American University’s Staff Union strike shut down move-in week and successfully reached a fair contract, with the help of their social media team.
The small volunteer group of union staff members used their knowledge of Instagram, Twitter, and Tiktok to spread information and push their cause.
In search of a contract, better wages, and several other worker needs, the group began to protest last winter, holding protests in the quad and the Kennedy Center. The union voted to strike and decided that move in would keep from disrupting academics, but cause enough commotion to get attention.
AU Alumna Rebekah Smith, who returned to work in the library in 2019 and is a member of the union, started running the AU Staff Union Instagram account just two weeks before the strike.
"I heard there were some volunteer social media opportunities open, and I was like, 'I'll do that, that sounds easy' which are famous last words," Smith said.
Smith helped grow the account to 2,500 followers by posting details about the following day's plan each evening. These posts included information about where and when to meet but also reminders to rest, bring sunscreen, and stay hydrated.
"Trying to make sure that we were sharing a balance of the information people needed to know to turn out because what we really needed at the end of the day was people on the picket line more than anything else, and then also using Instagram to capture scenes from the picket each day," Smith explained.
The team created cards with QR codes that led to a Google Drive for photographers and protesters to upload photos and videos from the day. This card also included a list of hashtags to use when posting from the picket line.
"By the time most people got back to school there would be a lot of evidence of what had happened and so it was very important to us to make sure that there was a good record of that and a good record in the public eye," Smith said.
While Instagram was used to capture and inform, Lisa Dupree led the union's Twitter with passion and wit. Dupree also works in the library and heads the staff union's social media group.
“After a few weeks I feel like I kinda found the voice of the account which is very similar to my own personal Twitter account voice anyways and it became easier to navigate what to post," Dupree said.
“@SylviaBurwell and @PeterStarrAU @AmericanU students have walked out of convocation and are chanting "PAY YOUR STAFF" #WeLoveOurStudents #AStrikeReadyU #AUChangeCantWait #AUWelcome #AU2026 #1U#UnionStrong” a Staff Union Tweet read.
Leading up to the strike, Dupree sculpted a 30-day plan for the growth of the different accounts. The team had to ensure that each platform achieved something different from the others.
"Once we really found our groove, maybe like the week before the strike, it became really apparent that Twitter was mainly talking to other organizers and other unions and Instagram and Tiktok were doing most of the on-campus work,"
The AU Staff Union Twitter account is littered with edgy callouts, subtweets, and reports of others tweeting from or about the strike. Dupree wanted Twitter to be a clear place of record for the community.
"I also wanted every single incoming freshman to know that there was a strike and to have warning that there were going to be disruptions and that we were letting them know ahead of time," Dupree said. "And if there were disruptions, there was plenty of notice for the university to have done something and it's documented,"
According to Dupree, in June, the Twitter account had less than 4,000 profile visits and around 2,800 Tweet impressions. In the month following the strike, it had over half a million profile visits and over 1.05 million tweet impressions.
Eleanor Sciannella and Smith co-lead the Tiktok account. Sciannella has been working in the financial aid office for almost a year and became an active member of the staff union back in June. Sciannella found herself interested in contributing to Tiktok before the strike.
"I know the app, I know how things work, I am really interested in the algorithm and how it works," Sciannella said.
The Staff Union's Tiktok lends itself to students. Their content is fitted to trends and popular sounds. Their videos feature strike members making jokes and dancing along to trending songs.
"Tiktok is for just reminding people that we are there and we haven't used it to disseminate information,” Sciannella said. “It's all been jokes and trends and things. It's a repetition of presents,"
If it weren't for the presence on these social media platforms, it's likely that the strike wouldn't have seen the turnout or support that it did.
For many students, Instagram was the critical way they knew when and where to join the picket. First-year student Delaney Gable used the Staff Union’s Instagram to stay up to date.
“The Instagram account really helped me figure out what was going on with the strike when I had no idea what was going on at AU,” Gable said. “The only other information I had was the emails that the whole school was getting, so it was really nice to have that resource to help me get all the information and help me figure out what was going on as things were progressing that week,”
Alainn Hanson, a sophomore, found that students reposted the union’s content to send a message.
“I saw the Instagram story reposts and people wanting to show support through doing that and get more people to turn out,” Hanson said.
On Aug. 26, the strike had come to a successful end. A post announcing the win now has over 3,300 likes and 130 comments.
"We won, together: After 468 days at the bargaining table, we made history because we have a contract! Standing side by side with AU students, colleagues, and faculty, we told the administration: change can't wait, and we can't either," the post reads.
Following the strike's success, the team has not lessened its online presence. They have instead switched gears to focus on solidarity with other neighboring unions. Their goal continues to be to inform our community.
"I don't want to say that it wouldn't have happened if we didn't use social media, but I really think that we played such an important part in the success of the strike," Dupree said.