a blog by Kevin Williams, Wulvern Housing @KevinW_Wulvern

So in this one, I want to consider how we can engage the general public in the debate on #ukhousing and stop being so insular with our conversations. First let me take you on a brief journey as to how I came to be considering this.

A couple of weeks ago I jumped at the chance to be a guest tweeter for the week on @CommsHero thanks to founder @AsifChoudry from @ResourceHousing making me ‘an offer I couldn’t refuse’. #CommsHero is a great idea as it gives communications and marketing people from across #ukhousing and beyond, the opportunity to come together and share ideas and tips. Asif has ran a number of successful #CommsHero conferences around the country over the past couple of years but I haven’t been able to make it to one yet as he always books them when I’m on holiday. I’m beginning to take it personally – I’m even more miffed now I realise I’ve missed out on a fab t-shirt!

So the Monday morning came around and it was time to start. I buffered a few comms related tweets to get going and hit a few RT’s to ease myself in. Then came the first awkward moment. I retweeted someone making a political point (I can’t actually recall who or what it was about) that I agreed with. I then thought, oh no, I can’t assume that Asif or anyone involved with #CommsHero agrees with my point of view. That’s when I realised I was representing a ‘brand’ and couldn’t hide behind the obligatory ‘all views are my own’ bio statement. I swiftly ‘unretweeted’ it though did make this mistake quite a few times in the week as retweeting has become second nature when using my own account.

I used @CommsHero as a platform to push much more marketing related content than I usually do through my own Twitter profile. My rationale for this is my assumption that the majority of my followers would be more interested in #ukhousing tweets than how to boost SEO on your website whereas #commsheroes may well be interested in this. I have no evidence to back this up either way but did get really good engagement levels through favourites and retweets so I must have been doing something right.<br< p=”” style=”margin: 0px; padding: 0px;”></br<>

Asif also said to use the opportunity to promote my blog. Never one to miss an opportunity I shamelessly made several plugs throughout the week.

My stint ended at 5pm on the Friday when I handed the helm back over to Asif. My reflection on the week is that I really enjoyed it and would encourage anyone to give it a go if you get the chance. I felt I could share other content which is of interest to me that I normally wouldn’t share with my followers (even though a large number will probably be the same!). I guess this is what the circles feature on Google + was designed to do?

Now the week is over, I have reflected much more on communications in general and how we at Wulvern communicate, but also how we as a sector communicate.

There have been numerous points made over the past few weeks about how poor we are at communicating outside of our sector. How no-one really understands us. No-one gets us. We live in a bubble. The media only portray the negatives. Damn you Channel 4 news and the Spectator – they didn’t give us a chance to put our message out there and tell our side of the story.

If only there was a platform we could use to get our message out there……

I recently read the Government Communication Services ‘The future of Public communications report’ here (thanks to @AdeCapon for sharing). The report is very good and well worth a read. It makes some incredibly powerful points.

This made me think about what we currently do at Wulvern. We have the standard toolkit. A responsive website, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a Linkedin page, a Youtube channel etc. But the question I asked myself is are our social media pages and website of interest to customers but also to anyone from outside of our sector? How big actually is our audience the comms team work tirelessly engaging with?

We have lots of customers who like our Facebook page and we receive quite a lot of comments (and complaints) via Facebook not to mention emergency repair requests despite stating the page isn’t manned at night or weekends. But it shows a shift in customer expectations we have to respond to. It’s no use just saying we are closed for business. With the rise of social media, people expect an almost instant response. Clearly there has to be an element of reasonableness about this, but we do have to adapt our services to meet customer needs and expectations. The GCS report picks up on this point;

We are already well on our way to adapting our services to suit customers lifestyles with fully mobilised Neighbourhood workers, out in their patches with full digital access to customer records etc so that the service can be delivered in the customers home. They do out of core hour appointments and offer a very flexible service which we are already seeing the benefits of with increased levels of customer satisfaction. We realise there is a lot more work to do to adapt our communication channels with customers and recognise this will need to continue to evolve.

So back to the communication issues for #ukhousing. A popular point made is that we are great at talking amongst ourselves and that’s it. I would say the vast majority of people I follow on Twitter, or that follow me for that matter, are involved in #ukhousing. That’s what you would expect though wouldn’t you? I am interested to hear their views on housing and presume the same can be said for them of me. This goes back to the point I made earlier, I felt more comfortable pushing marketing content to @CommsHero followers than my own as my perception was that is what they would be more interested in.

I wouldn’t really feel much opportunity to engage or follow people in say #biochemistry circles because I know very little about it and have no real opinion on it. If you are like me, this means we do stay very insular with our networks and therefore our ‘audience’ is limited to people quite often ‘singing off the same hymn sheet’. It can then become a ‘moaning shop’ if we aren’t careful.

But housing is something we all need to live in, therefore why doesn’t the subject appeal to a much wider audience? Can we find a way of engaging the millions of people outside our little bubble with a compelling reason to learn more about the issues and join the debate? Once we get people interested and involved, I’m positive we could paint the true picture and start to swing public opinion in our favour to see behind a lot of the lies that are being forced down peoples throats.

The GCS report continues;

So, the platform is already there and waiting to be taken advantage of to get our message out there. Lets stop being so insular with our discussions and messages. Let’s stop moaning amongst ourselves and start talking to the ‘masses’. Let’s get the debate really going.

It’s time for the #commsheroes out there to craft a plan. I would, but I was only one for a week….