IC interview sessions…Nick Atkin

During the course of one of our lunch meetings* (*somebody please tell the other two we don’t need to eat quite so much for lunch!) the topic of networking cropped up.  We are very privileged to know some great people, but we realised…well we ruminated for a while, it was really a big lunch…but then we realised that perhaps we weren’t doing enough to help these people share their experiences/learning with each other.  We needed to do more to get some chatter going between our friends in order to generate some real thought leadership, sharing our networks in order for them to grow and ‘come to life’.

With this in mind we hit upon the idea of interviewing a number of people and asking them to share their experiences.  The response has been great, but of course somebody has to go first…so, I give you…Nick Atkin, CEO of Halton Housing Trust tackling social media and its future in his organisation (insert deafening round of applause).


Nick Atkin, CEO Halton Housing Trust
The man in question...Nick Atkin


Hi Nick, please can you give us a brief history of your professional career?

I’ve worked in housing for a number of years in a combination of roles regionally and nationally, in local authorities and housing associations.

My role as Chief Executive at Halton Housing Trust (HHT) has involved the delivery of a successful stock transfer and the challenges of overhauling an organisation.

I am committed to delivering high quality services to customers and stakeholders through coaching,  developing, motivating and leading teams; maximising new technology; championing behavioural change; and being comfortable with ambiguity and making decisions.

I am a strong believer in having access to and using ICT systems to their maximum potential, including being paperless for the last 11 years.  At HHT we have driven through a fully flexible/remote working approach.

I am a keen advocate on the use of social media and particularly the linkages to Gen Y and Z issues, I tweet on a regular basis (@nickatkin_hht) and also aim to move the Trust away from internal emails by 2014.

I hold four non-executive roles, including the Vice Chair/Non Exec Advisor for the Warrington Clinical Commissioning Group (previously Primary Care Trust) and the external examiner for PgCert/PgDip/MSc Housing Practice at the University of Salford.  I am also an active member of the Vistage Chief Executive’s Mentoring Group.

Social media – fad or fab?

Definitely fab!  The genie is well and truly out of the bottle and there is no going back.  The way people communicate has taken a seismic shift and people need to engage and keep abreast with change if they aren’t going to be left behind and out of touch.

When did you recognise the importance of a social media profile for HHT?

Just over a year ago when I attended a session by Grant Lebeouff and also then subsequently Lucian Tarnowski.  It was a real wake up call as to how the world had changed and that I needed to get to grips with this.  I therefore gave myself three months to dive in and give it a go, within a couple of weeks I was absolutely converted and then my journey began.

There are multiple platforms available, which ones do you utilise, and why?

Bit of a technical question, but here goes…

For my mobile and Ipad I use a combination of Tweetcaster or the standard Twitter app. On a Windows PC I use Tweetdeck.  I prefer this, but the app version has limited functionality compared to the full PC based version.

Have HHT developed a particular strategy around social media?

We have in draft format, but we are currently debating whether this is actually needed. The whole purpose of social media is to have a free flow of information and many of the reasons for having a strategy and guidance is to prevent people from doing or saying something they, or the organisation could regret.  My issue here is that people make mistakes and one of the strengths of social media is the general acceptance of this by the majority of users.  Indeed it shows a more human side to you.  My ideal would be to have a social media strategy either in 140 characters or as an infographic.

How do you encourage employees across your organisation to engage with social media?

We have ‘opened up’ our systems to enable colleagues to access any social media platform at any time.  This fits in with our flexible working approach and the removal of ‘core hours’, recognising that people’s work and personal lives are increasingly overlapping.  After all, if you don’t allow it on your work system people are merely accessing it anyway via their phones and other personal devices.  We also offer HHT based Twitter accounts to everyone.

What do you believe are the key business benefits?

Social media offers the ability to share and discuss a whole range of issues in real time.  It also enables organisations and people to show their human side.  It has provided a range of information and insights that we would not have been able to access via any other ‘conventional’ routes.  This has enabled the pace of change within the Trust to accelerate and shortcut some of the obstacles much quicker than at any other previous time.

The other key benefit has to be the ability to engage with key decision makers and make your voice heard without relying on press releases.   There is a reason why the Housing Minister, the majority of MPs and the head of the Civil Service are all on Twitter.

And best of all, you learn something new each and every day.

What do you believe are the key risks attached to social media?

People saying something that puts the organisation or the individual into disrepute.

There are also some risks in reverse.  If you don’t engage with social media, then how do you know what the rest of the world is saying about you?  These conversations are taking place everyday, whether or not you choose to be part of them!

What has been the reaction from your customers to HHT embracing social media?

We have seen a huge increase with the number of people engaging with the Trust, especially through our non corporate Facebook page ‘Beyond the Garden Gate’.  This has resulted in a huge increase in the number of responses we receive to consultations, as well as the subsequent online conversations being transparent in terms of how the final decisions are being reached.

There is a clear preference amongst our customers to use Facebook rather than Twitter, the later of which seems to be more of a business based communication channel.

What has been the reception from your peers in light of you driving social media throughout your organisation?

There has been a real mix of views from outright sceptics, those who are unsure and want to know more/be convinced, right through to those who like @TTierney_hht dive in and give it a go to find out for themselves.

We have agreed our Leadership Team will all get on board later this month after a practical ‘hands on’ session to remove any of the barriers or fears they may have.  This will then encourage others to do likewise, supported by an externally provided ‘how to’ programme we are looking to introduce.

What do you personally enjoy most about it?

I love the informality and ability to discuss a whole range of issues with people you would never normally meet or share things with.

The 140 character limit makes you think hard about what are the key messages you want to get across.  It also cuts the waffle – something I absolutely welcome!

What are your three top tips for people thinking of using social media in their organisation?

Give it a go and approach it with an open mind.

Choose who you follow, I would strongly recommend @PaulBromford for a really good range of tweeting subjects as well as an informal and relaxed style.

Do some research on Gen Y and Z: the future is social, whether you want to accept it or not!

Just one more thing* (*Columbo question)…can people contact you personally for additional information…if so, what is the best method?

I always love the Columbo question.  A tactic we all occasionally use whether or not we realise it!  Of course they can.  We have a really open approach at HHT with all our contact details posted on our website (which is about to be overhauled and subsequently improved) as well as in all our correspondence.  My details are:

Direct Dial: 0151 510 5101
Mob: 07903 594827
Email: [email protected]
Twitter: nickatkin_hht
Skype: nickatkin_hht


Thanks to Nick for sharing his time and experience, please also feel free to ask any questions via the comments section at the foot of the page