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Making customer influence a social activity

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At Bromford we want as many customers as possible to get actively involved in influencing and shaping our services of the future - and we think we need to approach this very differently to engage with a changing world and a new generation of customers.

So yes, we do have our formal structures - our Customer and Communities Board for governance and Customer Influence Group to scrutinise our service and performance and we have a customer on our Group Board. But we are starting to supplement this now with much more effective options for conversations with large numbers of customers using a range of social media.

The 'Options for Accountability' guidance is helpful in setting out some of the purposes of tenant panels and in recognising that there is no single best way of achieving accountability and customer influence. But we believe that every customer should be given this opportunity regardless of structures and election or selection process.

We look for positive ways of achieving a transparent and open relationship with our customers that gives 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?

If a Bromford customer wants to change how we do things they can follow us or our Chief Executive 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 everyone choose to do it that way?

We know there are barriers right now 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.

We really want customers to use active involvement with us as a great opportunity to help them meet their wider personal aspirations too, perhaps gaining the skills and confidence to get them into work, or volunteering, or even gathering business skills to set up a social enterprise. Being an involved tenant should be a pathway to your own goals. How do you turn the skills you learn from participating in an online debate or sitting on a Board into something you would proudly talk about on your CV? We are launching our online Connect Academy in April, where we will offer support to our engaged customers to do just that.

We believe that there is a mix and balance for customer influence. We do also work 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 any customer inspections, read information and be much more actively involved in a very timely and current way.

Alongside that, by opening influence to all customers, we have a greater representation of our customer base giving us their views. By putting all of our conversations online we can open up topics of interest - we pioneered live twitter debates during our Customer Influence Group meetings - getting wider involvement than ever before - and opening our CIG members up to direct conversations with other customers and housing professionals.

We have spent time developing our communities of interest using Facebook and Twitter - making influence relevant to people locally is what triggers interest. The content is driven by its users and not us.

How we're using social media

Facebook - Great for tapping into the social conversations our customers have with colleagues and means we are able to grab fresh and real feedback. We have 235 customers who are talking to each other every day and having influence over the services they receive. It's also a great place for customers to help each other. We can watch conversations and mutual support unfold online.

We are able to link up our performance feedback centre to our twitter profiles and Facebook groups and customers are retweeting our links, pushing the reach of our performance information out to wider stakeholders.

Our feedback centre blog now has 612 customers as followers. We're sharing performance data quickly and efficiently - and customers can share it, talk about it and challenge it at a time and place to suit them.

Twitter - A growing community are following us on twitter with over 727 followers on our Your Voice profile.