24Hr emergency line +44 (0)20 8476 4099
Join Balpa

The changing face of BALPA communications

by James Sparks Communications & Digital Specialist

Our most recent member polling revealed that the vast majority (85%) of BALPA members feel that they are ‘well informed’ about what BALPA is doing. That figure was broadly in line with results from previous years but we want to see that figure even higher – our target is 90%. Our own experiences and the validation of these statistics confirm the theory that communicating can be a very tricky business.

The growth of smartphones has made email more accessible, social media has increased content sharing, and technology continues to evolve and provide us with new media platforms every week. However, with that increase comes the risk of saturation. Research shows, for example, that spam accounts for 14.5 billion messages globally per day. That’s 45% of all emails. In other words, effective communication is a dark art.

Over the last few years at BALPA we have started to shift our internal communications strategy. That change in direction is based on several key factors; feedback from members, analysis of digital statistics, social media trends, email click rates, surveys, polls, and we now have the benefit of using new technology and resources. Much of this technology also comes with the added bonus that it is often cheaper to produce than more traditional methods of communication, such as printing and posting newsletters, which means a better return on value.

All of this work has one aim – making sure our members feel connected to the work of their association, and know what their reps and officers are doing to stand up for the profession and for flight safety.

What has changed?
Visibility and influence is now a very real and specific target for the association. As a result, our communications have become more strategic, planned and tactical.

We have achieved significant increases in external press coverage, which has given pilots a respected voice in the media and in the eyes of the general public. That external influence hasn’t happened by chance. Collectively the association has worked hard to ensure issues like fatigue, flight safety, reporting, training, security, drones and lasers have regularly been covered in print, online and broadcast. That coverage has helped assist our political lobbying which ensures the issues that matter most to pilots are addressed in Parliament. As an example, lasers and drones, and indeed BALPA, have been mentioned more recently by the Secretary of State for Transport and the Aviation Minister in the Houses of Commons.

Our member newsletters have now moved away from attached PDF files to HTML embedded newsletters. These type of newsletters are more visually appealing, easier to read and include features such as active links and embedded videos. This makes the content far more interesting than a lengthy text document. HTML format allows code to track metrics such as open and click through rates, which gives information about what people are reading and can help fine tune the type of content. The average open rate for company newsletters is now 72%, compared to a much lower national average. Of course, previously we never had statistics for PDF attachments.

Those newsletters are now also available for members to read offline in the BALPA 2Way app. 2Way is designed to help bring the association closer to members and allow them to take a much more active and influential role in making sure BALPA is run 'for pilots, by pilots'. 2Way allows pilots to submit working reports and information to BALPA at the touch of a button, while being kept up to date with the latest news from their union. The app also features a handy emergency contact facility via phone or SMS designed to assist members in the event of an accident or incident.

Our social media channels now reach many thousand people, and those following us on Twitter and Facebook alone give BALPA a potential reach of nearly 10 million. We have also been accredited as the 12th most influential trade union on Twitter, which puts us well above some much larger unions in terms of resource and membership.

Our increase in You Tube videos has also risen dramatically from just nine videos being produced in 2012 to 33 produced in total last year (2015). Our work in this area directly supports BALPA reps by providing them with a private platform to produce more visual communications to engage with their members.

What’s next? 
A blog platform for BALPA isn’t a particularly new or radical idea. We regularly have open table discussions at BALPA HQ about new ways to engage members and reach new audiences. Some of those ideas can take longer to put in place as the association may need time to adapt before launch. A blog doesn’t work without the production of engaging content, but over the last few years the increase in our communications channel variance has led to more stimulating and increased levels of available content. That has led to the launch of this blog in 2016. We hope this channel will complement our current communications strategy and bring articles that perhaps you might have missed previously. We also hope to encourage engagement with our posts in allowing comments upon each article and also sharing across social media.

Our members’ magazine, The Log, is undergoing a redesign and is under the direction of a new publishing agency. The changes we’re making are more evolutionary rather than revolutionary, and we hope that by making some small tweaks to the way content is structured, introducing some industrial content and bringing the relevant aviation features to the fore, we can improve your enjoyment of the magazine.

Less is more
Increasing the breadth of our communications means we do have to cut back in certain areas in order to prevent a white noise effect. Recently we ended our monthly newsletter Log Update, which has been replaced by a shorter, more concise email newsletter – On The Radar.

Our website is also scheduled for significant redevelopment. We are refocussing the content to ensure it is relevant to our target audiences – members, reps, the public and potential members. A reduction in volume of content, a refined user experience, a fully responsive design and new information architecture should result in a more user friendly website for these audiences.

2016 targets
As an association we constantly learn, evolve and adapt thanks to the support and input from our members, reps and staff. Our communications follow the same path. This blog is just one way of helping us hit our comms targets, and we hope you find the content here useful and interesting. 

We do rely on feedback from members, reps and members of the public, as well as ideas for content. On either front, feel free to leave us comments here or contact us at communications@balpa.org