It has constantly struck me how slow the social housing sector has been on the uptake of social media. Of course being a sector where there are essentially 1,200 odd organisations (not including councils) providing the same product, there will be some good examples and bad examples but as a whole the sector is pretty poor with Twitter et al. I have met staff from the lowest to highest levels with no clue about how or what Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin are, let alone Pinterest, Snapchat or Instagram. Granted I have a bit of an advantage given that I’m not a billion years old like a lot of people in the sector are (a billion in this instance is >= 35) and I’ve been exposed to computers from a young age.
Despite my little dig it should be noted that age isn’t a justifiable barrier to new ways of thinking. For one thing my Gran didn’t have a computer, or even a mobile phone, until a few years ago. Now the woman is Lol-ing and OMG-ing via text and email to her heart’s content. The old girl never ceases to amaze me. Though I really hope she hasn’t come across all the porn. I feel it is more likely a fear of the unknown on the part of a lot individuals rather than age and/or ineptitude blocking greater use of social media. And in fairness working in social housing does lead you to be liable to a lot of stick from disgruntled tenants. The internet gives those who feel they have been let down and/or are bored/slightly unhinged the perfect, cheap, medium to inflict long lasting damage to an organisation’s reputation. Midland Heart, a Birmingham based organisation, knows this better than most. It has been the victim of a sustained internet campaign, the origins of which I’m not sure of, but you can visit the website in questions at http://midlandheart.com/ and see for yourself. It is enough to make any PR team wave the white flag and go foetal, if just for some of the arguments put forward.
However the advantages of using social media far outweigh the cons. The Social housing sector has always put great stock in involving
tenants residents customers (or what the hell it is we call them these days, I try to use their name myself) in the running of its organisations. The sector spends a shite-tonne of money each year surveying and measuring tenant satisfaction. Why turn down a relatively inexpensive means by which to get almost immediate feedback from tenants? Whilst I doubt many tenants will be tweeting “Just had my boiler repaired, thanks [insert vaguely inspirational name of social housing organisation here], you are awesome as always xoxoxox” opening up further means of communicating with, and ultimately understanding, our clients better can only be a good thing. For reference tenant’s tweets are usually like the one below. Very droll, very droll indeed.
Aside from being all lovey-dovey with the kind folk who keep us in pocket it is also useful to have some selfless promotion of what we do/are. Because as a sector we suck at it. Last November’s #housingday, where the sector sought to promote what it did etc, was a start, and the numbers provided by Adrian Capon are pretty impressive. They are however not the norm. Organisations such as Bromford and Halton Housing Trust who have fully embraced all things computery are way ahead of the pack, just check out their respective Twitter accounts @HaltonHousing and @Bromford. A lot of the sector has dabbled its toes, left it to some Comms person with a background in marketing and sales and hoped it would go away. OK I maybe a little harsh there but given the amount of stuff you can do for next to nothing via social media the sector does need to pull the proverbial wooden implement from where the sun does not shed daylight*.
As the recent outrage against the Mail on Sunday’s ‘expose’ of the Trussell Trust being charitable and handing out food to people who need it (what is the world coming to). Social media can be a very powerful tool, and not always to your advantage, just ask the NYPD. That being said social media, Twitter in particular, is just a means to an end and not an end in itself. We can tweet all day but unless social housing organisations do the work we are best at, working with the disadvantage, it all counts for nothing. I just hope that we as a sector aren’t too late on the uptake and make the most of a golden opportunity to advance our cause. As one Chief Executive in the sector dryly noted, social housing organisations need to “adapt or die”.
*Side note, it always amuses me that we have two main publications for housing news, Inside Housing and Housing 24 (with its on-line version 24dash). We do large amounts of willy waving in these news outlets, read almost exclusively by people in the sector, yet fail to regularly hit national news unless it’s something like Benefits Street or how to get a council house. We then wonder why we aren’t as influential in policy agenda setting as we should be.