Advantages and Challenges of Internet Communications in Community Associations

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

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.

Community Websites

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.

Social Media

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.

Other Factors

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.

Conclusions

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.

Written by Bob Gourley, Founder of MyEZCondo, a communications firm that produces newsletter and website content material for condominiums and homeowner associations throughout the USA. He also serves as Board President of his local HOA.

As originally appeared in CondoManagement Magazine

Producing an Effective Community Newsletter

 

I fielded a question recently about the effectiveness of community newsletters. It came from a property manager who claimed he spent many hours every month preparing a newsletter for his community that “no one ever reads”. After reviewing the newsletter, which was little more than a collection of rants about trash, dog waste, and parking violations, I agreed with his summation of the newsletter’s effectiveness. I certainly wouldn’t read this newsletter or look forward to the next issue. He asked what he could do to improve his ability to communicate with association members in future issues. Here is a checklist we developed to help steer him toward producing an effective newsletter.

The Refrigerator Magnet Test
I use a phrase to describe the appeal a community newsletter should carry. When a child brings home a great grade on a spelling or math test, it usually gets stuck on the refrigerator door with a kitchen magnet. A great community newsletter should have the same appeal. It should look good enough to be worthy of the honor and the content should be relevant enough that a community member should want to keep it close at hand.

The Golden Rule
First, and foremost, remember the Golden Rule of Community Communications – “Speak Unto Others as You Would Like to be Spoken to Yourself”. If you are going to use your newsletter to simply admonish and threaten those who violate the rules, you can expect a highly ineffective result. Every community has rules broken from time to time. The rule breakers usually represent a very small portion of the community. Why not celebrate the actions of those that follow the rules and thank them for being such good citizens? A pat on the back feels better and is more enjoyable to read about.

Positive versus Negative
Think about some of the great communicators of our time. They know that a positive message is better received than a negative message. Use positive energy throughout your publication and you will end up with a newsletter that is both highly read and enjoyed by the community. Use negative energy and you will end up with a largely unread newsletter that does little more than waste resources both in its production and its effectiveness.

Content is King
If you want to draw readers in to your newsletter, you must provide something that they want. My experience with communities has taught me that its members want to know what is going on, especially those items that effect their pocketbook. If the Board of Directors is discussing plans for a major capital improvement project, association members want to know how the improvement will benefit them and how much it will cost. Nothing draws readers in like learning about the new swimming pool they will be enjoying in one year’s time or the new parking lot pavement project that will get rid of the potholes they drive through every day. The more interesting your content is, the more your readers will look forward to learning more in the next issue.

Human Interest
Facts and figures aside, community members like to feel as though they are part of something more than a housing system. Don’t be afraid to add some human interest by sharing knowledge that will intrigue your readers. Who is new in the community? Who just celebrated their 50th anniversary? Who has a new baby in their home? These news items may seem a little trivial at first but they can become a very interesting topic to community members who are more social in nature.

Looks are Important
Making your newsletter look its best is critical to making it effective. If it looks like the person preparing the newsletter doesn’t care about how it looks, it is likely to be received in the same manner. Spelling, grammar, and design are all elements that require attention. If your community can afford color printing for its newsletter, it will carry a higher value by your audience.

Creating an effective newsletter requires attention to detail and knowledge of how to create a winning publication. If your publication highlights only negative items about the community and does nothing more than provide a platform to admonish readers about rules violations, don’t be surprised if no one ever reads it. If you take the time and effort to create a positive experience for your reader, you will be rewarded with an effective tool for communicating with your community members and they will actually look forward to each new issue.

Written by Bob Gourley Originally posted at MyEzCondo