It is well known that technology is always promising world-changing developments just around the corner. However, in the case of social media, its reality does seem to be living up to its hype. A week hardly goes by without social media being the conduit for a breaking news story, outing a celebrity scandal or even saving someone’s life. Indeed, the recent riots around the UK illustrated the power of sites like Twitter and Facebook to both inform events as well as spread dissent and misinformation. Whether we like it or not, social media is here and influencing daily events.
However, when did you last hear a story about how social media has transformed or improved a business? Well, it does happen, and is happening more and more. So, perhaps the next question is whether it has yet to prove successful in social housing. We have seen a few examples of housing providers doing it well, and it looks like social media should continue to deliver benefits to the housing sector if done properly.
What is social media?
Let me begin by explaining what I believe social media is. You may have a perception that it is generally used by young people. This is the first myth debunked; a recent survey showed that the average age of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn users was 39, 38 and 44 respectively, with an average age of 37 across all main social media.
So, what exactly is social media? We define it as the ability to quickly and effectively use technology to communicate and interact with a wide audience – it’s as simple as that.
There are many other myths that need attention; I have picked two that stand out.
One particular statistic that has recently been released came from the Social Housing Providers’ Digital Inclusion Action Plan. It claimed that 70 per cent of residents are not online (although some people would say that this is high and I would tend to agree). Tenants may well not have a PC or laptop at home but they may have a smartphone with internet access. So, don’t ignore the reach it may have with your customers because the myth that social media can’t reach a large audience of housing residents is misplaced.
Another myth is that you need to use specific platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. While these two are very dominant, it is not the tool that makes your use of social media a success, it is your strategy. Platforms will come and go.
Why social media in housing?
Regardless of the method or technology used, housing providers need to communicate with a range of people and businesses, with tenants and residents likely to be at the top of the list. They are more ‘connected’ than ever before, so why not take advantage of this?
The technology is now stable. It has passed its infancy, and is now sufficiently mature and secure.
It is now credible in the wider business community, bringing tangible results.
However, when talking to businesses I tend to catch people out a little by asking, ‘Do you think social media is an IT, marketing or general business tool?’
What I am getting at is the general confusion around who owns it. I don’t think it is an IT tool; although social media is technology-based, its basic principle is founded on communication. Getting the right message across can be one of the most difficult tasks and where we have seen it work best is where executive teams have sponsored the drive to adopt social media. I also don’t think it is a pure PR or marketing tool either. It needs to be sponsored by senior management or it will become a fad; a short-lived trend in your company that will fade away, so make sure it is seen as part of your overall business strategy.
Measurement & analysis
After executive sponsorship, the next requirement is to ensure you have access to user statistics and metrics, feedback and other management information; social media will only work if you have the information to back up its successes and failures. For example, some tenants may prefer scheduled updates on new services and activities while others will prefer updates as and when they happen.
There are plenty of companies advising on and implementing social media tools. That’s great, as we believe that the adoption of social media as a business tool is only going to increase, as long as you get the right advice and, more importantly, the right implementation for your company. However, you can easily get some quick tools up and running yourself – setting up business accounts with Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook is very easy. What’s less easy is the balance of strategy, achieving (and measuring) real business benefits and the ongoing management of your social media channels.
This balance is the critical part. You could deploy every social media application and tool available or, using the same logic, you could send a paper-based magazine every day to your tenants. But you wouldn’t, due to cost, staff resources and the obvious fact that it would be ridiculous to do so. The same applies to overdoing your social media strategy. The balance therefore is about getting it right – making sure you don’t overdo it, but at the same time making sure you don’t do so little that there is no impact.
Our experience suggests that the single best thing a company can do is to avoid isolating their social media strategy and to fully integrate it with the rest of their corporate strategies, including marketing, communications and IT.
David Loudon is the founder of DTL Creative.