Monthly Archives: April 2011

If you build it…they will come…

…or so the 1989 film Field of Dreams starring Kevin Costner claimed.

In the film, Costner plays an Iowa corn farmer. Hearing voices, he interprets them as a command to build a baseball diamond in his fields; he does, and the Chicago Black Sox come.

Unfortunately however, life’s not so simple in the social media world. If you want to attract friends and followers, you need to do so much more than just build a Facebook and Twitter profile.

Since I built Flagship’s Facebook and Twitter profiles in August 2010, we’ve gained over 680 and 480 friends and followers respectively. In this post I’d like to share some hints and tips for how I managed this.

Twitter – my top 10 tips on how to get followers:

  • Follow follow follow! This can’t be stressed enough. Housing associations, journalists, charities, industry bodies, local authorities. A good tip is to look at who they are following and follow their followers.
  • Tweet often. Short, interesting, funny, quirky messages get noticed. Tell people what you or your organisation are up to, even if it’s saying you’ve got cakes in the kitchen!
  • Tweet links. If you see something of interest on the internet, tweet it. News, developments in the industry..if you found it useful, so will your followers.
  • Tell people about events – open days, new development handovers, charity fundraising…whatever is happening, shout about it!
  • Ask questions – this encourages debate and interaction.
  • Get involved! Speak to other tweeters, respond to their questions and give feedback.
  • Retweet – if someone you follow says something or post something of interest, be sure to retweet it.
  • Say thank you – if your tweet is retweeted, drop the retweeter a message saying thanks, a little courtesy goes a long way!
  • Build lists – It makes sense to put the tweeters you follow into lists. This not only helps you make sense of what’s going on in different sectors, it helps keep track of your close friends and lets other followers find other people to follow (hope that makes sense!).
  • And finally – make an effort on a Friday to do a spot of #FF (Follow Friday). Mention those tweeters who you think deserve to be followed – this helps them out and with any luck you’ll be tagged in an #FF post yourself.

Facebook – my top 10 ten tips on how to get friends

Unlike Twitter, Facebook is a completely different kettle of fish. It takes more work to get someone to like you – after all, you are a business. It’s a Catch-22 situation – people need a reason to like you and become your friend, but they won’t do that if you don’t have any friends…so where on earth do you start?

  1. Set your stall up and sell your wares. In the first few days, post interesting things about your organisation. Stick up photos, ask questions on your wall, welcome new friends and thank them for liking you.
  2. Ask questions. Ask your initial friends what it is they want from your Facebook. Is it to report repairs? Is it to find out what’s happening in their area? Is it to chat to other customers? Be interested in their conversations, and if you can – hold a few early competitions and prize draws (more about this later).
  3. Advertise! Advertise! Advertise! Write a news piece that you are now online and advertise this on your website, in your newsletter, on your company email signature. We asked our web company to design us Twitter and Facebook buttons for the Flagship homepage for easy access to our profile.
  4. Design a poster. By designing an eye-catching poster you’re killing quite a few birds with one stone. Not only is this displayed in our receptions, on our community notice boards and community centres, we’ve also used it within our quarterly newsletters.
  5. Footnote your Facebook. Whenever a customer reports a repair, applies for a job, submits a contact request, I made sure the thank-you message that pops up once it is submitted includes the line: “Did you know we’re also on Facebook? Why not become a friend of ours today by clicking the blue Facebook icon at the bottom of the page!”. You’ll start to see an increase in friends if you do this I can assure you!
  6. Respond quickly. When your friends start to arrive, they will start asking you questions. Be sure to reply to these as quickly as possible – adopt a friendly tone and address them in the name they use. We always say “Hi XXXX thanks for your message. I’ve passed this on to your community manager who will be in touch with you soon.”Nine times out of 10 you will get a “Thanks”, which other friends and potential friends see. If they feel you’re giving good customer service you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll feel more inclined to like you too.
  7. Give exclusives. As Facebook is a personal space, your friends want to feel appreciated. With that in mind, give them exclusives. This doesn’t have to cost anything…why not give them the opportunity to decide on the front cover of your newsletter or annual report? Release these a week or so early for them to download, or give them a sneak peak at a page on your website for example.
  8. Hold competitions. By far and away the most popular part of Flagship’s Facebook is when we hold competitions. If you can afford it, the odd £10 shopping voucher here and there goes down well. Whether it’s a prize draw when you hit a certain amount of followers (we did it at 250 and 500), or for finding a hidden easter egg or member of your executive team on your website, you can be sure you’ll get a few thumbs up and likes from this. Also, remember to namecheck the winners after your competition on both your Facebook profile and in your newsletter – this encourages more people to click ‘Like’ and become your friend.
  9. Plan ahead. If you can, hold a competition at special times of the year. Ask your friends to upload pictures such as their Christmas tree in December, or their garden in the spring and reward the winner with whatever you can. We held a ‘find Santa David’ on our website (our chief executive in a Santa hat) and saw an extra 30,000 pageviews on our website between November and December (and again namechecked the winner in our newsletter). You could hide other images such as an easter bunny or easter egg, a firework or a poppy – just make sure it’s relevant to the time of year and you’ll be rewarded with extra traffic and more engaged customers.
  10. Team up with other organisations and grab freebies when you can. On World Book Night I managed to secure 50 copies of Agent ZigZag to give away to our Facebook friends. I also managed to secure some family day tickets to the local family attraction BeWILDerWood and Bressingham Steam Museum. If you don’t ask, you don’t get! Contact places in your local area, sell the benefits of advertising their services to both you and their organisation and hopefully you’ll be rewarded with a few tickets or cut-price admission.

I hope you agree that you can’t just build your Twitter and Facebook profile and hope to become the ‘coolest kid in the playground’. It will take time – don’t be downheartened if you’re not swamped with friends for a good few months. Hang in there, keep plugging away and make an effort and before you know it you’ll be the kid everyone wants to know.

Good luck 🙂


Planning for success

It may sound stupid, but in order to make your social media journey a success you need to have a plan in place.

When I look at some of the housing associations already on Facebook for example, it’s obvious which ones just went into it with a ‘gung ho’ attitude. They hardly post, have very few friends and by doing so are doing more harm to their reputation than good.

So how do you go about formulating a plan for social media?

In order to answer this question, you firstly need to ask yourself what you want to achieve by it and how much effort you can put into it. After all, there’s no point even setting up accounts if you can’t dedicate the time. These questions will define whether your organisation should get on Twitter, Facebook – or both.


Twitter is less time consuming and carries the least amount of risk for your organisation. You ‘tweet’ or write brief 140 character messages which are then read by your ‘followers’. They can then either reply to you using the @ sign, or with any luck ‘retweet’ your message to their followers. Hopefully more people will then follow you and the list goes on.

However, we have found that Twitter is not where our customers are. We use Twitter, in the main to interact with other housing associations, housing professionals, key industry figures and journalists. We ‘retweet’ important messages from local authorities, the police, fire service and other charities. We also like to speak to other housing associations and interact with them, sharing ideas and good practice.

I use Twitter on a daily basis, often tweeting 2/3 messages a day, sometimes more. It’s a sociable and helpful world where you will find information and developments in the industry quickly, but you won’t be engaging with many of your customers.


Facebook is by far more time consuming and carries the greater amount of risk for your organisation – simply because it’s a no-holds-barred arena for the world to see. You attract people to ‘Like’ your page and become your friend, using your profile to broadcast your ‘status’ which appears in your friends’ news streams.

Your friends are free to write on your profile’s wall – and this is where it gets tricky. Unless you choose to remove your wall (and defeat the whole purpose of Facebook), you can’t moderate comments for approval. I believe you can now insert a list of words to block, but still the risk of having a disgruntled customer/tenant freely posting a complaint for the world to see (including your chief executives and board members!) causes many marketing departments nightmares.

However, we have found that Facebook, unlike Twitter, is where our customers are. They use our profile, in the main, to request repairs, to ask about the status of their repair, to ask questions and to compliment us! We do receive the odd complaint and photos posted online of poor repair work or of unkempt neighbour’s gardens – but it’s how we deal with these that makes Facebook the more successful of the two.

Although I use Facebook to just post one message a day, it is far more labour intensive of the two. You have to keep a watchful eye on it at all times, to be ready to jump in and calm a situation if needs be or to remove a post or a friend before it escalates.

The choice

It’s quite simple – if you have the resources and manpower available – get on Facebook. If you’re scared of the risks it poses, stick to Twitter with a view to getting on Facebook in the future.

If you’ve chosen the Facebook route – you then need to plan a strategy. Write a Social Media Acceptable Usage Policy and agree on some key points your friends must abide by. (Ours is here).

Then appoint your Facebook admin and devise a plan on how to deal with complaints. Where should they go? Who should respond? What timeframe are you setting yourself? Also think about the key messages you want your friends to read, at least one a day – these will be fundamental to your success.

If you’ve chosen to go with Twitter, set up your profile and start following! Build up your friends list and don’t be afraid to say hello. Agree on some key messages you’d like to broadcast each day, and re-tweet anything of interest to your followers. Before too long you’ll be listed with other housing associations/local authorities and your tweets will start being re-tweeted.

Having a plan in place will set you on the path to success in social media – whether you go with Facebook or Twitter. But whichever one you choose you need to make sure that you post at least once a day – there’s nothing worse than an inactive tweeter or Facebook profile!

Tomorrow I’ll talk in depth about how we’ve attracted friends and followers….

Making the leap into the social media world

DivingMaking the leap into social media is a daunting experience. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of making mistakes and of opening up the organisation to criticism on a local, national and international stage are indeed well-placed.

However, you cannot afford to ignore the benefits that social media can bring to your organisation. If I was asked what I thought the top 10 benefits that social media has brought us here at Flagship I’d say:

  1. Our customers feel they have an extra platform to engage with us.
  2. We demonstrate excellent customer service in a public sphere.
  3. It allows other customers to engage and help each other out, thereby reducing demand on our call centre.
  4. We get out important messages and announcements regarding our services and possible disruption to it immediately – again reducing demand on our call centre.
  5. We drive and increase traffic to our website.
  6. We interact with other housing associations, local authorities, and build up a unique contact list of key industry players and journalists.
  7. We advertise jobs when they become available.
  8. We broadcast important messages from other local authorities and the police to our friends and followers.
  9. We also engage with customers through exciting competitions and prize draws.
  10. And increase revenue through advertising our telecare service, garages for let and shared ownership homes.

Now all of these benefits are ultimately free. Yes they may come at a cost in terms of staff resource and effort, but for something that takes a few minutes to set up  I’m sure you agree the positives of social media far outweigh the negatives.

Unfortunately however, setting up a Twitter and Facebook profile and hoping your customers come and engage with you simply because you’re there is setting yourself up for a fall. You need a plan in place before you even think about registering your organisation, and this is what I’ll talk about in my next post.

Welcome to Social Media for Housing!

Hello there…

You’ve probably stumbled across this blog through the social media world, so welcome!

I’m often asked by other housing associations and local authorities for guidance on just how to make social media a success. Common themes and questions asked are:

  • “We want to get involved in social media, but we just don’t know where to start!”
  • “How much does social media cost in terms of time and effort?”
  • “How do you engage with tenants successfully?”
  • “What about your tone of voice?”
  • “What happens when complaints are made and how do you respond?”
  • “Do you have a Social Media Policy?”
  • “How do you get more friends and followers?”

^ This is not an exhaustive list.

When we decided to get involved in Facebook and Twitter in summer 2010, only a few housing associations had taken the chance. In that time we’ve attracted nearly 700 Facebook friends and 500 followers on Twitter. However, if I sat here and said it was a smooth journey I’d be lying.

Social Media, like communications itself is constantly changing. It’s an exciting world where your organisation needs to be. With that in mind I’ve set this blog up to talk about our successes (and failures!), common issues and complaints, new ideas and developments. I hope you find it an interesting and convincing read and give you some useful tips for getting your organisation online and your customers involved.

Here goes…