Does social media provide ‘Value For Money’?

‘Value For Money’ – those three simple words which are so important in these turbulent times. When it comes to social media, a big question you’ll be asked is “Does it provide value for money to your organisation?”

“Yes!” I hear you cry. “It’s free! It definitely provides VFM…”

But is that really the case?

I must admit I struggled with this question when setting up Flagship‘s Facebook and Twitter profiles. Yes, social media channels are free and take literally minutes to set up, but there are so many added costs involved that you do need to consider.

1) Resources

Your time is a cost to your business. Managing social media effectively is a cost – it should not be seen as a role just ‘tacked on’ to your day job. You need to be proactive, to formulate plans, to schedule updates, to react to feedback and sometimes crisis manage. After all, if you set up a Facebook profile you will receive complaints and you will need to implement a process to manage them.

I tend to spend around 2-3 hours a day in managing Flagship’s social media. This involves engaging with followers and friends, writing and updating the website and pointing people to new developments and new content. I work closely with staff in our contact centre (two are appointed to specifically deal with complaints) and am in regular contact with them so they understand what I’m doing on the engagement side, and flag up issues they may not have seen complaint-wise.

I would estimate that social media takes up around 30 hours a week in total across our group – and when you think about it like that it’s virtually a full-time role – something you need to seriously consider if you want to do social media successfully.

2) External fees

As I spoke about in previous posts, advertising Flagship’s Facebook and Twitter profiles has come at a financial cost to us. We designed a poster to display in reception areas and community notice boards, we paid a small fee to set up the ‘F’ and ‘T’ buttons on our website and embedded on email disclaimers. We also have these displayed on company vans and signage… all of these costs do add up.

3) Prize draws and competitions

We have found that holding prize draws when we reach a friend target or a competition specifically for social media friends are extremely popular. These are very small prizes, perhaps £10 or £20 at the most and take the shape of Love2Shop vouchers, but do they provide VFM? Although we only have 700 friends out of 21,000 properties, I would argue that they do…

  • You will get positive feedback from friends who will engage with you
  • You can generate some excellent publicity and advertise this in your tenant newsletters
  • You can use it to demonstrate how many people you can hit with a simple update through the page impressions….after all, sending out 700 letters costs far more than £10!

However, if you plan to go down this route, make sure that as many people know you are holding a prize draw or competition as possible. Also remember to stipulate that it is only for your tenants only – else you could leave yourself open to criticism.

Overall, I do think social media provides value for money. It’s a free and instant way to reach and engage with your tenants, provide them with information and generate some excellent feedback. However, there are costs involved which need to be carefully considered – if you are happy you can assign adequate resources to it and are able to advertise it in ways other than your customer newsletter then go for it!


Complaints, we’ve had a few….

It would come as no surprise to you as a housing association, local authority or company if I said that I knew, with absolute certainty, your customer satisfaction levels are not 100%. In fact, I’d like to go even further and say that getting 100% is an impossible task – sure we strive to achieve it, but all it takes is just one missed call, just one missed message or a missed appointment and you can kiss that 100% goodbye.

However, you can go some way to getting a high customer satisfaction level with your customers who engage with you through social media.

As I wrote in my last post, you will get complaints, and it’s how you deal with those complaints that counts. In this post I’d like to bring your attention to our top five common complaints we get at Flagship Facebook and how we deal with them.

Common complaint #1) No one has called me to sort out my kitchen / bathroom / fence / boiler

Our customers will sometimes complain that they have not been called by our contractors or surveyors with regard to sorting out an issue in their homes. This type of complaint is the perhaps the most common, and perhaps the most helpful to us too – it points to an issue with which we can address with the party responsible directly.

Our reply is often along the lines of: “Hi XXX. I am sorry you have not been called. I have spoken to our XXXX who is aware of the situation and they will contact you to make an appointment to sort out what we need to do to resolve the matter. Thank you.”

Common complaint #2) I am still waiting for window / door / boiler to be replaced

Our customers also complain about being made to wait for work to be carried out in their homes. Depending on the situation (as each is different), it may be because planned work is not taking place in their area, or it could be that their community manager may have ‘dropped the ball’ through human error. In any case, an apology is offered.

Our reply is often along the lines of: “Hello XXXX. Sorry to hear of the difficulties. This should not have happened – I will get this looked into and someone will contact you with a full update. Thank you.”

Common complaint #3) There is rubbish in the garden / drain overflowing / fence knocked down / communal light broken

From time to time our customers complain about something outside of their homes. Nine times out of ten this can be solved with a simple post letting them know that their complaint has been acknowledged, and that that someone will deal with the matter.

Our reply is often along the lines of: “Hello XXXX. Thank you for informing us about this issue – I will log this for you now and your community manager will be in touch with you shortly.”

Common complaint #4) Flagship is rubbish / useless / awful etc…

Yes, the odd personal attack is sometimes posted on our wall and is probably the most feared out of all complaints. Getting to these type of complaints speedily is key – the longer you leave something like this, the more likely other friends are to click ‘like’, join the attack and post another complaint. In order to avoid a snowball effect, time is of the essence.

If the post violates our social media policy, ie it is defamatory, offensive, or names one of our employees by name, we remove it there and then and message the user asking them to refrain from doing so.

If the post is within our policy, whether fair or not, our reply is often along the lines of: “Hi XXXX, I am sorry you feel this way. We always XXXXXX, if you feel we have not treated you fairly please submit a formal complaint on our website, email XXX or write to XXXX. Thank you for your message.”

Common complaint #5) The photo complaint

A new theme emerging on our Flagship Facebook profile is customers uploading photos onto our wall. This has just started to occur within the last two months, and from memory the photos have been of issues such as poor scaffolding work, a neighbour’s messy garden and a damp problem.

Whilst these type of complaints are rare, they raise the interesting debate – should they be allowed? Are customers in effect ‘jumping the queue’ by posting them, trying to force us to act quickly? I’ll talk about this in a future post…

However, our reply to these sort of complaints is along the lines of: “Hello XXX, I am sorry you have had to deal with these problems. I have spoken to your community manager / our surveyor / contractor and you will be contacted <insert time>.”

To sum up..

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ response to dealing with complaints in public. Depending on what sort of complaint you get should define how you respond, but in general you need to act quickly and aim to get that “Thank you” reply from the person complaining as soon as you can.

As I said in the previous post:

Acknowledge the complaint – don’t ignore it and hope it goes away, or delete it and hope your customer won’t notice…believe me they will!

Apologise if it warrants one! Being humble and admitting your failings shows you are human. We all make mistakes, and learning from them and moving on by way of an apology is key.

Explain what went wrong – if it’s through no fault of your own, let them know you will be dealing with those responsible. If it is your fault, explain how it went wrong.

Tell them what you’re doing about it – even if it’s just to let them know you have logged it. People don’t want to be ignored – the more information you can give the better…

To conclude, dealing with complaints in public should not be something you should lose sleep over. As you can see we’ve managed to whittle the complaints on our wall down to a common five themes. In fact (touch wood) we haven’t had an incident whereby we’ve had to remove a post for being offensive, quite the opposite.

So my message would be to take the hit, take the complaints on the chin and respond positively. Nine times out of ten you’ll get a ‘Thanks’ back…maybe even a compliment from them a few days later….it may not be 100%, but I’d take 90% any day.

Dealing with complaints in public

One of the biggest issues that all organisations have to get their heads around when approaching and using social media is how to deal with unhappy customers who complain publicly about a bad or unsatisfactory experience, or a flawed product or service.

Since social media is such an easy platform to complain or express general unhappiness, it’s hardly surprising that a growing number of consumers are turning to their keyboards when something doesn’t go as well as expected.

One of the big problems many companies have, when it comes to the possibility that someone might use social media to complain about something, is that it’s not something that they have dealt with before. In the past a disgruntled customer might have called a number or sent a letter to the company – this all happened behind “closed doors”.

Today, if someone is upset about something, they are more likely to blast it out into the social media universe with the goal to force a company to do something to rectify the situation. In many cases, a company will quickly cave rather than have a small problem explode into a major issue.

Given this reality, a key decision we faced is how to handle negative or critical comments on social media. Should Flagship remove negative comments immediately or leave them? But if we chose to remove a complaint, what would be the justification given that Facebook and Twitter are public forums?

We quickly realised that to use social media effectively, dealing with negative comments and complaints is part of the unwritten rules of engagement. Rather than shy away from negative comments or make them disappear, we realised that the bad things customers say were an opportunity to learn, to improve and make our products or services better.

The message, quite simply, is “Don’t be afraid of criticism!”

By embracing negative comments and engaging with your customers, you can work together to create a positive spin, regardless of the negative comment or complaint.

  • Acknowledge the issue
  • Don’t be afraid to apologise
  • Explain what went wrong
  • Tell them what you’re doing about it

In many cases we discovered that most customers who complain on social media just want to be heard. By simply listening and responding quickly, we are able turn a very negative situation into a positive one in very little time.

While negative or bad comments are a fact of life within social media, they are not something that companies should fear. There will always be a small number of customers who will complain, the key is figuring out how to effectively deal with these situations in a positive and proactive way.

Next week I’ll give some examples of common complaints made on our Facebook wall, how we respond and what we’ve learned in our social media journey. Have a great weekend!

Strict, social, serious or silly – selecting the right tone of voice is key

SmileyWhen Flagship started in social media I looked in depth at our ‘Corporate Identity Guidelines’ – a rather weighty tome we produced after we re-branded to maintain a universal ‘tone of voice’ across the group. It’s designed to help us maintain a consistent voice – from picking up the phone to how we word emails or answerphone messages. However, a chapter on social media was unsurprisingly absent, meaning we’d have to make it up as we we go along…

So, what sort of tone would we adopt? Would we be risking compromising Flagship’s integrity and professionalism if we started to ‘chat informally’ to friends and followers? What sort of messages would we say? Would people really be interested that it’s Red Nose Day in our office and we’ve got cakes in our staff kitchen?

I did some research on how the tone big brands and big companies already on Facebook and Twitter used, and the results confirmed my suspicions…

H&M, T-Mobile, Starbucks, Sky Sports – the list goes on. All of them adopt a friendly, sociable and chatty style, engaging with their friends and followers with a down-to-earth ‘man-in-the-street’ attitude. You get no sense from their tweets and Facebook messages that these are multi-million pound organisations, worried about appearing unprofessional.

I took my findings to a meeting with our Head of Marketing and our Customer Services Director and set my arguments out. If we were going to be successful in social media, Flagship would need to adopt a chatty style whilst maintaining professional relationships with friends and followers. Regardless of if a customer was happy, posted a compliment, a joke or a tongue-in-cheek comment, we must not be afraid to (shock horror) use a smiley.

Believe it or not, this caused the greatest fuss with certain people in our organisation in the first few months of our adventure –  a the simple smiley :). Personally, I think the smiley shows you’re a friendly organisation, it shows you respect someone and acknowledge their post.

To demonstrate this, consider the two possible responses to a compliment posted on our wall:

Fun, friendly and chatty – “Hi XXXX, thanks for your kind words, I’ll pass on your compliment to our contractors – I’m sure it will make his day! :)”

Professional, corporate (and cold) – “Hello XXXX. I’ll pass on your compliment to the contractor who carried out the work.”

What would you say was the more welcoming post?

Within a few weeks of adopting the fun and friendly tone it was clear it was working. More friends were coming, more people were posting positive comments and more engagement was being had. Our engagement through social media started to snowball, and within three months of being set up we had over 400 friends.

I guess the point I’m trying to make in this post is that you need to think outside the box, to let your guard down and to talk to your friends and your followers on their level. Don’t be afraid to ditch a cold and corporate communication style and embrace that emoticon – but do so in moderation. Tell your friends what you’re doing in your office, share a picture of someone’s leaving cake, give them an insight into what you do…it all helps build a rapport and gives your organisation a human face.

Tomorrow I’ll share with you some examples of complaints made through Facebook and how we respond, it’s been a rollercoaster ride!

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.