At 17-years-old, I am a very experienced Instagram user. Part of generation Z, I’m one of the world’s social media children. I’ve had an Instagram account since early on in senior school.
However, even a social media savvy teen has much to learn about how Instagram can be used within the world of social housing marketing.
In the middle of completing my A-Levels, I was able to gain some work experience at See Media over the summer. I was asked to look at the way housing associations represent themselves on social media generally, and Instagram in particular, and to write this blog sharing my thoughts. So here they are:
Legitimate two-way communication
I was surprised by how few senior managers are on social media, particularly on Instagram. They possibly think their presence on social media would appear unprofessional; however, in this article from back in 2012, Bromford Group’s Paul Taylor points out that senior staff engaging with residents via social media promotes a sense of legitimacy. It demonstrates that, from the top down, an organisation genuinely cares about communicating with its customers.
Nick Atkin, chief executive of Yorkshire Housing, and former chief exec of Halton Housing Group, is a great example of this type of engagement. He would regularly join relevant conversations on social media and even held his own question and answer sessions using the hashtag ‘#AskNick’ on Facebook.
Housing providers really should consider getting themselves onto ‘the gram’ – according to Brandwatch.com, Instagram users’ engagement with brands is 10 times higher than Facebook, 54 times higher than Pinterest, and 84 times higher than Twitter.
These days, Instagram would be an excellent platform for other housing leaders to hold Q&A sessions, as they could be done over a 24-hour period using the ‘story’ feature. The session could then be made available for anybody to view at any time by adding it to the organisation’s profile ‘highlights’. This brings me to my next point…
Using stories on Instagram
Instagram stories are a comparatively new type of post, introduced in August 2016. Many organisations have yet to master the use of Instagram stories as marketing tools, but done right, they can really capture users’ attention, with an account’s followers being notified when a ‘live story’ has begun.
Those willing to give Instagram a shot should consider posting stories featuring ‘questions’ stickers, which enable story viewers to send in queries, to be answered in a later post – Instagram automatically notifies the asker when a response to their question has been posted. When a Q and A session has been successful, it is then possible to add it to your highlights, showcasing your proactive approach to two-way communication.
Another important aspect of housing providers’ use of Instagram is the inclusion of community-based posts, which should be prioritised over corporate branding and company announcements.
A housing association that focusses on the neighbourhoods it builds rather than itself demonstrates that its tenants are at the heart of everything it does.
Sharing tenants’ community activities on posts and stories demonstrates that an organisation makes efforts to support tenants in their endeavours.
Putting these tenant-centred posts on your highlights ensures they are noticeable to new users viewing your account.
Setting the tone
When sharing stories and writing captions for posts, it is important to consider writing style. The last thing users want is to read the same dry, robotic style of writing several times over when scrolling through their feed. Creative and unique captions can make posts stand out amongst the sea of others.
Humour and reliability can also make organisations seem more human – always a great quality.
Reaching out to critics
Organisations can boost their reputation by reaching each out to those who post negative things about them on social media. Although this may seem counter-intuitive, negative comments will appear whether or not an organisation is on social media – it is therefore better to respond to criticism, and offer help and support to those who need it.
Responding to feedback honestly and constructively creates an impression of a high performing and invested organisation. A bespoke reply to a comment on Instagram means a lot to individual users, and it need only be brief – the most popular brand accounts sometimes reply with only a few words or emojis.
It is best to avoid generic responses such as ‘we are sorry to hear about your problem, please contact us via xxx to discuss further’, since these do not show that an issue has been resolved and they can give the impression that the organisation is attempting to shut down discussion.
Sometimes, it may be better to speak to someone through ‘direct messages’ (DMs) rather than in public comments. However, it’s important that others understand that comments are not being ignored. The fact you’re addressing concerns privately can be communicated by simply replying to the original critique, asking the poster to DM a named person via your organisation’s account.
… and perhaps most importantly: people my age are the social housing tenants, employees and partners of the future, and we do not tend to communicate via letters (the last time I read a letter was in a novel, Frankenstein, at school), email or even Facebook. Instead, we use Instagram and other networks like Snapchat. Organisations that don’t use these will soon be missing out on an opportunity to engage with us in a way which shows they understand our generation.