Using Social Media to the Association's Advantage

We’re in the age of the geek, or so the communications industry keeps telling us.  According to Facebook’s statistics, there are over 800 million active users on their site and over half of those are logged in on any given day.  While Facebook is currently dominating the social networking scene, this is only one of many sites where people can interact with others in a variety of ways.  So why aren’t HOAs using this and other social networking more often?

I took a quick look on Facebook and found that there are homeowners associations across the country that are using it to a greater or lesser extent to disseminate information to its owners.  Some pages had very little on them (a picture and some links) while others were quite robust with details about board meetings, election results, rules reminders, etc.  The benefit of using something like a Facebook page is that non-confidential information can be posted and anyone who has liked the page is notified of the posting in his or her feed (the feed is the first page that a Facebook user sees when logging onto the site).  This may give the community a better chance gaining compliance on common rules infractions or improving attendance at meetings.  It can be a great place for reminders about dues increases or special assessment due dates.  The potential downside with Facebook or other non-secure social networking is that nothing confidential or proprietary may be shared on it, and boards (or whomever the board appoints to be responsible for the content and posting) must be prepared to review and remove anything inappropriate from the page (for example, a complaint about a specific neighbor or a reference to a delinquent account).  I have also seen these used as a breeding ground for dissension and to bash the board or other owners for decisions made.  Even with these potential downsides, I think that social networking can be an incredibly powerful tool for boards to use to communicate with the owners at large.  Right now, Facebook particularly intrigues me because it’s free, easy to use, and will probably reach 90+% of owners who use e-mail or the internet with any regularity.

What does the board need to do to set up a Facebook page?  Like with any decisions of the board, the board must discuss this at a duly-noticed meeting with this topic on the agenda:

1.  Follow Roberts Rules of Order and have a motion to make a Facebook page for the association.  If the motion is approved;

2.  Appoint one or two owners to be moderators for the page (at least one of the two should be a member of the board); and

3.  Determine the content to be included on the page (meeting dates, times and locations, reminders about rules, election results, late payment information, links to local governmental agencies and/or utility providers, etc.).  All information should be general in nature and should avoid targeting a specific owner or home.  Even with something like the announcement of board election results should be done with caution; it certainly makes sense to announce names, positions, and term lengths but I would use caution before posting property addresses, telephone numbers or e-mail addresses.  Facebook pages have the downside of not being secured, so nothing personal or confidential should be posted (or be permitted to remain) on the page.

Once the page is up and running, all Board members should “like” the HOA’s page so that each of them receive the postings too.  This will help not only those appointed to be the moderators for the page but also keeps the entire board in the loop when there is activity on it.

Also important is to let the rest of the owners know about this page. Any time there is a communication to the owners, it should include a reminder to “like” the Facebook page. Immediately after the page is live, owners should be notified via first class mail (a postcard is the ideal candidate for this) so as to encourage as many owners as possible to join.

It is critical to remember that once the Facebook page has been created, the moderator(s) needs to post to it regularly with important information to ensure it is effective. For example, once the next board meeting is announced, the date, time and location can be posted to the Facebook page, but a follow up (a day or two before the meeting) should also be posted to remind owners. Like many things, this page will only be effective if time and energy is investing into keeping it informational and current.

This posting isn’t an endorsement for Facebook (or for any other social networking site, for that matter), but I think that it and other sites like it can be used in a positive way to easily inform and communicate with the owners in the HOA.  This is the way of the future and the sooner HOAs embrace technology and use it to their benefit, so much the better.