In times of economic uncertainty, overpopulation and Brexit, the housing sector is under increasing pressure to provide high quality and affordable accommodation as quickly as possible. Only last month, the UK government announced its ambitious plans to build the homes that Britain needs. In this current climate, it’s more important than ever for housing associations to provide effective means of communication. Having the right tools in place to do so can free up resources and time to focus on providing the homes and services Britain’s communities need.
The social opportunity
Social media is fundamentally changing the way we communicate and is now often the primary conduit for sharing information. In the UK, 77 per cent of people have a social media account, and the housing sector needs to understand that social media provides the means to engage, build relationships with, and listen to their communities.
It’s a powerful tool for connecting the housing sector to the people and communities it services, especially those who aren’t contactable via traditional methods; such as those with mobility issues or who work long hours. Social media often has a reputation for solely being the platform to connect with digital natives, but it’s not just digital natives who are on social media. Demographic data shows that lifelong learners have also adopted the internet and social media. Of the 42 million Facebook users in the UK, 7.5 million are 55 and above and four million of these are 65 and above.
With the majority of UK consumers on social media, people are increasingly turning to it to interact with organisations. Over a third (34 per cent) of UK adults with a social media account said that they would rather engage with a brand on social media rather than visit a physical location. Important conversations are happening on social media, whether a company is a part of them or not. Rather than ignore social media, the housing sector must embrace these interactions because they provide an incredible opportunity to build relationships with their entire communities.
Of course, it’s not enough to just be on social media. To build meaningful relationships and engagement, housing providers must listen and respond to the needs of their tenants and communities. Residential communities are not dissimilar to social communities, in that they both need open, two-way conversations to be successful.
“The difference between a community and an audience is which way the chairs are facing”
Chris Brogan, CEO, Owner Media Group
Research, relate and real estate
As a result of digital transformation and the proliferation of social media, customer expectations have been raised to new levels. Nearly two thirds of people (60 per cent) who complain on Twitter expect a response within an hour. Social media provides the channel for real-time communication and a quick resolution of an issue. When faced with a housing issue or crisis, being on social media will help spot key conversations and bring them to attention before they escalate, enabling an efficient response to limit any damage. If you’re not a part of the conversation, you can’t effectively manage your digital risk.
Currently the housing sector relies on email and postal questionnaires to survey their community regarding their opinions on services. As a result, by the time the feedback is received, analysed and reviewed, it’s already out of date.
Social listening and the wider digital landscape is a chance for housing providers to gather insights on the market and community in real time, and the monitoring of public situations. It’s a great way to identify trends around issues and services which communities are facing, such as broken lifts, suspicious people and refuse collection. This information can inform the strategy for service improvements and community development.
Boston City used social listening in a clever way to fix their problem of potholes. The city encouraged residents to report potholes by tweeting @notifyboston with the hashtag #spotholes. During the two-week campaign, Boston’s public works department fixed more than 2,000 potholes with the help of social media and citizen reporting. The campaign generated a 300+ per cent increase in the number of citizen-generated reports compared with the same time period the previous year.
Customer relationships always come first
Putting customer services on social media can also reduce costs within the housing sector, as it’s cheaper than phone and email. Integration of social media with existing systems will also bring a new service delivery capability. Specifically, integrating customer services with social CRM tools offers access to a comprehensive database that has relevant information on customers or potential customers. The advantage of the integration is that every touch-point is captured, and recording social interactions will bolster the intelligence available to all teams, providing a complete view of the community. Ultimately, this will help teams gather research more efficiently, and so reducing costs and freeing up resources for more human tasks. In a digital age, that person-to-person contact is cherished by consumers and is something housing providers should strive for.
Just as social media isn’t just for digital natives, it also isn’t just a tool for marketing and customer services. Over half of citizens (52 per cent) see employees as credible sources of information. Connecting your workforce not only builds trust with customers, but it can help reduce costs and save time. Rather than spending huge budgets promoting social media posts, an organisation can rely on their employees to amplify the message. Employee advocacy can increase the reach of social media activity by over 2,000 per cent, which can be particularly helpful during a crisis when updates need to reach as far and wide as possible into the communities.
The West Midlands Police is using their social media network to help solve time-sensitive crimes. As England’s second largest police force, they engaged their officers on their 260 social media accounts to spread awareness through communities, allowing them to quickly solve crimes. It built trust with the communities and, amazingly, they found a missing person within 12 minutes of sharing the appeal on Facebook after a local community member saw the post and reported a sighting.
Getting over the threshold
Finally, social media is an effective channel to support those involved in selling houses. However, it isn’t just about advertising or promoting a property on social media platforms. This is an evolutionary step for sales agents. Social media becomes another way to gather intelligence on, and reach potential customers, supplementing tools such as email, calls and face-to-face meetings. If anything, using social media can improve the success rates on those other platforms.
According to sales industry researcher Professor Neil Rackham, it’s estimated that the average company has access to 20 times as much information about people than they could access just five years ago. That data, when used to gain insights to relate to the buyer’s needs, will establish visibility, authenticity and credibility; ultimately trust with a prospect, resulting in more regular and successful sales.
Ultimately, humans interact with humans. Recognising that social media provides a powerful human touch will empower all housing providers to be better connected with the citizens, tenants, and communities, helping you to drive success on delivering on the promises and vision to build a better Britain.
Rob Coyne is general manager for EMEA at Hootsuite.