10 Myths From The Year We Went Social

2012 was the year in which the Housing Association sector went social. It’s very positive that so many of us have recognised the clear customer service and business benefits that social and digital engagement can bring.

This was year we went social. And these are 10 things we have learned not to be true:

1: Social Media Is Simple

It’s easy to set up an account, but it’s not easy to make it work. Having worked in customer engagement for over 10 years I feel it is harder to effectively engage online than it is offline. In real life you can look into a customers eyes and read their reaction. In the social stream – you can’t. And our customers are becoming increasingly fragmented and harder to find. To engage with customers we used to knock doors.  In the virtual world they could be anywhere, anytime. It’s hard work.

2: Our Customers Are Not Online

I knew this to be false when a Customer Board Member emailed me to say they didn’t have internet access. People are online,  but they often choose not to tell their landlord. And sometimes they don’t even realise they are online. A customer recently told me they didn’t need broadband as they only ever used Facebook. Although I don’t deny that exclusion exists – the emerging issue is digital literacy and confidence rather than lack of access.

3: Social Media is Free

It is at first. And then you realise you need content. And content takes time to find, and longer to create. Too many organisations are making the mistake of thinking social media equals no printing and no advertising  – so it will be cheaper. But you are going to have to invest in new skills and new technology. It’s an investment in a completely different customer relationship.

4: Policy Can Protect Your Brand.

Whether you have a one page social media policy or hundreds of pages , your success or failure will be defined by just two things: leadership and common sense. In my experience the shorter the policy and the more visible the leadership , the greater the common sense.

5: We Are Ready For Generation Z.

Generally we are not. My challenge? Offer up your web and online services up to any 15 year old used to managing an account with Xbox Live or Playstation Network. Then ask them what they think. Most of our organisations are in the dark ages when it comes to intuitive online user experiences. It should be a concern that many of the people we involve in implementing new services have never heard of , let alone used , Xbox Live or Playstation Network.

6: Digital Will Lead To Better Customer Service.

You can make your service worse if you are just present without having presence. When people used to leave the phone ringing the only person who knew about it was the customer on the other end of the line. I just looked at an account by a large organisation. Last tweet 12th October. Last Facebook post 15th November. Website last updated in July. It’s there for the whole world to see.

7: Digital Is Slowing Down.

Marc Prensky has said slowdown in the digital age is a “myth,” as innovation will only press forward “faster… And faster and faster.” I love his quote: “We are not going through a transition to another phase of stability. People will always be behind now and that will be a stress they have to cope with.” Our companies , our people , our websites – always behind. Get used to it.

8: People Will Follow You And Like Your Page

Only if you are Justin Bieber or One Direction. Otherwise you are going to have to make it worth peoples time. You must post interesting content that is relevant to your audience and engage them in conversations around it. If you are looking at the slides you will see I referenced Bagpuss. It’s a reminder to Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers that we have a different medium but the rules are essentially the same. Every episode of Bagpuss was about the telling of a story and the engagement and contribution of the community to the telling of it. Nobody remembers how the ship got in that bottle. But everyone remembers how the story was told.

9: We Are Moving Our Customers To The Website

You can’t. We don’t have any way of commanding our customers attention anymore. Customers ARE your new website. One of the most significant shifts this year is the amount of time people are spending within social networks. I know people who have arranged their holidays, had their homes re-decorated , bought a car – purely through Facebook. I no longer read Inside Housing (our trade publication) – as its’ content is curated for me by people like Lara Oyedele , Philip Lyons and Jules Birch. I trust them and they are my network. Why would anyone come to the website of a Housing Association when they can get what they want from their network?  The only question is  – do you know who is curating and sharing your content?

10: Social Media Is Great For Broadcasting News

People engage with people not press releases. If there is one thing we all have to embrace next year it is putting the social into social media. The most popular post I have written this year was about the way housing has a tendency to talk about itself rather than create a compelling narrative around the difference it makes to peoples lives. I think we have improved. But we could do so much more in 2013.

These are my myths. I’d love to hear yours.

(The content of this post was originally presented at the Chartered Institute of Housing Social Media and Digital Engagement Conference)

The Rules of Attraction

I was asked a question the other day:

“No-one is engaging with our Facebook discussion. Will you have a look at it and tell us what you think?” I turned the question back on them. “If it was you. And you were the customer. Would you have joined in?”

After a few seconds deliberation – the response. “Err , no – I wouldn’t.”

“Well”, I said. “There is your answer.”

I’m no expert in Social Media. But I’ve worked in customer engagement for over 10 years, and there’s one thing I absolutely know to be true. If you wouldn’t find it interesting yourself – why on earth would your customers?

Social Media is a relatively new tool. But just because it’s easy and cheap does not mean customers are more likely to engage with us.

There are three rules I was introduced to in my early (offline) days of working in customer engagement. They apply just as much today, in the online world.

1 – What’s in it for your audience? Why is engaging with you a good use of their time?

2 – Be entertaining. And if you can’t be entertaining – be extremely interesting.

3 – Go where the customer is. Don’t expect them to come to you.

A lot of customer engagement via Social Media fails to follow these basic rules. Organisations too often talk about themselves and what’s important to them rather than remain focused on the customer.

Here are a couple of examples of what I mean:

What’s in it for the customer? – @monmouthshirecc is a superb corporate Twitter feed that isn’t corporate. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it promote anything about the actual organisation. And that’s probably why it has over 4,500 followers. Would you honestly follow your companies own Twitter feed if you didn’t work for them? If your answer is no – It will be no for your customers too.

Be Entertaining – Organisations are not interesting by default. The best corporate engagement is all about personality. For the Social Housing sector we have to accept we are not Lady Gaga or Kim Kardashian. We are more Ed Miliband. So we need to have ultra interesting content. Or just be amusing. This video by @optimacommunity is a great example. It’s short , simple and funny. And it has a very deliberate call to action. It made me want to find out more.

Go where the customer is – There are thousands of local information websites across the UK. And there are countless local Facebook pages formed around communities of interest. Why not go to them and tap into existing networks rather than trying to create a new one? It’s harder work than lazily posting to your own page for sure , but it’s far more effective.

So the next time you wonder why no-one is engaging – ask yourself a simple question.

Would you?

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