How well your board communicates has a tremendous impact on your community association. Great communication can lead to better relationships with residents – both homeowners and renters – and helps build a stronger sense of community. Poor communication, on the other hand, can create tension, distrust and animosity.
But what does great communication look like? And how do you know if your board is doing it right? Although your association’s communication needs are unique to your community, every board can benefit from applying these 5 principles.
1. Prioritize transparency.
These days, homeowners expect greater transparency from their boards. Unfortunately, living in a litigious society has led some boards to become more cautious about sharing information with their residents, especially if tensions already run high in their community. Mike Dee, building manager with FirstService Residential, warns that this approach can backfire because “it can often be interpreted as withholding information or a lack of transparency.”
Even if you need to communicate something that residents won’t like, Dee recommends being honest and sharing the process that led your board to its decision. “Don’t be afraid to let them know how complex it is,” he says.
2. Use a variety of communication channels.
In addition to the traditional methods for communicating with residents, your board has a range of options provided by technology. Some of the channels your board might consider using:
- Email: This is one of the primary communication tools used in the building that Dee manages. “Of the 145 owners, all but three have emails. For those 3, we print off the email and bring it to their unit.” Dee says that residents are especially grateful when eBlasts are sent out to alert them of dangerous situations. “During a tornado warning, we sent an eBlast to all the residents as it was happening, reminding them of best practices. We received a lot of appreciation for that,” he says.
Edwin Lugo, vice president for the south Florida high-rise division at FirstService Residential, says that email is the most popular tool for most of the boards he deals with, too. He suggests sticking to one topic and changing the subject line or the sender so residents can differentiate different types of emails. “For example, the fun stuff might always come from your lifestyle director, but when an email comes from the property manager or the board president, residents will know that it’s about something more serious. And maybe for finances, it’s a dedicated email from the board treasurer.”
- Website: If your community association doesn’t already have one, it’s a good idea to create a website. Dee says that it should include a secure area only available to residents. “Our public portion is very selective and controlled, and we require a resident login to access the private area.”
For the general public, you could feature amenities, projects and homes for sale or rent. For homeowners, you should provide a self-serve platform that enables them to conduct business and access documents 24/7. For example, FirstService Residential Connect™, which is available exclusively to communities managed by FirstService Residential, can be configured for a community’s specific needs and allows residents to communicate directly with their property manager, board members, staff and neighbors. It also lets them obtain community information and access important documents; manage their accounts; request services; and make reservations at their convenience.
- Newsletters: A short, monthly newsletter (no more than 4 pages) is a great way to provide consistent communication to residents. Some items you might include are a message from the board president, rule reminders, an activities calendar and photos from recent events. “Just don’t make it all business,” says Lugo. You can post the newsletter on your community website and send a PDF version to residents via email.
- Phone: Reserve this form of communication for emergencies, to alert specific units or homes of an urgent situation (for example, if there is a plumbing issue affecting a particular unit or floor) or when dealing with confidential or highly sensitive matters. You may also prefer to make a phone call if information could be misconstrued or misunderstood in writing.
- Text messages: Mass text messages are another option for communicating with residents, but according to Lugo, “We are not seeing text being used too much. In our buildings, residents have to sign up for it.” Survey your residents to determine their interest in receiving text messages.
- Social media: Occasionally, an association may choose to have a Facebook page, but Dee says that, for the most part, boards are reluctant to engage in social media. You may want to reconsider this method of communicating if you have a lot of Millennials living in your community. If your community does choose to use social media, consider its impact on public perception of your association, especially if disgruntled homeowners are able to use it as a vehicle to complain. Also, this is not a good channel for distributing important information since homeowners could easily overlook posts.
- Bulletin boards/flyers: Whether you thumb-tack an announcement to a bulletin board or post a flyer in the elevator, mailroom or garage, don’t overlook the value of paper notices. “Sometimes, the old-fashioned techniques work just as well,” Lugo points out.
A high-tech variation that he says is becoming more popular with associations is digital message boards, which display scrolling messages across a large flat screen in your lobby, elevator or other common area. “Associations know they have seconds to grab a resident’s attention,” Lugo explains. Although digital message boards can be pricy, Dee points out that they can be valuable in creating a professional look. “These days, it’s accepted and modern.” Of course, if your community is having financial struggles, the expense may not be easy to justify.
3. Communicate often.
Some boards assume that if there isn’t very much to share, there’s no need to communicate with residents, but Lugo disagrees. “Silence breeds uncertainty, and that can foster rumors, so it’s important to keep it flowing and keep it constant.” If the task is too much for your board members to do themselves, create a communication committee and engage the help of your property manager.
4. Be accurate.
In an effort to communicate more, some boards may share too much information too quickly. “Move towards greater communication, but make sure that what you’re sharing is well thought through,” cautions Dee. “Otherwise, you can leave your board at greater risk of exposure and liability. My grandma always said, ‘Measure twice, and cut once.’” In other words, verify with your property manager and your attorney that what you are about to share is accurate and appropriate.
5. Create opportunities for residents to be heard.
Owners’ forums shouldn’t be the only time that board members make themselves available to residents. In Dee’s building, the board creates regular opportunities for residents to meet with board members through “Coffee with a Board Member” and “Libations with a Board Member” gatherings. Dee makes himself available to residents at “Minute with the Manager” events, too.
As a board member, you can’t underestimate the importance of communication. Implement the strategies you see here and you’ll be on your way to improving the way you connect with your residents.