How the Union deals with communication, a step forward approach

Benjamin Harding submitted on

Thursday 19th May 2016


I would like to propose an idea which perhaps pastes quite nicely next to the brand launch occurring right now.

So, the huge huge problem to address here is communication, and many times as a volunteer in SUSU I have heard this issue, and as the ideas person I think myself to be even i've long struggled to think about what  would be a good thing to do about it. But I have just about been able to effectively communicate, but this is more to do with the fact I have direct in person discussions with my cohort about ideas to take to the table. I really think this in person aspect is missing, and perhaps something to take away from the most recent live forum you held in the bridge.

(If you don't have time to read on/listen to  my 2 suggestions in full, they are an app and and online forum).

One thing I make clear is that the issue starts with social media. Primarily the Union utilises the features of Facebook, and to some extent Twitter, and that makes sense because the majority of students have a smart phone that they're likely to look at on a daily basis. On the other hand, how many students actually see things posted or have the ability to discuss directly there what has been posted? The answer is probably not too many, at least not until the last week when we have seen that bout of engagement in response to the brand review. But this is usually because of the heightened coverage from media outlets. Though, students felt in the dark about the progression it was making if they couldn't get directly to the Union.

Also, a key question reflective of this apathy is, do students have a care about the Union at the moment? Well that would be difficult to interpret, but easy to discover, and easy to rectify if the latter is prominent. One things for sure, as a JCR I strugged to keep up with the evolution of social media- and that was just between 2 years of students. We struggled for 2015/16 because halls residents were not going to Facebook, not discussing things like the first year we took leadership of. Things weren't unified enough to support us. If they ever had general questions with the JCR, they would be to do with things reception could tell them, and settled through private message etc. Nothing to do with our roles, and maybe that was more to do with how we sold ourselves in Freshers Week. On the other hand, I like to think there was no other way we could have further increased our communication, leading to the idea that we were posed with the question of "are our roles effective, and do the students feel like they need us  beyond freshers?" This is all because it felt like students were more independent from the Union and volunteers than ever before. They were using apps that we could not even have a representation on, such as Whatsapp, and that seemed to be across the board in halls, a massive issue for maintaining engagement with us volunteers. This is reflected in the international cohort, who we felt segregated from, and the key reason on introducing a communities officer to address that, but perhaps ended up ineffective because we had no platform to communicate with them. We also always struggled with the budget access to get a hype train going, and therefore in the way of events or campaigns we had no involvement other than a failing social media with the halls. 

I myself have never considered using this format to discuss ideas, because quite frankly it's much quicker to get a response or see someone has read it on Facebook messenger. However a lot of people have an apathy towards the Union because they feel perhaps that the representation is not reflective of what they want. A good example here would be of the referral to Union Council on major things, which has proved unsuitable and has led to it becoming a less effective way of doing things. This I guess reflects the social media troubles experienced. So what would be a positively unique idea to level the ground here? 

We need our own social media! Well.. Why not? The one way to make sure students are in the know is by notifying them, and giving them the opportunity to dicuss new concepts and new ideas. The Union does need to become more unified, for our good, for the good of the staff that have to use so many platforms of social media to get the message out. But for once we could say there is no excuse if we had our own form. But what exactly am I on about? Developing an app of course! In short, news could be streamed out through the app via notifications that students have the choice to mute or not. If they are muting it then that is their  communication choice, but for the first time you'd have the excuse that not having the app and the notifications mean it is the student's fault for not seeing communication. This app could be so much more than just an app too! We could have mobile tickets for the first time for events, allow for integration with media outlets such as the wessex scene, susutv, surge etc. The widgets could be personalised for your societies and potentially halls too. It would integrate an interface to allow volunteers to communicate directly with the students they govern. It can even have your own calendar scheduling meetings, events etc, or throw these into the calendars students already have on their phones. We need one place to do our primary communication, and this is what I think should be it.  

To really get the message home about how students discuss things i'm sure you get the same types of questions every day, and until now there's no good way of showing that it has already been discussed. A good way of getting this out of the equation is to have an online forum, which although not a new concept allows for that rich but broad detail. This discussion board forum would do well to compliment the app, if students ever want to discuss something the Union/relevant committee is doing and debate it with other students on the forum. It echoes the old "ideas and discussions" group, which right now seems like it's own clique because it has become disused by the Union. Forum topics that you subscribe to, which could include societal ones, can be accessed by all members and committee, and email notifications could be put through there. Commitiees would be able to utilise the app to post information, and add calendar events. They would direct students to the forums if they had questions. A simple search feature would allow students to find the forum posts relevant to them. Now I know this would take time to design, make user friendly, and editable, but it has been done before, just not by a Student's Union! The only thing to do from that is of course train people up in how to use it. But if we throw everyone through the same place, including international societies, then we are likely to be more successful with communication. The progress of this also relies on student ideas an input, to really refine what we set out to achieve, and make it feel homemade, like it is the students that crafted it, and therefore have a greater bond with it.

So, what a couple of communication ideas that perhaps the new brand could boast on introducing, something positive in the light of recent events hampering progress? They need refining and focusing more, but I hope they are good ideas to introduce in the near future. Just make sure you market it based upon "you told us there were communciation issues between everyone, we created this to unify how we communicate as a Union, based upon all your feedback! (And doesn't the app look great!) Avoid making it seem as if it wasn't student feedback which led to the creation, and use statistics where possible to show what students wanted reflect with what has been done. Release the concept and progress via media before releasing what you think is the finished product!


Here, you can view the complete set of official responses from the sabbatical officers regarding this submission.

Students' Union replied on

Thursday 19th May 2016 3:35pm

Thanks for such a long and well thought out submission!

I agree, Facebook is the best and worst place to draw attention to things – the best because so many people are on it, the worst because only things that people are engaging with appear high on newsfeeds.

You have a very good point about social media – it changes so quickly, the best way for us to keep up is almost definitely going to be our own app rather than projecting ourselves on to apps designed to person to person contact, rather than group-to-person. Levelling the ground in the way you mention is exactly what the democracy review has done – things won’t go to council now before anyone has heard of them, they’ll be proposed online, discussed by all students for a week before any committee even looks at implementation, so we can capture way more student opinion.

App development has to be the next big thing for this Union, to compliment the other huge changes this year. I totally agree, it makes sense as a means to capture opinion, best reflect opportunities. It can be done, and it will be done. The online forum idea is already implemented in the democracy review, and I’m glad you agree that it will help.

As for releasing things before we release concept and progress – I’ve thoroughly learned my lesson on that one recently, and it’s a mistake I think I (and others) have learned from.

Thanks for getting in touch, all this feedback will be really useful when app development gets underway!

Ben Franklin
Union President


  • Forwarded to Union President

    Thursday 19th May 2016 1:11pm


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