Friday, August 07, 2009

... And More on AstroTurfing

Sorry to anyone who is tired of fake grassroots, but it's just such a hot topic lately. Today's Post had an article about how UPS employees were forced to lobby against FedEx. The article suggests that rank-and-file UPS workers (drivers, office personnel, etc.) were told by their managers to send letters to members of Congress in support of more stringent labor rules for FedEx.

If true, this is certainly an example of astroturfing at its most egregious. Informing employees of an issue and allowing them to make their own decisions is one thing: sitting them down with a pen, paper, talking points and some not-so-veiled threats is entirely different. There is a right way to encourage employee and other citizen involvement in advocacy. What's described in this article is NOT it.

Perhaps even more significant is the fact that given how these letters were generated, I'm not even sure how effective they would be anyway! I mean, if you're going to strong arm employees in to writing letters you might as well have them be effective. Some key problems with these:
  • Umm, handwritten letters? So last century. Pieces of paper going to Washington, DC go through an irradiation process. They come out of that process brown, crunchy and smelling bad (not to mention 3 weeks late). Personalized e-mails or faxes are often a better way to go.
  • Apparently managers told employees to choose from a few "key arguments" that they were to copy verbatim. A more effective letter would incorporate personalized arguments and stories from the writer about how they've been harmed by the status quo and how the proposed policy change would benefit them.
  • Employees were apparently pulled from work activities and told to write these letters while on the job. While that's not illegal, it's certainly suspicious. Anyone wanting to solicit employee engagement should encourage them to participate in "off hours."
Again, engaging employees in legislative initiatives can be both effective and ethical. The key is to consider this work in the context of helping employees understand the issues and giving them the tools they need to participate should they choose to do so.
In short, follow these basic rules for better corporate advocacy -- Foster the efforts of your internal champions to tell a positive story, yes. Force people who don't want to be involved and don't want to write letters, no.

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