Comms crunchtime

Connected Housing data shows the critical impact of Housing communications.

Traditionally, Housing has been classed as more B2B than B2C as a sector and, as a result, it hasn’t been consumer marketing-led. But, as bricks and mortar have morphed into clicks and mortar, so direct engagement with stakeholders, residents and opinion-formers, people generally, marketing has come to matter much more.

Online, every interaction and behaviour tells a story. These interactions indicate the strength of connection with a brand. And every time interaction and engagement doesn’t happen easily, isn’t preferred, has to be pump-primed, it costs. That is crucial for people today in Housing.

Getting under the skin of communications issues and developing businesses that people want to connect to is easier than ever to do by understanding people’s needs better using data. That is what we do at Visceral Business. The data we’ve been pulling together through the Connected Housing Study since 2012 has highlighted how Housing is doing.

This study has always existed to help Housing develop resonant and effective communications as well as the best possible online interaction, from a user’s point of view, whether it’s through social networks or service delivery. We’ve done this so that Housing can become better at connecting with the markets and people it serves, be more compelling in its messaging and cut costs.

In the Connected Housing 2014 report, the data flagged up some significant findings. It found that the top 100 Housing organisations, representing over 3 million households between them, had on average less than 5% level of engagement against a control group of ‘slice of life’ brands in terms of the number of people connecting to them through social media.

Our control group is made up of brands that vie in the minds of residents for attention, including Manchester NHS, Kent Police, Devon County Council, the Trainline, Sainsbury’s, Just Eat, Virgin Mobile and O2 as well as others.

Since that report, there’s been recognition that Housing’s voice should be heard, that it’s message needs to get across. But what’s worrying is that according to the data, over the last year things have got worse. The average level of engagement on Facebook, for example, compared to those brands of this year’s top 100 Housing Associations is less than 0.5%.

2015 Connected Housing Data small

Every time a resident resorts to the phone, instead of going online, it costs a business somewhere in the region of £8 per transaction. And when residents can expect the variety of points of access they have available to them, as they now do, on their mobile device, there is an argument that Housing organisations need to recalibrate.VB tweet small

One reason for lack of engagement is an absence of narrative that has resonance. Housing’s low levels of engagement suggests it has a message, but it might not be one residents  find persuasive or want to hear. Is Housing listening to residents and other stakeholders? Great communication is relevant, personal and anticipated. How does Housing’s narrative relate on that level?

Consumer-led marketing inherently understands this. It gets the importance and power of connecting with consumer need. Housing’s narrative will also gain from aligning with this.  And using data is a part of that.

But what’s also part of it is about people. Rachel Miller recently highlighted this in her piece about wonky comms, writing ‘communicators have been fastidious about creating perfectly honed pieces of writing, polished videos and edited prose. The rise of two-way communication means everyone is now a communicator.’

This is the essential value of connection in the digital economy, connection that Housing organisations need to understand, end to end, as communicators.

The critical challenge for Housing today is in blending service design with communications seamlessly, that is to say, communications built-in, not bolted-on or executed by the PR department. This will be a cultural shift for many. The motivations that exist to do so, though, are significant.

Today, Housing organisations most often have between 25% and 34% of residents signed up to their online hub or portal, if they have one, while roughly 54% of all residents, on average, are on housing benefit and slightly less are in arrears.

That data spells out a substantial business case for making communications and engagement with residents resonate better, and each organisation needs to be doing this in its own way so that it is real. Interactive engagement has a blend of automation and character that people get, by developing usefulness of communication, an approachable tone of voice and by increasing the value of their Housing narrative based on information people trust and need to know.

The timing couldn’t be better for Housing to dig deep to sort out its communications and to think about how it can raise its game in connecting with residents. And this is a shift culturally, from bricks and mortar to clicks and mortar, as Housing goes digital and transforms itself as a utility as part of a digitally-enabled economy.

How well it does this is likely to shape the future and viability of the sector for years to come.

This skill needs to also become inherent within Housing organisations, as they adopt and adapt as networked business cultures.

Communications that balances utility and engagement well is useful. That usefulness can be improved by looking at the data.

To find out more about this, and to discuss how the communications findings in the Connected Housing Study data affects you, contact us more for information and your thoughts on this are welcome.

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