The housing minister does it at all hours. But is posting short, random messages online really a good idea for housing professionals? Lydia Stockdale reports.
Housing minister Grant Shapps is easily one of parliament’s most prolific tweeters. The Conservative MP has tamed Twitter’s big blue bird, using it to communicate his daily toil. The minister has racked up 20,786 Twitter ‘followers’ and usually tweets at least once - sometimes up to nine times - a day, weekends included.
Mr Shapps has tweeted since March 2008. But at last year’s Chartered Institute of Housing conference in Harrogate, political commentator Iain Dale declared the housing sector needed ‘much more visibility across social media’, like Twitter, if it wanted its work to ascend the political agenda.
Twitter certainly seems to have taken off among housing professionals over the past year or so. Indeed, when Inside Housing asked its Twitter followers for some examples of people in the sector who use the social media site well, there were plenty of suggestions, including Lara Oyedele, chief executive of Odu-Dua Housing Association, and Jeremy Swain, chief executive of homelessness charity Thames Reach, who both offer their take on Tweeting. And among the organisations, Wolverhampton Homes was put forward as evidence of how a whole team can tweet effectively.
Housing is indeed using Twitter to build itself a greater social media profile as Mr Dale recommended; but, there are still many housing professionals who are yet to take flight on Twitter. Just as the Easter break is unlikely to stop Mr Shapps from tweeting, it’s the perfect opportunity for everyone else to take time to consider their Twitter strategy - whether you’re a seasoned Tweeter or still in the ‘should I, shouldn’t I?’ camp.
Now’s the time to figure out what you want to get out of Twitter, and to set yourself some goals. If you decide to go for it, our three experienced tweeters should help you use your tweets productively. And if you’re still looking for guidance, we’ve thrown in 12 top tips for Tweet success.
See you online.
Why I Tweet
Lara Oyedele, chief executive of Odu-Dua Housing Association
Twitter handle: @LaraOyedele
Started tweeting: November 2010
Number of tweets: 1,211
‘I’d been avoiding Twitter for a while - I thought it was full of people talking nonsense, tweeting things like, “I bought a new handbag”. Eventually I decided to see what it was about, so I started by following people I thought were interesting. Initially I was just observing, but then I got hooked.
‘I mainly “follow” news tweets, housing people, London sites and management-related tweeters. Over time I’ve eliminated some of the people I follow to focus on the ones who give me useful information.
‘I “favourite” all of the tweets by other people that I like, then on Saturdays, I’ll respond to them, or I’ll read lots of interesting articles in newspapers and magazines such as The Economist, and I’ll tweet the ones I want to share. I use www.socialoomph.com to programme in my tweets for the week ahead. I usually set it so that my tweets are posted at, 9.30am, 10.30am, 11.30am, 1pm or 4pm - that’s how I maintain my presence.
‘I check Twitter every few hours, and if I’m out all day, when I get home in the evening. It’s become part of my daily routine.
‘I decided early on that I’m not going to be a general news tweeter, so I asked myself, “What do I want to be a specialist in?”. Now I focus my tweets on housing, London issues and anything relating to equality and minorities.
‘When I’m tweeting about an article I try to think of a hidden headline. So, for example, where others will tweet about a story writing something like, “Solutions of homelessness” - I’ll tweet, “It’s no one’s ambition to become homeless”.
‘I’ve made contacts on Twitter who may become useful [outside of Twitter], for example, @vicrayner, chief executive of Sitra. When I started it certainly wasn’t about raising my own profile, but now that I’m doing it, I can see that it is.’
The following Twitter exchange which took place on 5 April between myself and housing minister Grant Shapps
@ LaraOyedele Have mixed feelings about recommending @grantshapps. He may be the minister but his tweets are blatant self publicity IMHO [in my humble opinion]
@grantshapps @LaraOyedele ouch, that’s rather harsh!
@LaraOyedele @grantshapps Oops. Sorry (but possibly true??)
Twitter handle: @WolvesHomes
Started tweeting: January 2010
Number of tweets: 1,120
Spokesperson: Kate Hughes, communications manager at the arm’s-length management organisation
‘Over the last year we’ve managed to grow a community on Twitter. We see that there are opportunities to consult with tenants via the site, especially those who can’t come to meetings. We have around 700 followers on Twitter - judging by the responses we get and the questions they ask, we’d say around 100 of them are tenants.
‘Twitter is also good for engaging with local media, the local police and the council. For example, we re-tweet news about events the council is holding and also any local travel news.
‘Our aims are different with every tweet: with some we want people to read a news story on our website, with others we just want people to know we’re there. The overall aim of our social media approach is to give people more ways to communicate with us. We try to be useful and not overly corporate - people prefer the human touch. And we generally follow people who follow us - we take the view that if somebody is interested in us, we should be interested in them.
‘[Members of Wolverhampton Homes’ communications team] tweet as and when depending on who is in the office. We’re going to expand the number of people who use our Twitter account and we have guidelines in place about how to use it and other social media platforms.’
‘We launched our website in July and since then we’ve seen a 400 per cent increase in traffic. It could be because it’s a new site, but I think social media played a part in that rise. It’s useful for driving traffic to the site.’
Jeremy Swain, chief executive of Thames Reach
Twitter handle: @JeremySwain
Started tweeting: March 2010
Number of tweets: 924
‘I find Twitter slightly addictive, so I try not to do so many tweets. Today I’ve tweeted three times, but I can go for a big part of the week without checking it.
‘However, if I want to know what’s going on in the world, I don’t go on to BBC Online, I go onto Twitter because it’s quicker to find information on there.
‘It doesn’t take long and you can make a big impact on Twitter. I’ve got some stories into national newspapers via Twitter - and, in turn, that benefits Thames Reach.
‘The work we do at Thames Reach is dramatic and front line, so people find it interesting anyway, but I occasionally throw out things because I want to cause a stir. My motives are good when I’m being provocative.
‘I think you need to give a bit of yourself away on Twitter. If you’re a bit self depreciating, that works. People don’t want corporate speak on Twitter, they want something more challenging. When people get it right, you warm to them, you learn [from them], and that’s how you make contacts. You do have to be self-disciplined with Twitter though - there’s always a danger of wasting time - but I’m able to make the case for how it’s raised Thames Reach’s profile.’
‘In August I tweeted: “We are coming across destitute Eastern European rough sleepers eating barbecued rats. Appalling to see this. Health risks are enormous.”’
‘A colleague of mine found some Polish rough sleepers roasting rats on a tin drum, the story got picked up by Inside Housing and the Guardian via Twitter. The story highlighted the destitution of some eastern Europeans.’
Tweet success: 12 tips for top tweeting from Matt Owen, social media producer at E-Consultancy
1 It is important to set yourself some goals when you start tweeting. Ask yourself what do you want to do this for? What do you want to get out of it?
2 Choose your Twitter handle - your sign-in name - carefully. It should allow people to find you easily. Likewise, your bio-line should include as much information as possible, including your organisation’s web address.
3 If you tweet in an individual capacity, it is good idea to use the line, ‘All views my own’, in your bio-line. But still consider how your opinions might affect your company’s reputation.
4 If you’re making junior members of staff the face of the organisation by giving them access to the group Twitter account, lay down some policy guidelines, such as, ‘Don’t mention the following…’ Having tweeting employees can make an organisation appear more approachable.
5 Using Twitter as an organisation is a very useful way to keep in touch with clients. Anyone on Twitter should always take time to reply to people who ask them a question via the social media site. If a problem is raised via Twitter, this gives your organisation a good opportunity to be open and transparent about it - this will engender pubic goodwill.
6 Twitter can promote smaller companies to the same position as their bigger, more influential peers.
7 It is much better to have five followers who are really interested in what you’re doing, than 15,000 people who aren’t that bothered about your posts. Don’t be intimidated by people on twitter with 5,000 followers. However many followers you’ve got, it’s still perfectly OK for you to reply to a tweet by @grantshapps, the nation’s housing minister.
8 A useful way to find people who are tweeting about the subjects you are interested in is to search Twitter using hash tags, for example, ‘#localism’ or ‘#asb’. It’s also good to use hash tags in your tweets as a way of promoting what you’re doing. Tweeting ‘follow Fridays’ (#ff) and listing some people who you think your followers should also follow is another way to get people to notice you.
9 If you follow a diverse range of people, group them into lists on Twitter - this makes it easier to keep track of their tweets. It’s also a good idea to use sites such as www.tweetdeck.com and www.hootsuite.com as they let you view these lists in different columns on screen.
10 Be yourself on Twitter, have a bit of personality and be nice. Saying that, it’s fine to invite friendly debate - if you feel you need to stand up for yourself, do so, but it can be hard to fully express your point of view in 140 characters.
11 Have little purge sessions of the people you follow on Twitter. Delete those who are not tweeting much or are not relevant. Tweeters don’t have a problem with somebody ‘unfollowing’ them.
12 Finally, how to tell if you’re being successful on Twitter: Are people retweeting your tweets? If so, this must mean they think they have value for their own followers. Track how many times people are clicking on your links by using url shortening sites such as www.bitly.com. What’s more, are people replying to your tweets? Are you replying to others? You shouldn’t just use Twitter to broadcast how great you and your organisation are - also take an interest in what others are tweeting.
Follow Inside Housing on Twitter at www.twitter.com/insidehousing