Wednesday, 15 July 2009

WageIndicator twitters into a conversation about the future

[By Fons Tuinstra] - The WageIndicator has embarked earlier this year into a new media strategy. That was pretty late for an online project for collecting data on wages and labour conditions in now 45 countries. But as a daughter of the ongoing media revolution, it is hard to stay ahead, as more radical revolutionary forces come from behind.
We were not alone in being late: a random check shows that trade unions increasingly have at best started to open twitter accounts and hardly in other social media networks. Very few have a large following and most certainly they are not yet making a digital impact. Not surprisingly, since much of its aging membership still relies on the newspapers and other traditional media channels for information. Those media should not be written off: they still wield a major power. Bankruptcies, consolidations and fast declining audiences are eroding their dominant position, but the traditional media are still there.
A tsunami of change is rolling through the generations and if trade unions and social movements do not make their imprints now, they might be wiped away by this tsunami when it is too later.
Now, in many ways the position of the WageIndicator is different from trade unions. Trade Unions at their best are social networks, and many of the new online tools facilitate building up those social networks.
"We are no social network," says WageIndicator director Paulien Osse. "At best we are a social network for the few hundred people in 45 countries who work on this project. But otherwise we are a factory, producing data, no social network." But, even being a factory is no excuse for ignoring the ongoing communication revolution.
Companies are also still exploring their online presences, but do a much better job compared to social movements. The better ones are monitoring their online presence and - even more - react when you mention them, for example on Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook or Friendfeed. When you mention the American publishing house Wiley online, you are likely to get a polite response from their head corporate communication. When you twitter about the poor website and service at KLM, you are getting at least an apology and sometimes even an upgrade to business class on your next flight. When you tell on twitter that in a desperate fight against ants, you are switching to a product from Bayer, Bayer asks to keep you updated about the results.
It does not sound very revolutionary to you? In fact, it is a watershed, what online tools and especially Twitter have done. For Twitter setting up a platform is no longer important, but focusing on the conversation is. The importance of the conversation in stead of a publishing platform has been part of the new media gospel for a long time, but apart from the digital vanguard nobody had really a clue what that meant. Twitter has made that obvious: it has a rather clumsy website and additional tools for registering, sending messages, reading them and reacting are much better than the twitter website itself.
Now, not only newspapers and broadcasting stations feel the impact of the new media revolution, other platforms like email, websites, weblogs and portals see also a decline in traffic.
Becoming part of the conversation, or setting up that conversation, is a key strategy at the WageIndicator. Setting up a decent front end for a website, weblog or even a portal has become so childishly simple, everybody can do that. So, when the WageIndicator still wants to draw visitors in the future to its so important surveys to fill its databases, it has to become a leading force in the conversation on wages and labour conditions worldwide. Its website, traditional media, new media and even twitter are just tools for that conversation.
Fortunately, the project is well positioned to push those conversations. In the first few months we have started internal missionary work and got other national teams eager to participate. We have started fast web polls that so we can ask our international audience quick questions on hot issues. We have started international salary comparisons for different occupations and we are trying to become an aggregator for international news on wages, from our 45 countries, but also from other sources.
We are now a few months into the process, and it is far too early to say we are on the right or the wrong track. But the communication revolution moves on, and we cannot afford to ignore it. Change is inevitable.
Fons Tuinstra

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