With smart-phones dominating the cellular market, people now have Internet access anywhere and everywhere they go. While shopping and “googling” are leading reasons to use the Internet, the rise of social media has changed the way in which people interact with one another, businesses and government. Earlier this year, the City of New York hired its first chief digital officer, a former Bloomberg Businessweek “Most Promising Social Entrepreneur,” Rachel Sterne. She has been charged with developing Web 2.0 technologies and social media initiatives geared toward connecting the city’s 83 agencies and keeping residents informed.
Like city government, homeowner associations, boards and management companies are also looking to branch out for the same reason: to inform residents. “Social media creates a virtual community and that can be a great way to accomplish community events and committees,” says Brandon Osman, director of business development for Metropolitan Pacific Properties, based in Astoria, Queens. “It also helps with branding and the marketability of your community.”
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 the 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.
“Condos or HOAs who use Facebook or LinkedIn are seeking to expand its presence,” says Georgia Lombardo-Barton, president of Manhattan-based Barton Management, LLC. “There might be a broker or possible buyer interested in that building’s profile that might not otherwise have considered it previously.”
While the writing is on (Facebook’s) wall, some remain slow to adopt, explains Osman. “We are aware that there is a social media frenzy these days, however, we are hesitant of involving social media in our management practices as we feel this can be a recipe for disaster,” he says, adding, “Yes, they are a community but do they all know each other well enough to communicate personally?”
The Internet Age
When the Internet first came to prominence, there was a generational divide among adopters. The safety and security of email was originally suspect, and for the then-older generation, the medium itself was deemed impersonal. Today, emails are not only second nature for all computer users, but are viewed by some as a more antiquated form of communication. Text messaging and communicating through social media sites is used more often among many.
According to 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 the disparity in adoption rates of older people is as wide as most believe,” says Stephanie Davis, associate broker and chief social media officer for the Heddings Property Group in Manhattan. “We see the highest adoption rates of personal users with Facebook and less with Twitter and LinkedIn.”
Among social networking concerns is security. According to Bloomberg, out of 4,640 organizations polled, more than half said computer attacks increased as a result of workers using social networks. One quarter reported that the attacks rose by more than 50 percent.
“There are great dangers in allowing residents of a community to socialize in a virtual environment. It is easy for one to portray themselves as a friendly neighbor in an online environment,” says Osman. “Let’s say there is a social media group called Joe Estates where all residents can sign on and interact with other residents in their community. A resident of Apartment A is a single female grad student and she posts that she is going on a fun vacation to Florida and will be back in one week,” he continues. “Another resident in Apartment F is a convicted criminal, who has broken into homes in the past, and sees the post. You can use your imagination and see that this situation has a very bad potential.”
As a result of increased communication, the once vibrant and informative community bulletin boards that announced meetings, events and legal notices has become more so static with the rise of technology. Like the domino theory, more and more people look to advanced, streamlined technology to receive information, but even in the “greatest city in the world” change comes slow.
“Quite frankly, I don’t really know of any co-ops that are involved with social media,” says Davis. “Maybe I could Google it and find some more information but this publication [The Cooperator] is ahead of the curve addressing this topic in the New York City market.” Davis adds, “Moving forward, I see that adoption rates for boards and co-ops will increase most likely with Facebook opposed to Twitter because it is most popular.”
The Facebook Effect
In 2010, the film The Social Network was a huge success. With over 800 million Facebook users worldwide, 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. However, not all businesses or organizations are seeing the value, and remain watching the game from the sidelines.
“Yes, there is a slower social media adoption rate for older co-ops and condominiums,” says Lombardo-Barton. “Yet it varies depending on whether the board consists of younger, social media savvy members.” When asked if she is approached by boards curious about starting a social media platform, she responded “rarely.”
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. “Security could be an issue which is why we recommend that buildings carefully evaluate the positives vs. negatives to social networking,” says Lombardo-Barton.
An aspect of social media that troubles many people is not only privacy issues but the ability to share information such as on a Facebook wall or a Twitter post without oversight. If this occurs, unintended consequences can transpire. “Some other possible downsides include various vendors soliciting the building for work, or someone might have negative comments to post about employees, board members, and management,” Lombardo-Barton continues. “A board runs the risk of some loss of discretion or privacy in using social networking media.”
As indicated by New York’s recent job posting and Davis’s title, social networking is 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?
“Regardless of who manages it, there are privacy controls on social networking sites that can be used,” says Davis. “If you have a group on Facebook, for example, the group can be hidden so only members of the group can see it online. But these same people can communicate and use Facebook’s tools and applications.”
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.
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.
“Supposedly, one would want to engage in business with a contact from LinkedIn,” says Lombardo-Barton. One should be able to easily check references if a vendor/contact is ‘LinkedIn’ to someone you know. It expedites the search process.”
While social networking is an outgrowth of the old community bulletin board, the technology might not be best suited for all boards or managing agents. For many, a closed system with a password protected website is the answer.
“We do encourage the use of a property portal which is handled by the property manager and constantly monitored of all incoming content from residents. The manager can post up emergency announcements, create online voting polls and upload important documents like lead paint or window guard forms,” says Osman. “Inside the portal, residents can make maintenance requests, pay dues online, there is even a community marketplace which works much like Craigslist. Additionally, residents can submit their own virtual business card to share with other residents, and we have secured discounts from local community restaurants and are available for our residents when they present their specific resident card.”
There is one major difference between this approach and social networking, he explains. “This type of service gives our residents a sense of community, however, no interpersonal communication is allowed among residents through this portal,” says Osman. “This is to ensure that we as managing agents are not held responsible for the potential abuse of this kind of service.”
W.B. King is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Cooperator.