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, doubtlessly.
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.
“We’ve noticed that having a website depends on the community type and demographics of residents as well as location,” says Associa New York President and CEO Fred Rodriquez. “However, we’ve also noticed that some communities do have websites, but they are rarely used or have little functionality.”
In most cases, the majority of boards and managing agents are using some form of social media, but calculating just how many are virtually communicating about topical issues is a moving target, says Nicole Ramos Beauchamp, a real estate agent at Engel & Volkers in New York City. “A very rough, educated guesstimate is that more than half of boards use some form of technology—be it websites or social media—to communicate with residents,” says Beauchamp, who has worked with boards on social media issues. “The most common system I encounter is BuildingLink.”
Beauchamp references BuildingLink.com, a web-based platform used in over 2,100 properties in the U.S. and worldwide. According to its website, the program offers efficient management, communication, and enhanced living advice for residents and managing agents. BuildingLink, however, isn’t the only game in town. “Some buildings use BuildingLink system for work orders such as package/delivery, logging information and announcements,” said Georgia Barton of Barton Management. “Others use sites such as BigTent to communicate amongst themselves.”
As the name suggests, BigTent allows members to develop a user group at one online location. While these two services are popular in the industry, many properties remain antiquated when it comes to embracing technologies. “In my portfolio of buildings, none of the boards or residents use the building’s website or social media to communicate,” said Barton. “They use a Google, or alternate communal email site, for unofficial building business and a group email for official building matters.”
While demographics play a significant role to adopting social media portals, there are other obvious benefits to consider. Detractors of Twitter or Facebook who often refer to the construct as self-gratifying (i.e., “I just made scrambled eggs…I’m awesome”), may be overlooking intrinsic business attributes. “There are many benefits to utilizing the latest technology, the primary benefits being reduced overall cost to the community due to efficiencies,” says Tod Meisner, director of digital marketing at Associa, a national property management company. “The latest software also provides more reliability, time saving advantages, causes less paper waste, and helps reduce labor costs,” he says.
For associations not yet embracing social media, board members and managing agents are encouraged to investigate the latest innovations, such as app offerings. “The overall push towards the ease of use of websites on mobile devices is important. The trends have been toward being able to do more from a smartphone, tablet and phablet (the marriage of a smartphone and tablet), which could be theoretically someone’s only computing device, whether by choice or necessity,” says Beauchamp.
“Personally I find, even when I am at home, within reach of multiple computers, I work off of my mobile device or tablet,” Beauchamp adds. “I have seen some HOAs use Facebook groups, both private and public, although one could argue how ‘private’ anything on Facebook is.”
For associations seeking brand new technologies to streamline operations, there are numerous vendors writing code and software catering to the industry. Among those throwing its hat in the ring is Associa. “We have many exclusive or proprietary software options that separate ourselves from our competitors. As well, other widely available industry options include C3 mobile for smartphones and tablets,” says Rodriquez. “This software allows for mobile community assessments and evaluations and you can attach photo proof of violations right from the app.”
There always comes the 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.
“The first step is to evaluate what the current residents and shareholders desire. I know of some buildings where it began with something as simple as wanting to easily submit a work request without having to send numerous emails, faxes and telephone calls or easily paying maintenance when traveling,” said Beauchamp.
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.
“If there are any drawbacks to new technology, it is unfamiliarity for the homeowners. 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,” says Meisner. “Because of this possible confusion, there could be reluctance by the managers and/or boards to buy in or embrace the new processes. Also, when relying on mobile technology, you can run into issues such as poor signal and unsupported devices.”
In many cases, board members and managing agents 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. “The biggest challenge is typically the rate of adoption,” says Beauchamp. “Implementing new systems can be labor and cost-intensive, especially if legacy systems, policies and procedures need to be maintained in parallel. This can be a source of frustration for all involved.”
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. “The drawbacks could be many,” says Barton. “Buildings would be subject to public criticism, which could ultimately harm the building’s profile, as well as any unit owner trying to sell or rent.”
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. “Our industry-leading online resource Association Times has many articles on this topic to help managers and board get informed on how to utilize 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.”
Once it’s decided to adopt a new communication online platform, Meisner suggests boards 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 [Community Associations Institute] chapter leaders to help better inform our boards and communities.”
New York City has two local Community Associations Institute (CAI) chapters for which to turn for assistance. The CAI Long Island chapter (www.cai-li.org) is located in Commack and the Big Apple chapter of CAI (www.bigapplecai.com) was formed in 2014 as a resource for metro area New York and New Jersey board members, managers, shareholders and unit owners.
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.
“Have a plan and purpose to the communication. Understand what platform makes the most sense for a particular purpose, and be prepared for resistance and understand how that is going to be manage; in particular, the parallel systems of a sort that might ensue,” says Beauchamp. “People should continue to be mindful of what they are posting and context. It is additionally often difficult to discern tone and this is something to keep in mind.”
In Meisner’s experience, the best course of action is keep association communications 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. Specifically, we try to tell boards and residents to keep their negative opinions or reviews off-line if possible,” says Meisner. “It looks bad on you if you slam or destroy an individual or company on a public site.”
According to Meisner, 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 issue related incidents off-line in order to meet a resolution on a personal level.”
W.B. King is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Cooperator.