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Tenant Panels and social media.

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Bromford's Executive Director Philippa Jones gives her view on the place of tenant panels at a time when social media has become so important. Originally featured in Inside Housing on 20 April 2012.

I read with interest Abigail Davies' comment in Inside Housing regarding the potential "regulatory gap" left by the new regulatory framework for social landlords.

I agree with Abigail that with the regulator now stepping back from most customer service issues it's important for "co-regulation "between landlords, their tenants and the regulator to work effectively. But the idea that tenant involvement has to be via mechanisms like Tenant Panels, however selected or elected, feels alienating and bureaucratic when new technology like social media makes it easier than ever before for tenants to have an ongoing and immediate dialogue with their landlord.

The recent report into last summer's riots criticised public services for failing to adopt social media as a means of engaging with wider communities and a new generation of citizens.

So whilst we at Bromford do have our formal structures for customer influence and complaints we are starting to supplement this now with much more effective conversations with large numbers of customers using a range of social media. That way we can more often get things right to start with and when things do go wrong for someone they can easily get access to the right person to sort it out.

A transparent and open relationship with our customers can give everyone the opportunity for real and rapid influence - if you can have your say at any time, isn't this more engaging than attending a meeting or voting for someone else to do so on your behalf?

A Bromford customer who wants to change how we do things can follow us on Twitter, link up with their Support Worker or Housing Manager on Facebook or share opinions with other customers and find solutions. If we can make it that easy then wouldn't most people choose that way?

We know there are barriers and not everyone can yet use online channels but this is changing fast and we are working hard to identify solutions to help all our customers get online and use those services confidently. And of course people can still phone or write to us too.

We hope customers will use active involvement with us to help them meet wider personal aspirations too, perhaps gaining the skills and confidence to get them into work, or volunteering or even the skills to set up a business. Being an involved tenant should be a pathway to your own goals.

Of course we do also work more intensively with a small group of dedicated customers who engage in projects, carry out audits and have an instant voice using their own Yammer social media site. They can talk to key Bromford managers at any time and can trigger customer inspections, read information and be much more immediately involved.

Alongside that, by opening influence to all customers, we have a greater representation of our customer base giving us their views. Online conversations can open up topics of interest; we pioneered live twitter debates during our Customer Influence Group (CIG) meetings and opening our CIG members up to direct conversations with other customers and housing professionals.

We have spent time developing our specific interest groups using Facebook and Twitter; making influence relevant to people locally is what triggers interest. The content is driven by its users and not us, providing opportunities for tenants to voice their experiences and thoughts and to collaborate together on new ideas. They no longer need their landlords or a regulator to organise them into panels.

-Philippa Jones, Executive Director, Bromford