Tuesday, 16 June 2009

How can social media be used to communicate with residents?

I heard a presentation from Paul Fox from Neighbo this morning at the CIH conference in Harrogate. He spoke about how social media can be used to build communities (on and off-line) and help people communicate with their neighbours and their social or private landlord.

As a passionate user of social media, this is something i've been mulling over for a while. I think the opportunity for housing associations to use social media to improve their residents' quality of life is huge.

Some of the benefits that Paul has found:

  • Being able to consult directly, quickly, cheaply and easily with residents

  • Letting residents know about problems

  • Checking whether residents are happy with work their service/quality of work

  • Making it easier for residents to get to know their neighbours and build friendships

  • Halting/minimising anti-social behaviour by empowering the silent majority

  • Allowing residents who work/can't spare the time/have no inclination to contribute through traditional methods to have a voice

Paul has found that decision-makers (landlords) can be resistant because they can't see its value and are concerned about excluding those who already engage. A couple of challenges that I would also anticipate are:

  • Digital exclusion - how can we ensure that everyone has equal access to communicating with us through social media? (And that's a whole Digital Britain can of worms)

  • Investment - I've got to make the case for social media and customer communication to my colleagues, so cost and, more importantly, value for money will be key

One of Paul's key points was that social media should be used as a supplement rather than a replacement for existing communication channels. This is something I definitely agree with.

I believe social media has the power to make a real difference to tenants and I'm looking forward to seeing the results.

And the winner is...

I've just got back from the Chartered Institute of Housing's conference in Harrogate. My favourite exhibition stand was Gentoo's. Gentoo sponsored the Imagination Cafe at the conference. Since Gentoo formed and re-branded, it has pitched itself as a dynamic and bold organisation and the stand reflected that perfectly.
This is it (apologies for the rubbish photo quality, taken on my mobile):

It was styled as a kind of Arctic wonderland with hundreds of little squashy penguins nestling on cliffs. The idea was that visitors to the stand would take away a branded penguin, which has a sign hung round its neck, take a photo of it and upload it to Gentoo's facebook group.

In a sea of samey stands, it was creative, memorable and provided a talking point. If you're in Harrogate this week, check it out.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

My suggestions for getting started on Twitter

This post is inspired by my sister @jesshug who is new to Twitter. As a huge fan of Twitter I'm always encouraging more people to use it but once they have signed up, what then?

1. Get your profile set up.
Your bio, your avatar and your website, if you have one, all help people learn about who you are and that makes them more likely to engage with you. If you want to engage with people about a particular topic, it's a good idea to mention that in your bio.

2. Follow people (but not too many people).
If you go follow-crazy people will assume you're a spammer. To find people to follow, it's a good idea to search for people tweeting in your area or about what you're interested in. I had a pretty slow start to Twitter until I was fortunate enough to come across Stef Lewandowski's post on 50+ Brummie twitterers. It opened up a whole social media community where I live that I wasn't aware of. As I work for a housing association, I also regularly search for social housing, PR and communications. This has helped me find people who tweet about things I'm interested in. Note: 'following people' is not the same as an 'add' on facebook.

3. Reply to people.
When somebody asks a question or talks about something you're interested in, reply to them (this means you click the arrow at the right-hand side of their tweet). Don't be offended if they don't reply back, they may have had many other replies or just not seen it in time and the moment has passed. To check your replies, click on your user name, below 'home' on the right-hand side of your Twitter home page.

4. Post links and re-tweet.
If you come across something interesting, post a link and description to it. If you enjoy reading something that somebody else has tweeted, re-tweet it. This means you copy the tweet, with the person's user name and put RT at the beginning. If there's space you can add your thoughts about it. Here's an example I tweeted this morning. People use 'via' in different ways but I use it to refer to when someone else has re-tweeted and I came to it via their re-tweet. It's bad form to re-tweet and not credit the twitterer.

5. Tweet.
This is a pretty obvious point, but when you're getting started is probably the hardest thing. Just tweet anything, where you're going, where you've been, things you've seen, things that make you laugh, what you think about things - anything, but tweet. For other ideas check out this blog post of Paul Bradshaw. The more you tweet, the more people get to know who you are. I would also say the Twitterers I enjoy following show their personality through their tweets - instead of just posting links to their blog, say.

6. Promote your Twitter account.
Through your blog, on your business card, on your email signature strip, through your other social media, to your friends, when you meet new people, when you give presentations - any opportunity you get.

7. Attend tweet-ups.
I can't speak with a whole lot of authority on this one - as I've only ever attended one tweet-up (a tweet-up is when people who know each other on Twitter meet up), but that (wxwm) was brilliant fun, inspiring and thought-provoking, and helped me put faces to usernames. Don't feel shy, just say hello.

8. Take part in Follow Friday.
Follow Friday is when you recommend people to follow to your followers. Include the hashtag #followfriday and the person you're recommending's username in the tweet. It is useful if you can also give a description of the person and what they tweet about. Follow Friday is a good example of how something can be picked up by the Twitter community. Here's a cool blog post about it.

9. Don't protect your tweets.
Protecting your tweets puts a barrier between you and new followers. Social media is about collaborating and communicating, so unless you have a very good reason to protect your tweets, I'd say don't do it.

10. Use Twitter on your phone
Being able to tweet when you're out and about means you have more opportunities to engage. You can download applications like Tweetie, Twitterfon or Twitterberry which make it really easy to tweet from your phone.

What else can you think of that people do to help them get started on Twitter?
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