Social naivety put the brakes on support for Tube strike

From a quick scan of my Twitter feed yesterday morning, it would appear that most people's feelings towards yesterday's Tube strike ranged from mild annoyance to seething anger. How dare those greedy so-and-so's on £50k, working 36 hours a week, with 42 days holiday, ask for more money, went the general rhetoric.

20,000 people united behind one clear message would have gone viral, argues Tom Johnson
20,000 people united behind one clear message would have gone viral, argues Tom Johnson
It surprised me that there were very few people with anything positive to say about the unions and their workers.

Where was their voice and why was it so silent?

This negative feeling towards the strikers was undoubtedly influenced by the agenda put out by the majority of the mainstream media. 

Decent, impartial publications reported on the unions refusing a strike-cancelling £2.5k bonus and two per cent annual pay increase at the last minute. Other ones voiced why this made the unions, and their workers, greedy with no care for the poor general public. 

It was much easier to find something negative in the press than a quote or reason from the unions as to why they were striking. 

PR folk know that mass public opinion can be swayed by the press; we have relied on that for years. 

We also understand the power that social media can have to supplement this, or in some cases, outpace it. Many times when a campaign isn’t getting the editorial coverage we need, we look to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest to reach out to the audiences and get our message to them. 

While there was nothing the unions could do about most publications pushing out their negative rhetoric, they could have changed their focus on to creating a social movement online. 

No doubt on their official pages they tried but there needed to be some action to support it. It was reported that 20,000 workers were on strike today. 

Imagine the images shared on social media if each and every one of them marched on the TfL HQ today. To make something highly shareable, it has to evoke a strong emotional response. The sight of 20,000 people united behind one clear message would have no doubt gone viral.

But that didn’t happen. 

In this day and age, visibility is key. Instead of images of workers fighting for something they believe in being shared on social media, you saw pictures and videos of enormous lines for the buses at Victoria. 

People who are sitting on the fence see the strikers as a menace, rather than passionate and standing up for themselves. 

Today, being hidden is not an option for communications. 

The unions have to do better in the future. They need to embrace, reach out and create situations that can get their message heard. 

It’s a real shame but their social naivety put the brakes on any kind of public support for the Tube strike.

Tom Johnson is an account manager at Jargon PR

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