Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Using comms to raise awareness of hate crime

Today Wolverhampton Homes has launched its Stop Hate in Wolverhampton campaign in partnership with the Council, Police, Safer Wolverhampton Partnership and Stop Hate UK. We developed the campaign after tenants at our Get Togethers last year told us we needed to do more to raise awareness of hate crime.
They said that hate crime wasn't a term they recognised and once it was explained, they admitted they would be very reluctant to report it for fear of reprisals or that nothing could be done about it.
We know that hate crime goes un-reported in Wolverhampton. It is thought that nationally for every hate crime that is reported, eight go un-reported.
We wanted to find a way to get people talking about this important issue so that anyone who suffers hate crime feels that it's safe to report it. The campaign is centred around this online pledge. The idea of the pledge is that we want to hear the voice of the usually silent majority, who like all decent people, are horrified by hate crime. Once you've pledged, the site takes you through to a page where you can like the facebook page, tweet your support or show your support with a twibbon on your social media profile.
We're also using traditional media relations, radio advertising, our tenants newsletter, our leaseholders newsletter and our internal publications to communicate the message.
We know that this isn't the kind of campaign that will make a difference in just two or four weeks, so we're running it all through 2012, in the hope that it will make a real difference in the city and to the tenants in the homes we manage.
At the end of the campaign, we'll evaluate the success by the number of people who've pledged, the organisations we've got involved, reports of hate crime and the opinions of tenants about whether they feel safer and more willing to report it.
Please do take the time to show your support.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Best Practice Guest Post from Northwards Housing: What is a Phone App anyway?

KH: Using technology to give tenants greater access to services will be on the agenda of every housing organisation in the country. Here in a great guest post, Steve Finegan, Head of Business Effectiveness & Communications at Northwards Housing, explains the app-roach (boom, boom) that they've taken:

What is a Phone App anyway?

A question recently posed by a member of our senior management team reminded me that six months earlier I’d have probably, and with an element of cynicism, asked the same question.  Even now I’m surprised at the speed at which the world of communications is moving.  The thirst for information, the growth in real time consumer journalism and the need for responsive quick and easy customer engagement is upon us.  It’s both exciting and challenging, although I’ll admit to being less clear where we’ll end up.

At Northwards Housing in Manchester, we’ve always prided ourselves on being innovative and pushing the boundaries, so the idea of developing a phone app for tenants to access our services from their smartphones was definitely something we felt needed to be taken seriously.  We already have a strong access to services strategy based on one overriding element – choice.  Like many housing organisations out there, we provide a whole range of different and convenient ways to access our services, so the prospect of offering another one, with the added potential to engage with a different audience, possibly a younger demographic, had immediate appeal.  So what is the business case?

Despite our best efforts, our customer profiling information does not extend to smartphone usage, at least not yet, but we’re working on it.  We know, however, that according to Ofcom almost a third of adults in the UK now use a smartphone. Those who download and use smartphone apps are not necessarily the same as those who use websites of course, as the user experience is entirely different.  Those visiting the App Store or Android Market are looking for something that enhances their smartphone capabilities and the beauty of phone apps is quite often in their simplicity.

In direct contrast, our website - currently attracting over 20,000 visits a month - is crammed with information. If they choose to, people can spend hours reading the content, watching film clips and interacting with us online.  The fact that they often don’t, of course, and the average visit is around 4m 5s, is perhaps a clue about what it is people really want from our online services.  It also raises some interesting questions for the future development of micro sites and the benefits, or not, of doing so given that tenants accessing our website are not necessarily the ones using smartphones and downloading apps.

We know that digital exclusion in social housing is significant, with estimates of around 50% of tenants having no access to the internet with the subsequent impact on things like their ability to find work, to take simple advantage of discount shopping and even their children’s educational attainment.  We also know that around 77% of job seekers are now using mobile apps, with Android being the most popular platform.

Our decision to develop the universal iHome app with Panda Media was based in part on our belief that, to address some of these inequalities, we need to offer access to the digital world in the easiest and most practical way possible.  We also know that our future tenants will possibly be some of the first to show their parents the benefits of using the Northwards Phone App (free to download from 18th January 2012).  Impressed by its simplicity as well as its future potential to interface with our housing management system, the unique ‘Get Involved’ section of the app is what gives it the edge.  We were very enthusiastic about the ability to engage with our tenants quickly and easily and having complete control over this section of the app to update it as often as we need to.

We’ve built in a competition to launch the app to maximise interest and hopefully downloads too, so this is likely to be a regular feature, although we might not be able to stretch to an iPad every time!  We’re also careful not to exclude anyone, so the same prizes are available to all tenants through our regular Northwards Xtra tenant reward scheme.

During the development of the app we also sought legal advice to help us understand and mitigate the risks.  After all, the safety of our customers is important and we didn’t want people leaning over balconies to take pictures of their naturist neighbours catching a few rays, or inadvertently storing personal data on their phones without considering security.  As a result, we’ve built alerts into the app to advise people on how to get the best out of it.

So where does this leave us? I’d like to say that in a few months from now, and as a result of the app, a number of people who never visited us online before will be choosing to engage with us in a way that suits them.  If in the process we help some of our younger tenants to find a job, win an iPad or get involved in helping us to shape and scrutinise our services, then we will have gone some way to tackling the issue of digital exclusion and if not, then who can blame us for trying? After all it’s only a phone app anyway.  

To keep up with the how their app launch is going, follow Northwards Housing on Twitter.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Selling social media to the internal audience

Selling social media to your internal audience is as vital as to your external audience. I delivered this prezi to Wolverhampton Homes senior managers today. It seemed to go down well :) Feel free to pinch/adapt any of it.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Why (and how) you need to learn to love networking

In my first PR job I used to have to go to networking events to try to make new business connections. At first I loathed them; I hated walking in to the room not knowing anyone and I hated the forced conversations. I knew I had to get over my fear and that if I forced myself to go to loads of them, I would get better each time. It worked. As I went to more, I became more comfortable and I can honestly say now I enjoy networking.

Networking is one of the most valuable professional skills, and if you're not a natural networker, it is one that is worth developing.

Over the years, through online and offline networking, I have been fortunate to make countless friendships that I really value, met incredibly intelligent and helpful people and learnt from loads of best practice. Networking helps you up the serendipity factor - you come across more people, projects and opportunities so you have more chance to encounter useful experiences.

Here's some tips I've picked up:

  • Don't hug the wall - it can be nervous walking in on your own but look for a friendly face and say hello.
  • If you've gone with people you already know, resist the temptation to only talk to them. Make the effort to meet new people and invite your friends to join in the conversation.
  • Smile.
  • Be genuinely interested in people - not for how they can help you. There's nothing worse than talking to someone who you can tell is trying to work out if you're worth speaking to.
  • Try to find some common ground. If you're at a conference, you can always ask what people have thought of the seminars or presentations as a good opener.
  • Swap business cards or contact details.
  • Don't dominate the conversation. Listen to what's being said and be enthusiastic about what they're saying.
  • Try to speak to as many people as possible, but give each one a good chunk of time. If the conversation is interesting and you feel a good connection with the person, let it flow.
  • Follow up afterwards with an email to say it was nice to meet you, a follow on Twitter or a LinkedIn connection request. 
  • Build the friendship - keep in touch after the event.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Best Practice Guest Post: Bron Afon Community Housing's Award Winning Magazine

KH: Most housing communications professionals will produce a newsletter or magazine for their tenants and residents. It is always a challenge to keep magazines interesting, fresh and a must-read. So when Ben Black, Communications and Marketing Manager at Bron Afon Community Housing, offered to share how he's developed their publication into a compelling read for tenants and won a CIPR Award, I leapt at the chance. Here's Ben's guest post:

Bron Afon Community Housing won the ‘best external magazine’ award at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations PRide awards for Wales.

In this part of south Wales, an estimated 26% of adults have poor reading skills. Winning this award was a slap on the back for our communications forum who worked so hard to make it a magazine that they felt their neighbours and friends would read.

The group were nervous when they set up a plain English group to check key publications that we produce. They felt that they would need A-levels in English but quick agreed that they simply had to understand what was written.

Every time they check Community News or another document they ask themselves five questions:

  • Does the document include jargon, abbreviation or technical terms?
  • Can any words be cut out or changed for shorter words?
  • Is the document easy to read aloud?
  • Do you think the spelling, punctuation and grammar reads correctly?
  • Do you understand the document?

Bron Afon’s strapline is ‘investing in people, homes and communities’. We do more than just fit new kitchens and bathrooms.  In the last year we wanted to make sure that Community News carried this key message and was understood by readers.

To do this effectively we had to remember that: an average reader would find our strategic objectives boring!

We decided to present every story in plain English and in a professionally designed magazine that used strong photos.


The overall objective throughout the project was to produce a first-class magazine that residents would want to read, find useful and most importantly help them understand more about Bron Afon’s role in Torfaen.

Our objectives were:

  • they find the magazine easy to read.
  • they understand Bron Afon’s role in Torfaen.
  • they always read the magazine and find the content useful.

Strategy and tactics

We focus on a small number of key tactics for each edition:

  • ensure a balance between ‘soft’ stories and ‘business’ stories.
  • ensure stories carried the underlying message that Bron Afon does not just fit kitchen and bathrooms but actually invests in ‘people, homes and communities’.
  • always feature a Torfaen tenant, leaseholder or member on the front page.
  • ask the chief executive and directors to agree the key messages, ‘sign-off’ the story list and then let us get on with producing the magazine!
  • keep the word count on every story to a minimum.
  • listen closely to the views of  the plain English group. If they did not understand a story then the ‘red pen’ came out and it was changed.

Another important output was regularly turning Bron Afon’s key messages into simple stories that would appeal to Torfaen residents.

For example:

  • Bron Afon spent £1.5m on making homes more energy efficient. We found a tenant who told her story about how she saved £400 in energy bills.
  • A new playpark was built on Bron Afon land but the real story was that local people had helped to design it. We found three young people who helped out and photographed them.


We surveyed readers and were impressed with the results. We received 61 responses. The results told us that:

  • 100% said they found it easy to read.
  • 100% said they understood Bron Afon's role in ‘investing in people, homes and communities’.

Our readers also told us:

“Everything in the booklet is up to date and gives you information that you need.”
“More pages needed, interesting information but ends too soon!”

KH: What I love about this case study is the tenant involvement. Tenants have been totally involved in the whole process here, from the front page through to the content and evaluation. It's a great example of how tenant involvement can make a service even better. Well done Ben and Bron Afon!

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