Overcoming a digital dilemma

How do you create a digital strategy? What are the stages you need to go through and is there a uniform approach?

DawnThese were just some of the topics that were discussed at the Digital by Default seminar that took place on Monday by HouseMark. I spotted on Twitter that Dawn Robinson (pictured), Marketing & PR Manager for housing association Guinness South, a division of The Guinness Partnership was attending.

You may recognise her name because I mentioned her a couple of weeks ago after she kindly gave me a box of stunning homemade cupcakes when I spoke at the Milton Keynes Internal Communication event as a gift.

I asked whether she could capture her thoughts for my blog because the Tweets that were coming out were full of information that I thought readers would find interesting. Seeing what she’s written, I’m pleased to be able to share it with you.

Dawn has been in her current role for 10 years, with two years of prior experience in the Comms team at Santander, She’s a passionate advocate of improving internal communication and employee engagement through conversation. Want to get in touch with her? She can be contacted on +44 (0)1908 544770, by email dawn.robinson@guinness.org.uk or via Twitter @DawniesKitchen – because she’s also a “little obsessed about cooking.”

Over to you Dawn…

Overcoming a digital dilemma

Although Digital by Default was targeted at housing professionals, I believe that much of what I heard and learnt is relevant to all industries looking to expand their digital footprint. It took us on the journey of creating a digital strategy.

dinosaurHousing associations and local authorities are not renowned for being at the forefront of technology, so it was actually quite refreshing to see many of the attendees tapping their notes straight into a mobile device; especially considering the topic of discussion.  However, it did mean that I felt like something of a digital dinosaur scrawling in my trusty Guinness South notebook.

In keeping with the past few communications conferences I’ve attended, we were actively encouraged to Tweet our thoughts and inspirations throughout the day and they had, in fact, provided ‘Twitter Walls’ within the room; screens which displayed a rotation of the tweets as they were being captured.  You can view all of these under the hashtag #digibydefault.  I thought this was a good idea for future Guinness South conferences.

Digital Strategist, Grant Leboff (@grantleboff) was first up and, judging by the number of pages I filled with notes and ideas based on what I heard, definitely something of an inspiration.

Although confirming what everyone in the room probably already knew, Grant explained how we are now in the ‘social era’ (although it might feel pretty unsocial at times when nobody is talking to you because they are too busy on their smartphones) and the web is the biggest revolution in communication since print. The internet, it could be argued, has finished the job that print started.

What stuck with me most was Grant’s comment that:

For the first time in history, everyone has a say and everybody has a channel

You don’t need a publisher to get your words read and you don’t need a record label to get your music heard.

In keeping with my own belief, he voiced that we should now communicate by conversation rather than by publication.  The web is changing; it’s becoming social.  And he quoted Mark Zuckerberg in that ‘we are now moving from the wisdom of crowds to the wisdom of friends’.

Frighteningly, Grant’s message was “If you don’t go social, you just won’t exist”.  Well, if that’s not a call to action, I don’t know what is.

Here are some of the key ideas I came away with:

  • Facebook want ‘likes’ so that they can collect your preference data.  What systems do you have in place to collect information from people and how do you use it meaningfully?  This is just one of the things we were asked to consider within the framework of a digital strategy.
  • If we choose to ‘listen’ online, we can now ‘hear’ what our stakeholders are saying about us.  We just need to be prepared to listen.  Grant suggested keyword searches in Twitter are good practice, and if you’re based in a concentrated geographical area, then you should be able to narrow down your search down to that area.
  • You can group your followers in Twitter and target your messages at individual groups, rather than just all.  Digital is very personal, so it’s important to tailor and target, just as you would your letters and emails.
  • Use a free tool called Rapportive.  It gives you a social insight into an individual’s life, just from their email address.  An even better tool if you can link it up with your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system to make it a social CRM.
  • Your website should be like a social ‘magazine’: very visual – lots of pictures and video.  Can people contribute?  Can people rate information (he suggested that there was a plug-in similar to Amazon’s five star rating easily available).  Can people comment on and discuss content?  Is it optimised for mobile devices?
  • People are now educating each other so you need to make your content compelling enough that they’ll want to share it.

Amongst other things, we were also treated to two of housing’s finest ‘digital specimens’ in the form of Nick Atkin (@nickatkin_hht), Chief Executive at the Halton Housing Trust and Paul Taylor (@PaulBromford), Innovation Coach at Bromford Housing Group.

Paul ran through many of the barriers that people often face when trying to take their company digital but offered lots of solutions to consider too.  He advised that his organisation, Bromford Housing Group, started by considering the question “What’s it going to look like to serve the connected customer?  What could a digital version of our organisation look like?”

Here are just some of the things he recommended:

  • Create a vision, considering where you want your organisation to be in two years.
  • Engage all your key stakeholders from the start.  He gave Boards as a great example of people that ‘eat paper’ and suggested that, for the organisation to change its diet, you’d need to get them to embrace digital.  Personally, Guinness South staff seem to prefer cake, but I get his point.
  • You need to plan and prepare, but you’ll need to be flexible and improvise too.  And whilst it’s great to talk about things and put plans in place, you do need to get on with it.  Start small, but do get started.(Smart advice! – Rachel)
  • Whatever you do, make it easy for people.  You want digital to enhance your customer experience, not hinder it.
  • And his key message was ‘keep it personal to your organisation’ – you can’t just copy what someone else has done.  Which is a shame, because I love what Bromford have done with their ‘Connect’ proposition and I’d love for Guinness South to do something similar.  But we’ll carve our own niche into the digital world instead.

Nick delivered messages of a similar ilk, asking us to be brave and think differently.  Ask your staff for their ideas and encourage them to think the unthinkable.

He gave a great example of breaking down one key barrier: People often quote that one of the greatest challenges to housing going digital is the number of tenants that don’t have internet access.  And yet, many of them have cars and 98% of UK insurance is bought online.

Do the maths there and you can see that people will find a way to get online if the motivation is there for them.  So consider this when creating your strategy and digital proposition.  Make it something they want or something they need.

They also teamed up to deliver an audience-participative breakout session, focusing on the practicalities of creating a digital strategy and have created an infographic of the results.

Finishing the day was well-known social guru John Popham (@Johnpopham), who brands himself as a Digital Media Surgeon.

He gave some useful suggestions on how to immerse tenants in the digital world and rounded off the day with great advice that is relevant to everyone, whatever your industry: “Be immersive, be fun and be quirky”.

So, on that note, I’m off to immerse myself in some quirky, digital fun!


Post author: Dawn Robinson

Thank you very much for sharing your notes with us Dawn. What do you think of what she’s written? Do comment below or Tweet us. There’s plenty of food for thought there. I spotted Paul’s slides via SlideShare online this week – you can view them below- they look at 20 organisational barriers to going digital and I found myself nodding along as I was reading – what do you make of them?

The rise of visual communication keeps coming up, so with that in mind, I thought I’d point you towards my Pinterest boards, I have a number including one on internal communication and one on social media. I also have boards on a house in France owned by my family and shoes – it’s a real eclectic mix!


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