Grandparent to grandchildren and everyone in-between are using the Internet to better facilitate and streamline their lives. Whether it’s shopping for ground select coffee beans from Maui, Waterford crystal from Ireland or a favorite book from Amazon, product offerings are just a mere click away.
With smartphones dominating the cellular market, people now have Internet access anywhere and everywhere they go. While shopping and “googling” are leading reasons to use the net, the rise of social media has changed the way in which people interact with one another, and with businesses.
A recent CNET report found that 27 percent of small businesses are on Facebook, 18 percent are on LinkedIn and seven percent use Twitter. While the Facebook percentage may appear small, the report found that social media use in this demographic has doubled, with 75 percent of businesses polled owning a page on some type of social networking site. Boards and homeowner associations that have not taken the plunge should consider the importance of having a social media presence. For example, 64 percent of Twitter users and 51 percent of Facebook users say they are more likely to buy brands if they “follow” a company or are a “fan” of a company.
“For any homeowner’s association or large community that doesn’t have a social networking presence, they will have to at some point because you find it in every other part of our society,” says Alex Chaparro, a realtor with the Urban Capital Group and 2006 past president of the Chicago Association of Realtors (CAR). “Residents want to know what is going on within the community and this is a great way to keep in touch and share ideas. It is a fluid dialogue amongst the community.”
Chaparro explains that he joined Facebook only a few years ago and to date is approaching 4,000 friends. This, he says, has increased his profile from both a personal and professional standpoint.
While the writing is on (Facebook’s) wall, some remain slow to adopt, explains Shirley Feldmann, president of Association Advocates Inc. “Social networking allows for increased communication but only if all members agree to join; otherwise, it may be hard to keep track of who will or will not receive the information,” she says adding, “But it could provide a sense of community so residents can get to know each other socially.”
The Internet Age
When the Internet first came to prominence, there was a generational divide among adopters. Email was considered unsafe and for the then older generation, it was deemed impersonal. Today, emails are not only second nature for all computer users but a more antiquated form of communication. Text messaging and communicating through social media sites is used more predominantly, especially by the younger generation.
According to a recent Pew Research poll, mobile users aged between 18 and 24 send, on average, 109.5 text messages per day, or 3,200 messages per month. Texts sent by 25 to 34 year olds averaged 41.8 per day. Respondents 55 and older sent between four and 10 texts per day.
“I don’t think technology adoption is so much a product of age anymore,” says Chaparro. “My father is 70 years old and he texts me every day. What emailing, texting and Facebook have done is to bring these different demographics closer together.”
As a result of increased communication, the once vibrant and informative community bulletin boards that used to announce meetings, events and legal notices has become more static with the rise of technology. Like the domino theory, more and more people look to advanced, streamlined technology to receive information.
“It began that everyone wanted to be on an email blast chain so everyone could communicate and that was the seed for social media,” says Chaparro. “Facebook and Twitter is the evolution of the community bulletin board. It’s a smart way to manage a community.”
Among social networking concerns is security. According to Bloomberg, out of 4,640 organizations polled, more than half says computer attacks increased as a result of workers using social networks. One quarter reported that the attacks rose by more than 50 percent.
“I do not think it is good to mix business with personal information. For privacy reasons, there is only so much information that a manager should share with his or her owners or it could negatively impact their professional relationship,” says Feldmann. “I also don’t think that business information such as meetings and minutes should be posted as that information should only be available to the association’s membership and, once posted, the information could get in the wrong hands and negatively impact the association as a whole.”
The Facebook Effect
In 2010, the film The Social Network was a huge success. With around 800 million Facebook users worldwide at latest count, it is no surprise that the movie grossed nearly $225 million as ticket holders were essentially extras in the movie. From a personal standpoint, Facebook has been a resounding success due to its ability to share updates, photos, media and other interests effortlessly. Despite the success on an individual level, not all businesses or organizations are seeing the value and remain watching the game from the sidelines.
“In my experience, the adoption rates remain slow with social media but more associations have been creating websites,” says Andrea Geller, a broker associate with Coldwell Banker. “The management companies have also been slow going from paper to online.” Speaking to Chaparro’s point regarding antiquated bulletin boards, Geller says it is clear that change is happening. “When you walk into many of these buildings, you do see that the bulletin boards are outdated with information which is why more management companies are looking into creating online community groups.”
With no hard data to determine how many boards and management companies are currently using social networking sites, it is difficult to ascertain how this aspect of Internet connectivity is impacting this business demographic. Aside from security, there are understandable reasons why some organizations are slow to adopt.
Groups like Wil-O-Way Homeowners Association in Naperville, and Riviera Estates in Plainfield, have set up their own Facebook pages. Management firms also have their own pages. Chicagoland’s Vanguard Community Management, an Associa company, and Associa Supports Kids (ASK) are using Facebook in a unique charity venture this holiday season. Associa is partnering with Boys & Girls Clubs of America to give children the gift of a great future. From November 28 to December 15, Associa, the largest community management services firm in North America, plans to donate $1 to Boys & Girls Clubs of America for every “like” on Associa’s Facebook page, with a goal of $25,000.
Be Careful… Be Very Careful
An aspect of social media that troubles many people is not only privacy issues but the ability to share information on a Facebook wall or a Twitter post without oversight. If this occurs, unintended consequences can transpire. “There could be a privacy issue for residents by sharing more information than they would otherwise share with strangers,” says Feldmann. “Private information about the association being accessible to non-association members and/or potential buyers could be a problem.”
“Social networking can also provide owners with a forum for constant complaining, which may not be justified,” Feldmann continued. “Certain information should remain private within an association and too much information to the wrong eyes can provide for negative results.”
Social networking is no longer a hobby but a profession. According to Monster, the number of postings for social media-related jobs rose 75 percent over the last year. In September, for example, there were roughly 155 positions available—an increase from an average of 88 per month a year ago. If the decision is made to move forward with a social networking presence, the first question that should be asked is: who will manage it?
“When you set up your Facebook page and Twitter account, it should be done with the same care and diligence that is done with meetings. It has to be taken seriously. This page becomes the voice of the association,” says Chaparro. Since there is usually not a budget to a hire an outside contractor to manage the social network site, the job should fall to the president or secretary, notes Chaparro. “I believe that sometime soon down the line, one of the responsibilities of a management company or a property manager will be to manage and administer social networking sites.”
There are some protections under Federal law for operators of social media sites. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act eliminates liability (primarily for defamation) for information posted by third parties and Section 512(c) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act eliminates liability for copyright infringement claims involving content posted by third parties.
Feldmann adds, “I only know of one association that set up a Facebook profile, a large homeowner’s association in the southwestern suburbs. It was set up and administered by someone on their social committee with the objective to share information like community-wide garage sales and other community-related events,” she adds, “I don’t know how widely it was utilized by the residents.”
A post on condoassociation.com spelled out the benefits and drawbacks of HOAs using Facebook. “There may be great benefits, but there are plenty of risks to consider as well. If you do not have a policy in place for using social media within your HOA then get working on it as soon as possible.”
Having a policy is imperative, the writer continued. “The policy should include who (staff or board member titles, not individual names) should have access to create posts. You must define what constitutes a post. If “friending” is going to be permitted by the organization, what form (if any) of validating “friends” is in place and what is the decision criteria for "defriending" people. You must consider if this is going to be used as a one-way or two-way form of communication. A limit should be placed on the time used to manage the tool or at least some definition of the types of information that should be posted and at what time of day the information is suggested to be posted—events, announcements, news, etc. and those should be easily distinguishable from opinions (by definition). A reporting mechanism—not to Facebook but to the HOA board or property manager—should be provided to communicate abuse or other similar issues. There is more to it than just jumping on board and saying "friend us on facebook." Don't let software vendors or web developers (of which I am one) fool you into thinking this is the greatest thing since sliced bread. I'm not saying at all that Facebook is not a valuable tool. I'm just pointing out that its value can come at a cost if you are not prepared.”
Linked into Tweeting
Twitter is another social networking phenomenon; however, according to the company, it has about 200 million open accounts although it estimated that 100+ million are active or used weekly opposed to Facebook which claims that of its 800 million users, half return on a daily basis. While there is business viability in both platforms, the adage “different strokes for different folks” holds true.
“Even though Facebook has fan pages for business use, I don’t think these pages are yet being utilized in the same way a personal page has been,” says Geller. “As a result, I find that it is too much noise. For me, Twitter makes more sense as it is a natural outgrowth of how I have always done business and it is working.”
LinkedIn, the professional social media site, has grown considerably in recent years. In September, President Barack Obama gave a speech on The Jobs Act at a town hall meeting in San Francisco that was sponsored by LinkedIn. The company has upwards of 120 million registered users, spanning more than 196 countries. For many management companies and boards, this site represents the possibility to connect with vendors and other professionals. Another social site MySpace claims to have about 125 million users.
“If you are already in the social space, you should use all locations including Linkedin which is a great resource,” says Chaparro. “In order to secure your brand name, and for marketing purposes, associations should reserve their name at all the social networking sites, even if they don’t use it right away.”
No matter what tool you use or decide against using, the key to social networking is sharing information and building a community, and that’s what community associations are all about.
W.B. King is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Chicagoland Cooperator. Editorial Assistant Maggie Puniewska contributed to this article.