The SAG-AFTRA merger is the single best community management/social media experience of my career to date. For more than 50 years SAG and AFTRA had been attempting to merge, and had failed many times. The most recent failure ended in a full scale PR war which cost resources, and more importantly, reduced leverage at the negotiating table.
Not wanting to repeat the mistakes of the past, the communications teams of both unions embarked on a campaign of transparency that involved a lot of face to face work on the part of the elected leadership. Because of social media, we had an opportunity to show (rather than tell) our dedication to member well-being. We pushed to get every step of the campaign online, and the community responded. Being the founder and team lead of the AFTRA social media accounts, I’d spent years building a highly responsive social media community through regular content creation, curation, and customer service. As a result, the membership was already in a habit of tagging AFTRA in their conversations, and going to our account with industry related questions, knowing that they would be answered in an accurate and timely manner.
When accusations of obfuscation were made, we introduced simply-worded “just the facts” messaging on all channels. We live-broadcast and live-tweeted informational sessions where elected leaders discussed the plan and answered questions. We also sent our reps into the field with Flip cameras to get video of ordinary members talking up the merger, which we then cut together and turned around in a matter of days, or sometimes hours. Finally, we ran hotlines and provided training as well as hands-on help for all staff members on how to field merger questions so that any point of contact would be positive and on-message. At every step, we engaged at the member level in the community, always thinking of the average person who would be involved with this merger long after we were gone. Sometimes it resulted in more work for us, but it made a significant difference for the members.
On April 1, 2012 the membership of both unions overwhelmingly voted “yes” to merger. Many of the same members and staff people were involved in both the successful and the unsuccessful merger attempts, but two major things had changed in the ensuing years. The first was that the larger community came to appreciate the need for merger through their experience in the great recession, and the second is that they were able to actively participate in the “vote yes” movement from where they were via social media.