A recent (sponsored) article in Inside Housing looked at the use of social media, especially Facebook, to engage with tenants. Whilst the organisation in question is clearly finding this approach useful, the article did not mention a few important things to consider when using Facebook in this way.

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Before we go any further, a disclaimer: here at Housing Online we are experts with a lot of knowledge and experience of the web and social media, but we are not experts in tenant engagement...but our perspective does give us an interesting insight.


Not everyone uses Facebook. In fact, not everyone uses the internet, never mind social media. Data from the Office of National Statistics shows that (in 2018) more than one person in five in the UK lacks the five basic digital skills. In some parts of the country, more than 10% of the population have no basic digital skills at all. Things have improved since then, but if you factor in access to basic internet infrastructure, then there will almost certainly be a small but significant proportion of your tenants who cannot access any form of online engagement at all.

It’s also wrong to assume that everyone who is online is using Facebook. The younger generation are now as likely to be using YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat or Instagram as they are to be on Facebook. A growing number of people of all ages are also now abandoning Facebook entirely because of privacy and other concerns.

Data Protection

In their guidance on the use of cookies, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) highlights that any social media site that you use may also place cookies on your users’ devices and, although you may have no control over these cookies, you are still jointly responsible for determining the means of the processing of personal data with the social media platform as a joint data controller.

Now, we are not lawyers, but that reads to us as, ‘if you use social media to share your content, you are responsible for the data collection of the platforms you use’. Given some of the famously dubious practices of some of these platforms, this is alarming news.

"Facebook can certainly be used to engage with a significant number of tenants, but that convenience needs to be balanced against a greater aim of doing social and community good."

Before you panic though, there is a strong argument that a logged in user of a social media platform like Facebook has already consented to their data collection practices. But what about people who do not use that platform except as the only source of your content?

Questionable morals

Facebook has significant moral failings: their ongoing failure to protect user data, their refusal to fact check political adverts, their reluctance to stop hateful, misleading and violent material from circulating their platforms, to name only three. Their business model is to collect as much data from their users as possible to enable their ever more effective micro targeting of content and adverts.

Facebook can certainly be used to engage with a significant number of tenants, but that convenience needs to be balanced against a greater aim of doing social and community good, and should be used only as part of a multi-channel approach to avoid excluding any tenants.

So what do you suggest?

Whilst I personally believe the world would be a better place without Facebook and deleted my own accounts last year without a backward glance, ultimately it undeniably remains a useful tool to engage with some of your tenants. However, here are a few ideas to consider that can include rather than exclude tenants, reduce your dependence on Facebook and may lead to longer term sustainable engagement (you might just thank me in a few years’ time).

1. Use your website

Your website should be the primary source of all information and content that you share as this is where tenants will go if they want to find out something (usually via a Google search. There should never be any information that is only on social media.

2. Use your self-service portal

If you have a self-service portal that your tenants regularly use to pay their rent, report repairs or otherwise interact with your organisation, then use that to engage with them.

Our My Home solution has a free messages module that lets you add short posts above the dashboard panel, aimed at all tenants or directly to a targeted subset.

3. Targeted email

Use email mailouts: not the corporate style marketing newsletters that few people will read, but more personalised emails like the ones that smaller organisations and individuals use to communicate with their audiences; the kind of email that a tenant would feel comfortable engaging with.

You can use segmentation to make the emails more specific to each tenant, but you could also take it even further and include specific information just for that tenant - recent documents added to their account, events in their local area (when there are events again), their current balance with the last few transactions, and the current status of recent repairs.

4. Tenant forums

We have seen fresh takes on the old internet forums that create simple, modern and fun online communities that are easy to manage and moderate. We know that these can take significant work at the beginning, but imagine having your own community of tenants engaging with you and with each other on a platform you manage.

Housing Online is helping our industry build a better web - avoiding dark design patterns (leading users to do things they were not intending to), protecting visitor data, privacy and attention, and making sites that are accessible to all.