I think Bromford has done a pretty good job of using social media to open itself up and encourage conversations and links across teams, across geographies and across hierarchies. To that extent we are a pretty connected place. Thom Bartley hadn’t been working in our moneymates team for long when I got a call from our CEO Mick Kent after he’d read Thom’s How to fix the Job Centre post……..
“This guy can obviously write. He’s got interesting things to say…..what are we doing with him?!”
That’s what I like about this place. If you do interesting stuff you get noticed and then you get opportunities to do more interesting stuff. So when we were looking to try a new way for customers to share their thoughts on our services Thom was invited to be part of it. The result was Brombox and later what became our Customer Review 2013.
So when Visceral Business published the 2013 Connected Housing Index a week or so back it was no surprise that Thom should have plenty to say about it. 7 Takeaways from the Connected Housing Index ’13 is full of energy and passion. I agree with many of his 7 takeaways. But I think he’ actually buried an 8th, and for me most important, point at the end of his final paragraph.
“UK housing is too inward looking. It seems the majority of the noise we make is to impress other housing associations. We’re very good at patting each other on the back but we are comparatively terrible at networking with organisations outside of our sector and engaging customers in a meaningful way. Instead of showing off to each other we should try to show off the excellent work we do to the wider business market and public at large.”
Visceral Business have also published the 2013 Social Charity Study. It looks at the top 100 connected charities and how they are adapting to a digital world. What is immediately evident is that the charities seem to be adapting much faster and more effectively than UK Housing. The charities have many more twitter followers, many more Facebook likes and are far more LinkedIn than their housing compatriots.
Well let’s take a look at the top 5 in this list:
1 Save the Children
2 Comic Relief
5 The British Museum
Who are these charities engaging with? Certainly not their ‘customers’……you don’t get many abandoned dogs using twitter or victims of earthquakes looking up the Oxfam page on Facebook so they can ‘like’ it. It’s not the users of the services these charities provide that they are interacting with, it’s their supporters; the people who share the charity’s vision; who want to see some aspect of the world change for the better……..their fans. (OK so maybe that’s not true for the British Museum. Perhaps that’s more about wanting to find out what you could take your kids to at half term. But look down the whole list of 100 and you’ll see what I mean).
People engage with charities around the why; the why the charity exists, their purpose. Charities are great at talking about their purpose and the way they make a difference. They build a following from people who share their values; who value their purpose.
Ironically many housing organisations are charities, Charitable Housing Associations, but they are rather less successful at explaining to the great British public what they are for….why they exist.
Sure they build houses but most of those houses would have been built by the developer anyway. And housing associations have been pretty ineffectual at convincing people that we need to build many, many more houses – that there is in fact a national housing crisis and that people need to accept the building of new homes on their door step. NIMBYism is alive and kicking and has a new champion in the form of Tory Minister Nadhim Zahawi.
When housing does talk about more than bricks and mortar it is either to set out its rather pedestrian service offer to customers (how to report a repair online; or how to check a rent account before having to join the queue at a contact centre to actually make a payment) or it’s to tweet rather patronising warnings about forthcoming cold weather or payday loans.
There is almost no attempt by most housing organisations to make the wider public care about what they do; to help people make the connections and see the wider societal good that comes from providing a new affordable home to a family escaping domestic violence with young children who have nowhere to do their homework; or supporting someone on the fringes of society to grow in confidence and become an active contributor to their community rather than reliant on scarce and expensive public services.
Next time you are at a party or down the pub and someone you don’t know asks you what you do. Try answering “I work for a housing association” and see how quickly they start scanning the room for someone more interesting to talk to.
The real takeway from the Connected Housing Index is not who came top or who went down five places. The real takeaway is the tragedy that it lays bare just how bad the whole sector is at articulating why we are important, why what we do matters – not just to ourselves or even our customers – but to society as a whole.