It’s our job to give customers a story to tell, not tell it for them…

constructionworkers

“Guinness is lovely but it will always be the same, a (delicious) black and white drink – simple and unchanging. Subway do nice sandwiches.

Lego make little bricks.

The work of housing associations, councils, the NHS and other government departments is about our lives: it’s dramatic, it makes a difference to the way we live every day and the stories are changing and fascinating.

Being important doesn’t mean being tedious. Having serious intentions doesn’t stop you from being entertaining.”Helen Reynolds

I used to dread people asking me what I do for a living.

If you work for a Housing Association you’ll know the feeling. Most people will simply look blank and confused at your explanation.  They search around for a bit, visibly straining as they try to understand. There’s almost always an awkward silence before they suggest:

“Is it a a bit like council housing?”

“Well, yes. It’s a bit like council housing.”

The conversation quickly moves on to talk about anything – anything – other than housing associations.

I gave up describing myself as working in housing about three years ago. I started to say I worked for a charity.

Charity is a great word.

It says you must be a decent sort of person.  And it travels well.

Charity works as well in Asia or Africa as it does down your local pub. It says you are interested in people. That’s always a good thing.

A couple of years ago I did a brief social experiment about how the housing sector talked about people online. The results were telling:

 Less than 8% of the stories we told were directly about the people living in our homes and communities.

On November 12th it was #HousingDay – which aims to celebrate those very people and their achievements. The first event in 2013 reached thousands and trended on Twitter.

Ade Capon , the founder of the campaign says for 2014 he’d like to inspire and engage customers to create and send their own stories – capturing their aspirations and ambitions.

Ade is a very modest guy who has used the power of social media to create something that a whole sector was previously incapable of.

Cynics have accused #HousingDay , and similar campaigns that it has inspired,  of being mere window dressing. A bit of digital fluff that gets sector people talking to each other but fails to make wider social impact.

I disagree. Anything that tries to shift the narrative away from sloganeering and messaging towards conversation and story telling has to be applauded.

As I posted recently– there are nearly 4 million people living in social housing but we hear little from them. That’s why the narrative for social housing gets so little traction. It’s largely a campaign run by social housing professionals for social housing professionals.

However things are changing – the past 12 months has seen a range of customers starting blogs , campaigns and websites. Their voice is beginning to take centre stage.

The organised customer involvement movement which consists of formalised committees and bodies has failed to adapt to the digital age. I predicted three years ago that they would be replaced by a self organised movement of individuals who use social technology to seek wider change.

This is scary to many but we should find it tremendously exciting. Our organisations are not important in themselves and we should welcome the digital freedoms being explored by customers.

People will listen to any story if it is engaging enough.

My own blog started out talking to a housing audience. Today over 80% of subscribers are not from a housing background.  I’ve learned that if you talk about the difference you make rather than what you do – people will engage.

And if you listen to them too  – and build a conversation rather than a broadcast – people will share ideas with you.

Housing , much like health , care and support has a journey to go on.

  • We have to engage hearts and minds not through obsessively pushing a “message” – but by developing a lifelong relationship with people. Relationships built upon hectoring or shouting are not sustainable.
  • We need to identify shared passions and interests and continue having social conversations – on and offline.
  • We have to stop the seemingly endless rounds of awards ceremonies too. Apple , Google and Microsoft are some of the most valuable brands in the world but I never hear them going on about the awards they have won. Assuming they even enter awards in the first place. They let the people who have bought into their story do the talking.

It’s interesting that Helen Reynolds used Lego as a comparison.

Lego make interlocking plastic bricks.

  • What they are known for is their innovation and the creativity they inspire in people.
  • They have kept themselves endlessly relevant to different generations by keeping the story alive through video games , clothing, even theme parks.
  • They have founded a lifelong relationship with people through exceptional design and a focus on , guess what , the customer.

I work for an organisation that exists to do more that put bricks together. It tries to unlock potential in people.

Let’s put that centre stage.

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