It was brilliant to see so many friendly #housingcomms faces at the Chartered Institute of Housing’s annual #CIHHousing 2021 event in Manchester. Three of us from See Media made the trip to support our clients – some of whom we hadn’t seen for 18 months, and others we were meeting in person for the first time!
For me, there were two key #housingcomms takeaways from #CIHHousing 2021: relief and reputation.
First, people were relieved to be there, seeing colleagues and contacts again, and doing so in what felt like near normality (being outside in the sunshine also definitely helped!). Yes, there was hand sanitising and mask-wearing at times, but – after some nervousness – people got down to housing issues. And there was plenty to discuss from investing in building safety and the journey to net zero-carbon, to building more social rent homes and supporting community resilience.
Alongside this, a concern that people frequently expressed to me was about reputation. This covered all core audiences: customers, colleagues, suppliers, local authorities, politicians and the media.
In previous years, the housing sector has gotten used to a degree of media attention generated by this event. As a result of ongoing fire safety concerns and the disrepair investigation by ITV, this year it was on a completely different level. In addition to the presence of journalists from The Sunday Times, The Guardian and others, the imminent broadcast of the most recent ITV disrepair expose loomed large. The housing sector is feeling the glare of very public scrutiny.
Role for comms
So how are housing leaders responding to this and what role can #housingcomms teams play?
Housing leaders I spoke with understand that they and their organisations are under the microscope like never before. They realise that they need to step up to the mark or suffer significant reputational damage. While there are several important aspects here, the key issues are undoubtedly building safety and disrepair.
The Savills Housing Sector Survey in partnership with Social Housing magazine and launched at #CIHHousing 2021 showed that, collectively, housing leaders are acting on tenant concerns. There was an 85% increase in organisations prioritising investment in existing homes (the largest rise) and two-thirds of the 138 housing providers that responded to the survey have begun safety work on 90% of the homes that need it.
While this is a positive story to tell, it does not remove the power of ITV footage of families living in homes where leaks are so bad they are paddling round their homes and suffering breathing difficulties. Although it is only a few housing providers that have been highlighted by coverage to date, no housing leader can claim their organisation is squeaky clean.
Key #housingcomms takeaways from #CIHHousing 2021
Here are some key pointers from our work supporting clients in this area that it is worth considering that will help you deliver a good-quality service and protect your reputation:
- If there is a particular issue with a block or estate, monitor what is said on social media and through direct customer complaints over time so you can measure change and the extent to which your interventions are having a positive impact
- Use media monitoring to ensure you know what is being said about you, by whom and on what website or social media platform
- Act on what the data is telling you
- If there is a persistent problem with a block, investigate – don’t just patch it up repeatedly
- Having a strong comms function is really helpful, but don’t rely on this to mask more fundamental problems
- Some housing providers are automatically following up 1-2 months after a damp or mould complaint to check if it is fixed – the message here is don’t just wait for the tenant to get in touch again
As a housing association, local authority or ALMO, your mission is very likely to make a positive difference in people’s lives – or words to that effect. Getting the repairs service right as close as possible to 100% of the time is one of the best ways to deliver on this aim. It won’t half help improve your reputation into the bargain too!
Stuart Macdonald is Managing Director of See Media
If you would like to discuss reputation management or any of the issues raised in this article, please contact Stuart on firstname.lastname@example.org