Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Should social media follow the customer or opening hours?

Last week Paul Taylor of Bromford posted this article about why social media should follow your customer rather than your opening hours. Paul is a huge inspiration to me and his posts are always thought-provoking. I usually agree with everything he says but on this one, however, I feel uneasy.
On the face of it, it's a no brainer. Of course, go where the people are, at the times when they are there and listen to what they're saying is an entirely sensible approach.
But how do social housing organisations - on limited resources - manage that in practical terms?
Say for example you want to staff your main social media channels (and most organisations now have multiple social media presences) 6am-10pm because you know that's when you'll get the most engagement. You'll need somebody covering 6-2pm and then somebody 2-10pm. It may be your comms team or customer services that look after your main social media channel, so you'll need an extra person for that.
And then what if it's a big issue that needs a Chief Exec response? Well, ok, most Chief Execs work 24/7 and expect that of the role.
And what if it's an ASB issue that needs handling? Ok, so now you need a comms person, an ASB person and the Chief Exec.
But what if the customer has a repairs query that the comms person can't answer? Ok, so now you need a comms person, an ASB person, the Chief Exec and a repairs person. And on and on it could go.
As we move to an 'always on' culture, unless you resource it properly, you're going to see employee engagement nose dive. Highly motivated people buzzing with passion will always give you more when you need it (a few weekends ago Wolverhampton City Council's awesome use of facebook during the snow demonstrates this brilliantly) but you can't expect people to do 20 hour days repeatedly - it's just daft.
And anyone who thinks 'it's just checking facebook or twitter' doesn't realise the work and responsibility that goes into managing a community.
So then you need to make a business case for staffing those extra times, and right now, for most orgs, the numbers simply don't stack up and I'm not convinced that customers expect it anyway. Yes customers want a prompt response but if it's 9pm on a Saturday night, most wouldn't expect a response until first thing on a Monday. And perhaps they would rather that their rent is used for other things that paying staff to engage with customers at all hours?
I find it telling that companies like Argos, Vodafone and Tesco with all the talent and resources at their disposal still limit the times they man their social media presence. With far more limited resources and a smaller customer base, I'm not sure we can justify it.
I and my team have responded to customers at all hours before - one memorable time on Boxing Day. Of course, if customers are particularly upset about something, we want to impress them by showing we hear what they're saying at any time they say it but as a constant commitment, right now, I don't think we're there yet.
There's probably a case to be made for not saying 'good morning' and 'good evening' every day to indicate when you're going to be around. The reason we do it at Wolverhampton Homes is because we want to be friendly and respectful to our community rather than just barging in there, but we could re-consider whether it comes across as twee and annoying.
I think there's also a case for increasing the hours you man social media incrementally as the community builds and digital inclusion increases, but again I don't think it would be a good use of resources for most housing organisations at the moment.
So of course, we want all our services - social media included - to serve our customers when they want to be served but there are some practical issues to consider first. I'd love to talk to you more about this one Paul!


  1. Completely agree with this Kate - I read the original post from Paul with a real sinking feeling. I think that it's so easy for managing social media to be seen as something Comms can do in their spare time, but it essentially puts me on call 24/7, which is not exactly practical!

  2. Thank you Rachel. I think we're all essentially talking about the same challenge - transforming how we do business. As comms practitioners we have a job to do in managing our businesses through this ginormous change and part of that will be looking again at how we equip ourselves to meet the challenges in hand.Keep in touch.

  3. Great post Kate and thank you for taking the debate to a new level!

    I think your post is a good summary of the things most public sector organisations are going to have to mull over in the next 18 months. It needs to be on agenda of all senior management teams as our customers continue to go digital.

    For me the big points are:

    1- Should the public sector even try to keep up with customer demand out of 9-5? Can it?
    2 - What is the new role of comm's teams when everyone becomes a communicator and publisher?
    3 - What are our expectations of differing roles in their organisational use of socialmedia. One size fits all or different roles (hours?) for Comm's, Marketing, Tenant Engagement and Customer Services?

    I don't think anyone has got all the answers here yet. We have gone social but the full implications of going digital are yet to play out.

    Your tweet earlier nailed it - "Love that the social media debate in #ukhousing has moved on from 'should we?' to 'how should we?'"

    Thank heavens for that!

  4. Hi Paul

    I think you're absolutely right that our senior management teams need to be thinking about this huge change to the way we operate. Digital inclusion is a big challenge too with only 49% of WH's customers having access to the internet. Thank you for this and for the great debate today :)

  5. Some really good points Kate and Paul.

    I'm currently doing a series of social media training sessions for businesses during which I talk about the holy grail of social media being to get to a position where your customers are talking about you in your social media spaces (hopefully in positive terms) rather than always leading the discussion yourself.

    I wonder if something like this is possible in this case? Obviously if there is a major emergency or catastrophe, you'd want a member of staff to be responding rather than a well-meaning tenant, but there must be lots of occasions where people are seeking information that could easily be supplied by another tenant. If you can encourage them to exchange information, then it would need less intervention from staff. Maybe you could train up a few tenants to lead this process?


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