Building Social Media at Your Community Keeping a Condo’s High Profile

Building Social Media at Your Community

Social media impacts just about everyone…few escape its presence in personal life or the business world. Whereas Facebook was once a leading platform for millennials, the portal has increasing appeal to the aging demographic, especially in lieu of Twitter and Instagram. Regardless of the chosen medium, social media has redefined 21st century communication.

CeBIT’s Social Business Trends for 2014 found that by 2016, 50 percent of large organizations will have internal Facebook-like social networks, and 30 percent of these organizations will consider social media as essential as email and phones are today. For many co-op and condominium communities, however, the preferred method of communication remains association websites and emails.

In most cases, the majority of boards and association managers are using some form of social media, but calculating just how many is tough to estimate. “In our experiences, and keep in mind we manage all different types of communities throughout North America, a little more than half use websites or social media as a communication tool for residents,” says Tod Meisner, director of digital marketing at Associa, a national property management company.

Elena Lugo, LEED AP O+M, director of marketing and operations at Chicago’s office of FirstService Residential, a national property management company, chimes in with some thoughtful insight. “The more common form of communication by a community board or management is through email or phone blast,” she explains, “which tends to be more successful in ensuring residents are up-to-date on current events and property situations.”

Social Roundup

Demographics play a significant role in adopting social media portals, but there are other obvious benefits to consider. Detractors of Twitter or Facebook, who often refer to the platform as self-gratifying (i.e., “I just made scrambled eggs…I’m awesome”), may be vastly overlooking fundamental business attributes.

“Most communities use sites for work order submissions, snow and pool information and instructions, community announcements, board member financial access, and board minutes and photos,” says Meisner. “There are many benefits to utilizing the latest technology, the primary benefits being reduced overall cost to the community due to efficiencies. The latest software also provides more reliability, time saving advantages, causes less paper waste, and helps reduce labor costs.”

For associations not yet embracing social media, board members and managers are encouraged to investigate the latest innovations, such as app offerings. For those seeking new technologies to streamline operations there are numerous vendors writing code and software catering to the industry. “Some of the more cutting edge or current trends…some of Associa’s proprietary software for mobile devices, and the C3 mobile applications for smart phones and tablets that allow photo evidence and real-time reporting.”

Lugo contributes to the debate. “Board members have recently become more interested in robust community websites, or a way to engage and socialize with its membership,” she says. “There is a greater concern for collaborating and providing transparency to the community members. Transparency and enhancing communication improves the relationship and trust between the board and the ownership. Plus, engaging community members will garner continued interest for future board members.”

Seeking Solutions

There always comes a time when a new technology is embraced. Whereas associations used to rely on bulletin boards for announcements, email, and other communication, vehicles were eventually adopted, regardless of troglodyte resistance. If an otherwise tech-neutral board decides to seek a new app or develop a social network ring, it’s best to be informed.

While there is an ease-of-use factor with virtual communication, there are costs and overhead involved. Usually a building’s legal counsel will weigh in on liability issues and an association might have to hire a tech-savvy person to implement and manage the initiative. In short…it’s not always a turnkey proposition.

In fact, the proposition can be quite the challenge. Sometimes, residents are resistant to the change. That said, one can be fearful of not learning it, as well. “If they feel like what they do is going to be replaced with technology, what is left for them to do?” says Angela M. Hickey, executive director of Levenfeld Pearlstein, LLC, a law firm with two offices in the Chicago area, in a recent published article about technology trends.

“If there are any drawbacks to new technology, it is unfamiliarity for the homeowners,” says Meisner. “Change isn’t always embraced, and using technology instead of people can create an impersonal feel, and also bring about periods of confusion as training will be needed to implement the changes.”

“Because of this possible confusion, there could be reluctance by the managers and/or boards to buy in or embrace the new processes,” he continues. “Also, when relying on mobile technology, you can run into issues such as poor signal and unsupported devices.”

When approaching residents with a change—of any kind—especially one implementing new technology as a means of communication and business, one must show how the resident can benefit from taking the time to learn the new technology. "You have to bring it really close to home,” says Hickey. “How is this going to make your day easier?"

Lugo offers some additional insight into the subject. “Getting a high participation rate is the biggest obstacle,” she says. “This is also why pushing communications to the residents is much more effective than relying on them to log into a website or check in for updates. Sending communications directly to their phone or email will have a much higher engagement rate versus a community page. If the board does want to primarily communicate through an online portal or page, they will need to ensure there is a draw for residents to participate.”

“Another major obstacle,” she continues, “is ensuring someone is managing the new community page with continuous updates and content, if the page has a discussion forum, who will monitor public posts? The page will need someone to monitor the page to make sure no inappropriate or offense language or content is posted. A technology or social committee can be beneficial for these reasons.”

In many cases, board members and managers aren’t equipped with the necessary knowledge to implement and manage a social network platform. As a result in certain instances, boards bite off more than they can chew.

Another issue that many individuals and businesses have faced with social media is misrepresentation of character or unwarranted slander; once something goes live online, it is nearly impossible to remove it.

Going for the ‘Like’

If, after due diligence and thoughtful consideration, a board decides it does want to expand its communication practices, it is recommended that board members seek out educational resources, as there are lessons to be learned on how to successfully implement new technology systems to residents.

“Our industry-leading online resource, Association Times, has many articles on this topic to help managers and boards get informed on the latest technologies,” says Meisner. “We work to encourage our branch companies to include ‘hot topic’ articles in their company newsletters, and very often articles are about best practices in online communications.”

“We would suggest consulting the management company for case studies or instances where other boards have added similar new technologies,” he says. “It’s also important to vet all possible vendors and bring them in to see which one fits your needs best. Your local CAI [Community Associations Institute] chapter is also a good resource when considering new technologies.” In Chicagoland, visit www.cai-illinois.org for more information.

Once the vendor has been selected, a solid communications and implementation plan should be in place. This should include alerting the residents of the change, offering Q&A and a demo session with the vendor, having a clear and concise roll-out plan for the changes, and having managers or vendor reps available for support once the technology is in place to help resolve any lingering issues or for troubleshooting support, as well.

Once it has been decided to adopt a new communication online platform, boards should request advice from their community manager. His theory is that if a board has trusted a company to manage their community, it should feel comfortable seeking their expertise in this area, as well.

“These communities could also speak with other communities, or Google for articles that speak about best practices,” says Meisner. “Our branches have also conducted board members seminars on this topic with local CAI chapter leaders to help better inform our boards and communities.”

“In my mind,” says Lugo, “the most important step is a firm commitment by the board and management to utilize the tool or technology. Talk about it at board meetings, include it in every notice, and use the tool frequently. Next, get maximum participation from the membership. Notices should be sent out explaining the benefits, and when and how the tool will be used. Send reminder notices for those that haven’t signed up until you get close to 100%.”

For many board members not used to interacting through social media, different rules apply. Often messages, notes, and missives can be taken out of context, much like in email communications. The difference is that in a social media setting, more than one person is reacting to the message’s content.

Unusually, the best course of action is to keep association communication about the community; the golden rule is to remain civil, regardless of respective stance. “All too often, these pages can turn into places for people to complain or use as their own public forum to start discussions that are better suited for the board meeting,” says Meisner. “Specifically, we try to tell boards and residents to keep their negative opinions or reviews off-line if possible. It looks bad on you if you slam or destroy an individual or company on a public site.”

After all, if a board member, managing agent, or property owner has a complaint, there are more appropriate websites to voice concerns. These include Yelp, Glassdoor, Nextdoor, and Google Places, among others. If issues do exist, he encourages the topics to be brought up at a board meeting with a managing agent.

“Purposely embarrassing, humiliating, or blaming someone only draws the attention back to that person. The accusations could possibly be incorrect and you open yourself to lawsuits and other unwanted problems,” says Meisner. “We, as a company, try to be very transparent in our online communications, but always try to take issues and related incidents off-line in order to meet a resolution on a personal level.”     

W.B. King is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to The Chicagoland Cooperator. Associate Editor Blake French contributed to this article.

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