By Bob Gourley
Whether it takes the form of well written letters, memos, emails, or even an old-fashioned conversation, the ability to communicate effectively is often the difference between having an impact on your audience and having your message simply fall upon deaf ears. Community websites, email, and social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter have added yet another level of complexity to the communication skills needed to run a successful community association. This article will discuss the advantages and challenges of these new communication tools for the successful community association.
The primary advantages of using the internet to convey your message are speed and cost. The primary advantage is that delivery is practically instantaneous and the cost is usually free. The challenges include the ability to manage all aspects of the communication process, including potentially damaging comments from participants. The advantages and challenges need to be weighed carefully by a community’s Board of Directors before a full internet communication campaign is deployed. Let’s look at the most common examples.
Email is the most commonly used internet communication tool. It has evolved over the years and its primary advantage is that it allows all residents with email addresses on file to be reached with the same message at the same time. The challenge is getting the email read and responded to in timely fashion. Email can be left unopened as Inboxes are stuffed with all sorts of emails. While it is still a solid option, email is not as effective as it once was.
If you already have a community website, you know the value of having a virtual community at the disposal of residents 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, and 365 days per year. Many simple tasks can be handled through a community website. Everything from clubhouse hours to community rules can be posted for all to see. The primary challenge of a community website is keeping the content fresh and interesting for website users. Fresh content is the key to getting community members to use the site on a regular basis. You will need a Website Committee or a paid third party to keep your content fresh.
Facebook and Twitter are the most common forms of social media used by consumers. The popularity of these free and easy to use communication tools has made them dominant in their field. While both can be useful for communicating with community association members, neither is without its drawbacks. Facebook, the more popular of the two, is designed to create interaction amongst members. Since you can’t control the interaction between members, Facebook postings could give troublemakers a forum to cause problems. Twitter is a bit easier to control by allowing posted stories to be viewed only. However, that doesn’t stop a reader from reposting the story and adding their own spin.
Internet communications may or may not satisfy communication requirements between an association and its members. I have always advised my clients to publish all communications on paper and to allow for an “opt-in” measure for allowing members who prefer to receive their communications via the internet to do so. Printed communications that have been properly delivered should satisfy notification requirements in the event a problem or lawsuit were to occur. Printed and mailed communications simply better protect the association.
Mailed communications are still considered the gold standard when it comes to keeping association members informed. It also satisfies the legal requirements for providing proper notice for important items like Annual Meetings and budgets. Email and community websites are a close second as they offer the best options for controlling the message that is delivered. I generally advise against social media for community associations as I have found that the disadvantages of giving a forum to potential troublemakers outweigh the benefits of a “free” communication tool.
Bob Gourley is Founder of MyEZCondo, a communications firm that produces newsletter and website content material for condominiums and homeowner associations throughout the USA. He has also served as Board President of his local HOA.