Social media for community housing in New South Wales: what are the opportunities and challenges?

Dr Jenna Condie
Western Sydney University

This month, I was invited to present at the Housing Associations Meeting in Sydney and introduce a new research project at Western Sydney University, which explores the use of social media by social housing organisations in New South Wales. Attending the meeting provided a great opportunity to ask attendees for their thoughts on the use of social media in the social housing sector. They were asked “what do you think are the key opportunities and challenges of using social media for community housing providers?” Here is what they said.

The Opportunities

1. Immediacy – social media can help reach core audiences more quickly with important announcements. Other mediums like newsletters and emails can have a time lag.
2. Participation – social media can encourage more participation and enable ‘higher level’ connections with core audiences, possibly even building a greater sense of belonging for tenants and communities.
3. Reach – social media platforms can enable social housing providers to hear from more tenants (particularly younger tenants) as well as other key stakeholders.
4. Information – building online networks of social housing representatives can increase knowledge and capacity within the social housing sector
5. Advocacy – social media can provide a platform to advocate and lobby on important issues in social housing such as housing affordability and regulation.

The Challenges

1. Resources – social media represents more communication channels to fund and thus can create staffing issues. Given its time intensiveness, social media should not be just an add-on to someone’s existing role. Social media needs a persistent presence.
2. Implementation – audiences need to be meaningfully engaged with relevant content posted on a regular basis. How can social media communication be implemented successfully? How can social housing organisations catch up and build their audiences quickly?
3. Reputation management – a social housing organisations reputation requires management. There is a risk of negative feedback unfairly representing the hard work of the service or a negative issue going viral.
4. Diverse communities – social media represents a challenge in terms of engaging audiences that might not use those platforms such as older people and those from non-English speaking backgrounds.

Living in an increasingly digital world is enabling new forms of interaction and engagement between social housing organisations and their tenants. At Western Sydney University, we are exploring how social housing organisations are using (or not using) social media to inform, listen, and interact with their tenants in New South Wales. The study has a number of objectives:
– To audit tenant participation activities (both traditional and ‘new’) of social housing providers in New South Wales
– To identify ways in which social media could be used for tenant participation and collective action in social housing contexts
– To understand the experiences of social housing providers moving into new media spaces, and their future directions for tenant participation.

We are currently carrying out semi-structured interviews with representatives from social housing providers in New South Wales. The interviews explore your experiences of tenant engagement and social media use with tenants, and your views on social media for community engagement and social action.

If you would like more information about the study and/or would like to take part in an interview for the study, please email j.condie@westernsydney.edu.au or l.ayres@westernsydney.edu.au

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