Stop being anti-social

Start a conversation with your residents on Facebook

About the author

James Calnan prepared this article for a CIPR Professional PR Diploma assignment while studying with PR Academy.

Image created using Microsoft Copilot
Image created using Microsoft Copilot
James Calnan

I recently stumbled across a Facebook page dedicated to supporting residents of one of England’s largest housing associations.

Every day, residents raise queries and concerns about their home or the services they receive from their landlord. And every day, they get sympathetic and helpful responses from an ever-growing community.

It’s popular, with thousands of followers. In fact, it attracts more users than the housing association’s official Facebook page.

One glance, and it’s clear to see why residents have migrated to the unofficial alternative: the official page is a broadcast channel used to churn out positive news stories about the association – and residents are blocked from commenting on them.

Curious, I reviewed the Facebook pages of 25 housing associations. I found some excellent examples of positive engagement (see below) – but plenty of other landlords which have shut down communication via the site.

One, for example, only shares job vacancies. Another only posts when the phonelines aren’t working.

There’s a housing association that has let its page sit dormant since 2020, while another has removed itself entirely. Another three have blocked residents’ ability to comment.

A missed opportunity

As the communications professional responsible for customer comms at resident-led housing association Eastlight Community Homes, I know these landlords are missing a valuable opportunity to build stronger relationships with their residents.

Those landlords that have blocked residents from commenting on their pages haven’t shared their reasons for doing so.

But, digging deeper, it seems the decision often followed a spate of critical posts from residents unhappy with their homes and services. For example, one landlord’s page has been inactive for nearly a year following more than 100 negative comments on its last three posts.

Rebuilding trust

Such dissatisfaction is hardly a surprise. Housing associations are regularly shamed online by campaigners, the media, the Housing Ombudsman and the Housing Secretary. Resident satisfaction with their landlord is falling, from 85.1% in 2018/19 to 72.3% so far in 2023/24.

Fewer residents believe housing associations fulfil their purpose to provide “safe, decent and warm” homes to those in our society who need them the most.

And when the Regulator of Social Housing’s Tenant Satisfaction Measures come into force from April this year, these negative perceptions will become public for all to see.

Now more than ever, it’s time for landlords to reconsider their approach.

Making the case for Facebook

You could be forgiven for thinking that Facebook, buffeted by scandal and assailed by upstart rivals, is on the decline. But the reality is residents use it more than any alternative.

According to Ofcom, 91.7% of adults (43.9 million people) are on Facebook and Messenger

According to Ofcom, 91.7% of adults (43.9 million people) are on Facebook and Messenger. That’s nine million more than Instagram, and nearly 20 million more than X/Twitter. They spend an average of 14.5 hours a month scrolling and messaging on the network.

Heard that young people don’t use Facebook anymore? It depends on your definition of young. More 18-to-24-year-olds are on Instagram, and they spend far longer on TikTok and Snapchat. For every other adult age group, Facebook comes out top for numbers of users and time spent using it.

More than three quarters (77%) of Eastlight’s Facebook followers are aged between 25 and 54. We are active on four social media channels, but find residents are more likely to give us crucial feedback about their homes and services via Facebook. In fact, more than 90% of comments and queries from residents come via Facebook.

Sharing what matters

The relationship between landlord and tenant is fundamentally unequal: residents rely on their landlords to provide a safe and secure place to call home. In an era in which critical posts can be seen by millions and reputations can be made or broken online – social media is one place where residents hold a degree of power.

A 2013 study published in the Journal of Promotional Communications found that 59% of participants took to social media because they were dissatisfied with a recent interaction with a brand.

Therefore, it’s natural for some residents to post when they are unhappy. But, in the words of social media strategist Karen Sutherland, complaints made via social media are “an opportunity to turn the situation around in real-time in front of an audience”.

Here are four key elements that should form part of any strategy to build resident relationships through Facebook.

Be ready to engage: If you don’t have the resources to provide good customer service on Facebook, then find them. To quote Sutherland again, social media customer service is a “necessary business function”.

Get processes in place so colleagues from key services including repairs and complaints are available to provide timely and authoritative responses to residents’ queries.

Then ensure your customer services or communications teams are on hand to respond appropriately. If you’re empathetic and sound like a human being, you’ll likely be fine. Take a look at Yorkshire Housing’s page – their team does this brilliantly.

Build a community: The Better Social Housing Review, written by an independent panel to tackle social housing issues, exhorts housing associations to “go where your tenants are”. The focus is on creating community-based hubs, but your tenants are already on Facebook.

A 2021 survey by YouGov found more people said their most important community was online than offline, and this is exemplified by Curo housing association’s online community-building. A Christmas Facebook Live event attracted more than 70 questions, many of which were answered on the spot by its Chief Executive.

Be relevant. Digital marketing expert Daniel Rowles explains how “social media is very much part of our personal lives”.

If you want to enter that sphere, you must provide value. Facebook isn’t where you tell everyone how great you are: it’s where you provide information of interest to your residents.

So talk about your repairs policy, what to do if you’re experiencing damp and mould and how to access cost-of-living support.

Be interesting. Remember the Three Second Rule – if your content is boring, residents will scroll on. So get creative: housing association Thirteen’s competition to spot the fire risks in a living room is one excellent example.

Following these steps will improve your relationship with your residents. Northumbrian Water’s Facebook page, with 23,000 engaged followers, helped ensure its creative Bin the Wipe campaign successfully reduced flushed wet wipes by 60%. That’s despite the water industry being another sector where public support is declining.

So, to those housing associations which aren’t listening to their residents on Facebook: stop being anti-social – and start that conversation.