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!