Today – which is to say, 19th September 2016 – is a very special day. It is, of course, Talk Like A Pirate Day. Arr! And what better day to talk about those dirty bilge rats, housing chief executives, the captains of the high C(EO)s, who despite the pressurised financial climate the sector finds itself in have still managed to plunder an average increase in total remuneration of 4% (according to Insider Housing’s latest annual survey) and where the top 10 highest paid CEOs had on average nearly 10% higher salaries compared to the 10 highest paid in the previous year’s survey! Arrrrr! Make ’em walk the plank!
Sorry? There’s another day I should be talking about?
Oh, yes! Of course. Silly me!
September 19th is not just Talk Like A Pirate Day – it’s also National Butterscotch Pudding Day (yes, really.) Given the rich and sticky nature of butterscotch (i), National Butterscotch Pudding Day is the perfect time to make similes, metaphors, and other literary allusions to – for example – sickly sweet promises in the sector that are bad for its health. The articles practically write themselves! Remember to use the hashtag #ButterscotchPuddingDay!
What? Really? There’s another day I should be talking about?
Yes, I know. I’m just being facetious. It’s my default setting.
Today is also Housing Day 2016 – sorry, #HousingDay 2016. (Gotta use that hashtag, since the day seems to exist primarily on Twitter – more on that later.) You could be forgiven for not knowing this, though…and that’s part of the problem.
Hyperbolic Echo Chamber
Let me recount to you a brief anecdote from my time working in the housing sector (before I decided to leave and play make-believe full time.)
The organisation I was working for was undergoing a period of cultural and operational transformation (again…) – at least, that’s what the comms department would have you believe. As part of this change process – a tautological phrase that someone in a suit probably got paid a lot of money to come up with, sadly – managers were invited to a briefing session on what had happened so far (not much; just a lot of talking between a few internal teams), and what was going to happen (EVERYTHING! Apparently. Although what ‘everything’ was, exactly, was a little vague…)
During this briefing, which mostly consisted of soporific PowerPoint presentations, a manager in the audience questioned the comms department’s claim that every effort had been made to make everyone in the organisation aware of this change project – they doubted that anyone working outside of strategy and management had heard of all the
inconsequential nonsense ‘important changes’ being discussed and, presumably, going to be implemented.
In rebuttal, the comms speaker asked whether everyone in the room had heard about the transformation plan.
Everyone raised their hand, of course (not by extending their arm in the air with any energy, of course – just by pivoting the elbow so that the hand waved loosely by their face for a second), and the comms speaker basked in the glow of their circular victory. What the comms speaker didn’t seem to get, though, was that we all raised our hands because we were all at a briefing about the transformation plan. Of course we had heard about it – we’d been summoned there specifically! Asking people at a briefing whether they knew about the subject being discussed at the briefing might have made the comms speaker feel smug and vindicated, but did little to answer or refute the question of whether staff outside the briefing – i.e. the majority of workers who were not managers – had heard anything about it.
Can you see how I’m going to link that to #HousingDay? Hopefully you can; I’d hate to have to present a PowerPoint.
For Whom Does The Hashtag Trend?
I know about #HousingDay because I’m still in the bubble. I’m on the periphery now, to be sure – a man who spent his summer looking after dinosaurs is, at best, a stray electron to the housing nucleus – but I’ve a lot of Twitter friends who are full-time housing people, I’m still involved with the CIH West Midlands Regional Board, and I still read my weekly copy of Inside Housing. But how many people outside the bubble know anything about it?
How many people who don’t work in housing know about #HousingDay? How many tenants have heard of it? There’s a lot of talk about hearing tenant’s voices, but how many tenants have heard about #HousingDay? How many get involved? How many care?
How many people who work in housing know about #HousingDay? There are some associations that have ‘bought in’, absolutely, but I’ll warrant there are an awful lot of organisations that haven’t, where the day-to-day regular staff – the 80%+ of people that make up housing organisations who are not particularly passionate about housing and just go to work to pick up a pay cheque and that’s absolutely fine because that’s what most people do – don’t have the slightest clue today is #HousingDay, and wouldn’t give two hoots if they did.
Most probably wouldn’t even give a single hoot.
I’m not suggesting no-one cares, and I’m not suggesting that the event doesn’t have the potential to be worthwhile, but if #HousingDay is going to have a meaningful impact we need to be asking these questions and then expand that conversation to how we raise the value and status of the housing conversation all year round.
Meaningful impact, by the way, needs to be measured in more than just Twitter reach. Ask yourself, how many social housing tenants are on Twitter? Are you engaging with them, or just preaching to converted housing professionals…or those who want to appear converted for the sake of their careers? The General Election and EU Referendum earlier this year have both shown that Twitter is a great place for optimistic liberals to pat each other on the back, and an absolutely terrible place to genuinely gauge the actual feelings and sentiments of a nation. The silent majority of voters don’t use Twitter; getting a hashtag to trend briefly is not a victory for the sector. We’ve already seen how the Government views Twitter, and social media in general, and they don’t view it favourably. It’s 13:01 in the afternoon as I write this, and looking at the Twitter account for Minister for Housing, Gavin Barwell MP, he has yet to use the #HousingDay hashtag or mention the event at all, not in the whole month of September. How’s that for impact?! Social media is an important part of the conversation, but don’t think that its the only battleground. It’s not. It never was.
If you’re taking part in #HousingDay 2016 this year, enjoy. I don’t mean to rain on your parade. Just remember that a lot – perhaps, most? – of the people we probably need to be engaging with aren’t on Twitter.
* * * * *
Neil Jackson, also known by his stage name of Neil Jacks, is an award-winning actor, writer, director, and fight choreographer represented by Inspired Actors. He is also a chartered member of the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIHCM) and a dedicated martial artist, with over a decade of training, coaching, and competitive fighting experience.
You can find out more about Neil – both as an actor and as a freelance housing professional – on the About: The Author page.
Housing Day, Online: http://www.housingday.co.uk/, Available: September 2016
Salary Survey 2016, Inside Housing, Online: http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/ihstory.aspx?storycode=7016527, Available: September 2016
September 19th, National Day Calendar, Online: http://www.nationaldaycalendar.com/2016/09/18/september-19-talk-like-a-pirate-day-national-butterscotch-pudding-day/, Available: September 2016
(i) In an 1848 newspaper, according to “Housewife’s Corner” and Masluk Cream Co., the real recipe for “making Doncaster butterscotch is one pound of butter, one pound of sugar and a quarter of a pound of treacle, boiled together.”