2015: The year we put the social back into housing 


You can have super star status online without any official status offline; you can be a powerful chief executive offline with very little impact online – Victoria Betton 

Just over two years ago I pronounced rather grandly that 2012 was the year we went social. The year the UK housing sector embraced new technologies embarking on a journey of redefinition for the era of digital transformation.

Looking back at that now it seems very naive. 

In reality only a fraction of the sector is genuinely experimenting with new forms of digital engagement. 

I haven’t the time or inclination to count how many housing CEOs maintain an active social media presence . But I’m taking a considered guesstimate it’s around 15%. 

By way of example just five of the high profile G15 Group of CEOs have a presence on Twitter and only three in a way that’s meaningful. 

But it’s not just leaders , The staple roles of the sector , housing officer , maintenance engineer , support worker are – by and large – missing in action and failing to embrace golden opportunities to connect with communities. 

Board members are pretty much invisible although there are some very notable exceptions. 

Organisations that livestream or share from board meetings?  CEOs doing Facebook chats or hangouts? You could count them on one hand – even if you’d had an unfortunate accident with a meat cleaver.

 Additionally most organisations still have the dial firmly set to Promote rather than Converse.

Do a check on any housing brand account. Check how many of their last 10 posts directly link back to their own website. There’s a prize if you can name ten that don’t reference themselves 90% of the time. 

Here’s a shot of realism: UK housing is about 10-15% operational on social media. At best. 

This speaks to me of a lack of curiosity. An insularity that has haunted the sector for the entire time I’ve been part of it. It’s not a good look. 

People often talk to me about the battles fought in their organisations to get digital adopted. It’s all too often a sad story of risk averse leaders , hierarchical control and command, power mad comms teams and rabid IT and governance departments.

Of course this isn’t true everywhere: some are setting an astonishing pace. 

Power Players 14 and Connected Housing showed there are a raft of organisations and people who are sharing ideas, connecting with others and reaching beyond sector boundaries. We could have filled the Power Players list four times over last year.

There’s also a growing movement of CEO front runners – although it’s notably stronger in northern England and Wales than elsewhere. 

This lack of leadership presence is especially puzzling given housing has an obsession about getting its message heard. (The laudable if slightly self-serving “build more homes”). 

And therein lies the problem: anyone that focuses solely on getting their message heard is guilty of the most heinous of social crimes: broadcasting. 

My big wish for 2015? That organisations and a whole sector could wake up to that fact that endlessly broadcasting your “message” just isn’t going to work. 

This is a world built on relationships and connections. It involves you listening to others, generously sharing and doing more than just following everyone else in your sector. 

I hope to be writing a different post in 12 months time.

  • I hope to write of the social leaders who are openly challenging mediocre services and championing innovation and risk.
  • I hope to see organisations using social to reconnect with communities and embracing the emerging online tenant voice. 
  • I want to see organisations experimenting with new networks and technology in inventive ways. Having a Twitter account is a minimum requirement now not a badge of honour.
  • I’d love to see more recognition of the talents of individuals and communities rather than the well intentioned but paternalistic focus on rescuing people from the latest reforms. 

Most of all I want social housing to be more social.

It’s a new year and a new start – where we can put bad habits to bed. Latecomers can join the party and we’ll welcome them with open arms.

Let’s make 2015 our Zero Year. 

We can do amazing things when we’re better connected. 


16 thoughts on “2015: The year we put the social back into housing 

  1. Social media is still seen as a communications or marketing thing by many but in my experience being connected gives me great benefit as well as the organisation I work for. Social media provides a welcome window on the world outside the office often providing inspiration to do something new.

    1. Thanks Harriet and I think you’ve possibly hit the nail on the head.

      One of the first people we used to coach the leadership team at Bromford asked the question as to why social often sits with comms and marketing. He asked whether they also had responsibility for the phone system.

      Of course they don’t! Social is a conversation as you say and must be owned at all levels of the organisation.

  2. Happy New Year Paul.
    As an ex CEO who did not use social media until I left my full time post nearly 3 years ago, I agree that more need to join the conversation. I agree also that we all need to broadcast less. I have certainly been guilty of that in the past. I will try to do less in 2015. I guess there are two issues for debate in my view. The first is that sometimes social media is a good medium for getting your message across. Certainly it played a major role in the creation of a number of campaigns in the last 12 months including SHOUT Housing Day and many others. The second is that I do not think that it is patronising to speak out against the welfare reforms and the demonisation of social housing and its tenants. Yes we should always seek to provide opportunities but we can not escape the fact that all the innovation and support in the world will not always help in the face of the largest cuts to the welfare state we have witnessed in my lifetime. Sometimes there is a need to say simply enough is enough.
    I look forward to reading your posts throughout the year and to sharing many others.

    1. Thanks Tom and Happy New Year to you!

      First of all I think you’re a great example of an ex-CEO who’s embraced digital – I did name check you in original post as someone who is commentating as a Chair but also sharing your experience and knowledge.

      To clarify on the messaging and “broadcasting” – I do think that there is place for campaigns. The challenge is – is the campaign itself social and welcoming people. SHOUT undoubtably is as it’s fronted by real people who will engage. People like yourself, Tim , Alison and Colin will share and comment even with people who disagree with you. That’s the mark of being social.

      Accept you last comment – I’m not always sure the sector “message” is the right one but I’ll try to clarify in a future post!

  3. Great stuff! All this applies way beyond housing too, the messages are relevant to many wider sectors. You’re right to highlight a Twitter profile as a minimum, but so many organisations and induividuals are yet to fully grasp it’s purpose and value. Hopefully if people can do that this year, it can be a great starting point to really being social.

    – Dyfrig

    1. Too true Dyfrig – I’m trying not to focus too much on housing anymore as most subscribers to this blog aren’t from the sector. But I think this relevant to most – just substitute ‘customer’ or ‘public’ for tenant!

      Thanks for commenting

  4. Thanks for the kind words Paul, but if Twitter is the bare minimum how does that square with your spring cleaning of your social media presence? Seem to remember you dropping yammer or some such? But it’s early in 2015 and I may be thinking of someone else?

    1. Thanks Tim – and it was me!

      I guess I was talking about me personally in the previous post ( I have enthusiastically joined every forum going!) whereas the bare minimum comment was aimed more at organisations.

      There are exceptions but I don’t see a great degree of experimentation with established networks never mind emerging ones. Take Instagram 300 million active users ( surpassing Twitter) and a proven track record of successful engagement for brands.

      Number of HAs using it? I’ve not seen many great examples.

      Imagine if every Housing Officer recruited a tenant to be a community photographer capturing great images? A Letting Service that advertised great looking pictures of social housing?

      Instagram can make a sprout look beautiful so I’m sure it could do wonders for the image of #ukhousing.

      I think there’s lots of available tools that we are under exploring.

  5. I whole heartedly agree Paul. And I think your point around developing networks, connecting with communities and reaching outside of the sector is key. The Housing industry is very good at patting itself on the back, or complaining about difficulties amongst themselves, but its missing a trick with social media. You are proof that people outside the sector are interested, with the diverse backgrounds of people who follow your blog! Housing is a vibrant industry- its ever changing, it has sometimes impossible challenges to deal with, and it has a heart.
    Social offers a direct link to the public. There are no filters. It offers you both sides of the coin, which can allow people to make an informed opinion all by themselves, rather than just listening to what the Daily mail et al say!
    The whole industry knows there is a perception problem. This can go a long way to tackling this, if handled in the right way. Be interesting. Be interested, but most of all be visible.

    1. Thanks Barry – Happy New Year

      “The whole industry knows there is a perception problem” – agree. What does it do in return? Talk about why it doesn’t deserve its perception property and blames the mainstream media.

      The mainstream media are less and less important in this when we have opportunity to change the narrative. There are thousands of us and millions of users of our service.

      Let’s start now!

  6. All good Paul; listening and understanding the conversation is really important and the volume of broadcasting is becoming a drag. I tend not to follow housing association accounts for that reason. More generally, as Tom has said, things are being picked up though and it takes trust and confidence as well as leadership to move teams away from the ‘command and control’ mindset and encourage people to be more social.

    There’s a big role for comms people here in leading by example, mentoring, encouraging, rewarding those who get involved and showing skeptics that the world doesn’t stop turning when they do…

    There is (of course) the small matter of an election this year which won’t reduce the broadcasting you refer to! But within that there will be some great social activity too and an opportunity for those who respond to the conversation in the right way. An interesting year awaits and it will be good to be a part of it!

    1. Good point on the election – I guess 2015 will be dominated as such. Funny how we’d criticise politicians for broadcasting quite happily but not reflect that back on our own organisations.

      Your comment about not following organisations is pretty damning and I’ve others say this. A good measure – would you follow your own organisation on Twitter if you didn’t work for it?!!

      Agree and interesting year. Thanks for commenting.

  7. Put the social BACK into housing? My immediate thought on the title was since when was it there in the first place (outside of true supported housing I mean)

    But then the term social has morphed into ‘social media’ – ah yes forgotten that communicating with people (that pesky thing tenants are) by electronic means is considered to be social.

    Perhaps we could blend the two and use drones as pigeon post as at least there is something physical about that but oh dear, drones only have a battery life of about 15 minutes and given most social (ahem) landlord’s offices are on industrial estates as far away from tenants as possible they wouldn’t make it.

    I too get wild bouts of optimism Paul. Only the other day I was naively thinking that RPs would realise that social means the personal as in of the person not of bricks and mortar. I have these flights of fancy from time to time. I even went mad and thought that RPs may consult the OED to see what ‘social’ means and then heaven forfend realise that all the welfare reforms so troubling RPs all involve behavioural change of the tenant in downsizing, taking in a lodger and the like.

    One time I got so optimistic and naive to think that RPs would finally realise that direct payments of HB puts the tenant in control of rent payment and that RPs would have to live up to the customer service providers they claim to be when they call tenants customers.

    But then the NHF issue a report on the impact of welfare reform – that strangely doesn’t include the benefit cap but does include the embryonic UC – that concluded and sent out the message loud and clear that landlords are ok with welfare reforms (failing to mention due to reaping in £130 – £155m in additional rent last year with AR) though tenants are suffering but hey we are ok.

    No surprise they didn’t call these tenants customers of course.

    Where was I? Ah yes social….

    1. Thanks Joe!

      One thing I’d challenge you on is the possible suggestion that communicating with tenants electronically is not social. It’s not as social as face to face admittedly but a whole lot more social than post or the telephone which the sector has relied upon for years.

      These comms channels didn’t allow for open dialogue involving others – that’s why we are seeing the formation of strong networks of online tenants at same time as organisations like TAROE face extinction.

      I’m seeing more and value of online engagement as opposed to the traditional means – as it was always a minority sport!

      1. Hi Paul

        Yes agree with almost all of that and of course electronic communication needs to be increased and utilised more and can increase the volume and responsiveness of communication.

        My principal concern is that the clamour for ‘digital’ is the myopia of its proponents. Digital is not a panacea and it creates problems as well as solving them – all new technology does the same. Yet dare raise that valid point and you get labelled as a Luddite with the upshot being those dangers are not considered until the problems hit you on the head like a sledgehammer.

        The old vague and wishy washy sayings such as “People deal with people” and want that don’t fit in with the digital panacea strategy.

        I agree the likes of TAROE and others are in decline using their traditional methods. Yet landlords also ignore that social media, as a delivery vehicle, can see much larger and much more powerful tenant groups forming – landlords seeing communication as a one-way activity and they do so at their peril.

        The social tenant organising using social media has hundreds of times the latent power of all landlords combined yet this issue which WILL inevitably happen forms no part in landlords digital one way facing strategies at all.

        Landlords comms strategies then become the minority sport and tenants will call the comms tune to which landlords can merely dance to. The landlord tenant relationship is massively and radically changing and the landlord that thinks they can control that and sees itself as being innovative in only seeing its own dimension is in for a sever shock

        1. Joe – belated response but I agree.

          I think (hope) that we will see a maturing of the digital debate this year. There is huge scope for digital housing but it has to be accompanied by human focused services rather than just “get people to pay online”.

          I think you are right that some are in for a shock at the massive change in the tenant/landlord relationship. I think it will challenge all of us – there’s no room for complacency.

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