In my last blog I talked about the language used to portray social housing residents, particularly in the media, and the stigmatisation that it can cause and perpetuate.
Now I’m turning my attention to the language that is used to communicate with those same residents, and the importance of using a conversational tone.
As a team, we have all completed various accessibility and communications training at See Media, including the Communication Access UK training programme. Ensuring communications with residents are suitable and are delivering the right messages in the right way is a key part of our role. Lots of housing providers are doing great things to make sure they communicate in a more accessible way, and we want to encourage more of the same.
Jog on, Jargon
You may have seen from our latest campaign, Jog on, Jargon, that we don’t really have much patience for complicated, unclear language here at See Media. Words and phrases such as dwellings, units, legacy housing and voids have already been suggested as options to be put ‘in the bin’ by my colleagues and others in the sector.
Some of these may have historically been used in planning documents and Board reports, but they have no place in day-to-day communications. Our residents don’t see their home as a ‘unit’, and neither should their landlord.
Of course, it’s important to avoid using jargon and acronyms, especially in resident communications, but we also need to look more generally at the tone we use and make it much more conversational, informal and friendly.
When considering that the average reading age in the UK is 5-7, as we saw in Account Director Sara-Anne’s recent Jog on, Jargon blog, it’s obvious that we need to make time and space for the importance of conversational and clear communications.
Less is more
A particular bugbear of mine is letters that are typically sent to residents. Often these can be impenetrable and unnecessarily lengthy.
Those of us in the PR profession who love to write know that sometimes (in fact more often than not) less is more. We don’t have to write reams of pages when a few words can do the same thing, with more chance of being read, understood, and engaged with.
We need to make sure we get the right messages to land with the people we are trying to communicate or engage with – not carry out an exercise in how well we can write or how many words we can use that only those in the housing sector would understand.
Obviously, there are times when more formal or legal language needs to be used, such as in tenancy agreements and rent increase letters, but I would argue there are always ways to make improvements to the way we communicate with residents.
And of course, I don’t think our clients should start writing letters greeting tenants with ‘howdy’ or using unprofessional language. But we could take a lesson from some of the social media content we put out on our customer platforms, which tends to be much more informal, friendlier in tone and importantly, to the point.
There’s no reason we can’t use the same tone in other communications with residents, which should be written in a way that is clear, conversational, easy to understand and, again, to the point!
Earning trust and engagement
We want residents to engage with our communications, but how can they do that if they either can’t understand them, or simply don’t relate to them.
I read a blog recently that summed up the benefits of conversational language nicely – it allows us to earn trust, be inclusive, connect with our readers and make the messages we are trying to impart much more memorable.
In a time when the quality and repairs of social homes is under such debate, communicating well and earning the trust of residents is crucial. We need to make them feel that they are in touch with a person that cares, not a faceless corporate.
Our resident communications are the gateway to getting that right.
If you want to chat about reviewing your customer comms, drop me an email at email@example.com.