Facebook emerged as a surprise best practice solution to tenant engagement during an Ideas Exchange seminar at the CIH 2010 exhibition in Harrogate. The social networking site was considered a flawed but affordable way of engaging with tenants during a time of restrained budgets.
Matthew Brown, client involvement officer at Carr-Gomm, led an examination of the pros and cons of Facebook. In its favour, he noted that it was free to set up, needed little maintenance, provided instant feedback and could be a cheaper option than physical travel to events.
However, as well as the potential for contravening housing providers’ IT policies, there was a risk of changing the professional relationship between clients and staff, the latter frequently concerned about boundaries being overstepped. Online safety was also a serious concern, especially when working with vulnerable clients.
Access to computers and broadband was not seen as an insuperable obstacle. Staff can help find free internet access locally and some target groups, such as young tenants, would have internet access through their mobile phones. Paul Seymour from Moorlands Housing suggested that setting up selected tenants with reconditioned laptops and broadband access might represent good value for money.
Brown explained, “Engagement plays a great part in building confidence and skills among the people we work with. I want to ensure that everyone can benefit, not just an elite of the most active tenants or the most mobile. I can see people on Facebook from opposite ends of the UK making friends and discussing our services without any need for staff input.”