

    Interesting stuff. I agree with the request for basic info on respondents.

    It would be a good idea when reviewing sites to simply ask respondents whether this was the first time they had visited the site.

    Would it be worth breaking down why we refer to particular sites rather than others?

    Comment | February 20, 2012
  • […] Facebook with 23% of them also using Twitter and 13% YouTube.  UnionBook which is mentioned in LabourStart’s survey is a social networking platform for trade union organizations.  I find these results very […]

    Pingback | February 22, 2012
  • […] 2nd annual survey of trade union use of the Internet […]

    Pingback | February 24, 2012
  • I am impressed by the campaign aimed at using IT in our unions. IT has proved to be one of the best methods of communication and the best way of keeping members informed. I am the 1st Deputy Secretary General of th Union of Kenya Civil Servants and a proponent of IT use in the trade union movement. My union is headed that direction and hopefully by June 2012 we will be there.

    Comment | March 5, 2012

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