CWU Youth Thunderclap breaks new ground in cyberspace

Regular visitors to this site will be aware of CWU Youth, the Communication Workers Union’s youth section designed specifically to engage and promote the work of our 20,000 members under the age of 30.

Youth Day LogoAt our recent Annual Conference the union as a whole acknowledged the importance of young engagement by designating 28 April 2014 as the union’s first ever National Youth Day.

A six month campaign to persuade branches to bring a young delegate or observer to conference was rewarded with an at least doubling of the numbers of young people present in one capacity or another. Some branches turned up with as many as six or seven youth activists.

However, as well as being a first for the CWU, the National Youth Day also contained a first for any UK trade union – the first use of Thunderclap.

Thunderclap Image

A Thunderclap is what happens when a pre-determined message is distributed via social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook simultaneously on the same day at the same time. People are asked to sign up to the Thunderclap and a set number of participants are required before the message is broadcast.

Tweets 1It sounds like a very simple “why wasn’t this thought of sooner” concept, but the idea has been relatively slow to catch on. Most of the people we approached to support our Thunderclap had not heard of it before.

The first task of course is to identify what message you want to send out. After much debate with our National Youth Committee we eventually went for “Support stronger unions for a future that works. Don’t just join: engage, get active, be empowered.” with the hashtag of #cwuyouthday14 and then the link to the CWU Youth website.

We then had to make a commitment to sign up a certain number of participants. This is crucial because the Thunderclap is not launched unless you hit your target.

We felt that 100 supporters would be an achievable target but would also have an impact.

With the message agreed, the target set, and the date and time fixed, then the work had to begin to attract supporters.

The Thunderclap website does not allow campaigning more than 28 days prior to the launch of the Thunderclap.

It was interesting the range of responses we received as each member of National Youth Committee, ploughed through their own social media contacts.

Some people politely declined on the basis that they had had negative experiences through their involvement in past Thunderclaps with people, for example, uncoupling themselves on Twitter and Facebook. This is certainly one possibility that we hadn’t contemplated.

Tweets 2Others with very large numbers of followers were understandably reluctant to get involved presumably on the basis that this might open the door to multiple similar requests.

Another unexpected problem we encountered is that when we tweeted about the forthcoming Thunderclap, people retweeted the message instead of signing up explicitly on the Thunderclap site – something that takes less than 30 seconds to do!

However, the most frequently occurring response was one of wholehearted support and a genuine encouragement for the initiative that we were showing.

In the end and with four days to spare we reached our target with our 100th supporter being the PPC for Lancaster and Fleetwood and long-term CWU supporter Cat Smith.

Our most thunderous supporter weighed in with over 32,000 connections, but our combined support from 108 people left us just short of my personal 100,000 target.

Tweets 3At 10am on 28 April the Thunderclap launched. I have never experienced a feeling quite like it. Tweets, retweets and re-retweets zooming through cyberspace like a meteor shower.

It certainly felt as if we were reaching very large numbers of people and we experienced a significant increase in the number of followers for our Twitter feed.

So for us, using Thunderclap as an information-awareness and an organising tool was a very productive and positive experience. I suppose it is inevitable that the more widely the tool is used the less of a novelty it will become, but certainly at the present time we are not yet close to the Thunderclap being over-used.

As well as the value and satisfaction of the Thunderclap itself, it is of course important for a union and especially its young members to be alive to the possibilities of new technology and social media and to strive hard to capture their potential. Our CWU Youth Thunderclap certainly achieved this objective as well.

As ever for more information about CWUYouth, visit