Internet access and smartphones
- Without internet access tenants are excluded from a whole range of services, benefits, employment, savings etc.
- Smartphone use is on the increase, and for young people (aged 12 – 17) it is increasingly the primary means to access the internet.
Attitudes to digital media channels among social housing providers vary widely. Most organisations that I speak to offer some computer and internet training to tenants, and almost all have a website.
At one digital extreme there are a few organisations which fully embrace social media and see it as an essential part of being a social business. At the other, there are those who see social media as an irrelevance.
It is probably worth saying here that most of the organisations that Acuity works with are smaller housing associations who know their tenants very well.
In this context I thought it might be useful to pull together stats from some of the STAR surveys we have run during the past year, to see how many of our customers’ tenants have internet access either at home or via a smartphone.
The figures below are from a survey of CHS Group customers (sample of 900 tenants) in Cambridge in 2012.
- 62% have access to the Internet at home (up 19% since 2007)
- 27% have a smart phone
- 15% said that website is preferred method of communication with landlord
- 36% said email is preferred method of communication with landlord
- 3% of smart phone owners don’t have internet at home
So in total 65% have internet either at home or via smartphone.
This was higher than I expected so I looked at a couple of other examples from last year.
At Lien Viet, a smaller BME housing association based in Hackney 57% of respondents indicated that they have the Internet at home. At Crosby HA in Waterloo, Merseyside 21% of tenants said they prefer communicating via email compared with 7% in 2009.
At Sutton Housing Society, a sheltered specialist provider in Surrey where most of the tenants are over 65 years old, 29% are online at home and 13% have a smartphone. The total percentage with internet access one way or another is 34%.
What are the opportunities
The web offers a very cost-effective way of engaging with tenants; there are plenty of low-cost and no-cost tools available (Facebook, twitter, survey-monkey, mail-chimp to name a few). There are also some funding and sponsorship opportunities available for those who want to develop tenants’ computer skills and access to digital services. Most social media tools can be linked together very simply, so that you can make a single post (newsletter, event, announcement, reminder) across multiple channels, and tenants can choose their preferred method for being informed.
So while digital media might not be an appropriate way to communicate with everyone, there are engagement opportunities and savings to be made. Presumably these savings could be recycled into improving communications with other tenants.
Get smart – be responsive
We know that smartphones are not in widespread use among social tenants, but the evidence is that they will be soon. By 2016 smartphone usage will double and 46% of internet use in the UK will be via tablet. It is likely that this trend will increase among social housing tenants who are less likely to have landlines and more likely to take advantage of the growth of public wi-fi networks.
We recommend that anyone who is having a new website built or giving their existing one an overhaul should make sure that it is ‘responsive’, i.e. will display properly on a smartphone or tablet.
There are a range of tools available to web-developers that mean that it should not be expensive or difficult to ensure that your site will display properly and that the navigation and key features will all work on a smartphone, certainly for a new website this should not make a significant difference to the cost.
If you want to find out more about this ….
You could contact us.
(N.B. you should find that our site works on your phone or tablet)
There is a really good recent article written by Colin Wiles looking at social media / social housing
There are plenty of resources available (and some funding) and the Digital Housing Hub and Housing Technology are a good places to begin:
Smartphone and tables use – UK trends:
Smartphone use among young people: