If you know me, follow me on Twitter or have read this blog before, you probably already know my answer to the above question. Yes, I think housing associations should tweet. Here's why:
1. It shows you're (or want to be) a conversational organisation.
Being part of the online conversation shows your housing association wants to listen and cares what its customers and stakeholders think.
2. It helps you engage with stakeholders and customers.
Twitter gives your customers and stakeholders, including the media, another way to find out about and communicate with your organisation.
3. Being on Twitter allows people to see the human side of your housing association.
Because of the conversational nature of Twitter, auto-tweets (an RSS feed that automatically posts tweets) and bots (robots that search for, spam and generally annoy people) are disliked. Showing your organisation's human side - genuine emotion, admitting and rectifying mistakes openly, being polite to your followers - is welcomed. Well, have you ever chatted to a robot?
4. It keeps you at the front of your followers' minds.
For the two seconds it takes for your followers to scan read your tweet, you are in their minds. If you are lucky enough, interesting enough and write short enough tweets, you may also get re-tweeted to your followers' followers.
5. You're 'in the room' already.
You can hear if you are being criticised publicly and Twitter gives you a fast channel to respond.
6. You can communicate your brand's key messages (subtly).
The word subtly is the key. On Twitter, an overly commercial tone will make your followers leave you. Housing associations, which seek to make a difference to people and neighbourhoods rather than pots of cash for shareholders, have an advantage here.
7. When managing a crisis, you have a network on tap that you can communicate with at a seconds' notice.
If disaster strikes, you can use Twitter (as well as your website, your staff and your call centre) to communicate quickly.
8. You can keep abreast of news, policy announcements and what key decision makers are thinking and doing.
If you put time into building a strong community by following, engaging and sharing, you will hear news first on Twitter.
9. You are providing customers with another channel to give you feedback (and then you can close the loop).
The housing sector's regulator, the Tenant Services Authority wants housing associations to offer their customers a range of ways to feedback on services. As the percentage of tenants with access to the internet increases, (currently for Orbit East, about 50% of our residents have access to the internet either at home or work) social media will grow in its uses for customer feedback. Once you have acted on customer feedback, you can quickly communicate what has changed/been repaired/improved.
10. Twitter is where the conversation is.
If you wanted to chat to people you wouldn't go and sit in an empty room. Equally, there is probably limited value in setting up a forum or chat room on your website unless you are achieving high levels of traffic. Go where the people are.
If you want to see a housing association in action on Twitter, I tweet at www.twitter.com/orbitgroup. Another housing sector Twitter user that I like is Testway Housing - they tweet regularly and are human about it.
Twitter is not a catch-all social media answer for housing associations, but it is an easy way to join in conversations and listen to customers. It's likely that Twitter will fall out of favour at some point, but the principles of social media: listening, sharing, collaborating and conversing; will remain. Housing associations, with their strong focus on customers, should be chomping at the bit to make the most of social media tools.
On Friday I'll tweet Part Two: How should housing associations tweet?