How HOAs Can Use a Social Media Strategy to Strengthen Community Engagement

Posted on Wednesday October 28, 2015

Click here to view our social media infographic.

Social media can be a phenomenal marketing and communications tool for your homeowners association and community – a great way to inform residents, build relationships, keep them connected and strengthen their loyalty.  But what may be surprising is that using it effectively involves a whole lot of social media strategy.
A few sporadic Facebook posts and tweets most aren’t likely to achieve the results you’re after, but as part of an overall social media plan, your communications can help build and strengthen your community.  Not sure about that?  Well, the benefits of a robust social media strategy are proven.  Communicating through social media sites will cost significantly less than printed mass mailings, and you’ll be able to virtually reach a broad audience in real time. Overall, it’s a more cost- and time-efficient tool to help you achieve more effective communication with more people. 
In an age where people are often more isolated than ever, social media can be a great way to re-establish community ties.  But it’s crucial to remember that it’s a format unlike any other, and if not used correctly, the consequences will remain online for a very long time.  So what do you need to know to reap the potential of social media strategy, rather than the pitfalls?  We’ve got the scoop – and we’ve got your back:

1. Define your objective.

Before you dive in, consider the goals you want your social media efforts to achieve.  Perhaps you want to build community spirit. Maybe you want to keep owners informed about what’s new. Or it could be a way to build your community’s brand.  No matter the purpose, make sure that everything you post and tweet furthers that objective. For example, to achieve all of the objectives above, you can tweet about an upcoming parking lot resurfacing project, post a message on Facebook about an upcoming community meeting, or share photos from your latest ice cream social – or all three.

2. Assign responsibility.

Maintaining your social media presence is an important task, so it should be assigned to a specific person to manage. This role goes beyond mere posting... remember, social media is just that – “social” – so your social media manager should be monitoring your channels for comments and feedback and then responding promptly and appropriately. The social media manager could be part of the property management team or you can choose be a resident or committee member. Need guidance? A good property management company can help you define this role.

3. Choose your channels.

From Facebook to Flickr to Pinterest to Twitter to Instagram, there’s no shortage of available social media channels from which to choose. Most associations find that Facebook and LinkedIn work well for communicating events and information. In fact, the events feature on Facebook makes it easy to create a community event and track your RSVPs. Complement these efforts with reminders and updates sent via Twitter.
When setting up your Facebook page, you need to decide whether you want it to be a public page or a private group. With a public page, anyone on Facebook can view your content, whereas with a private group, users must be approved before they can join. Each has pros and cons, so review your original objectives to help you choose.  On a related note, when you set up your platform, consider how you want community members to use the social channel.  Will you allow community residents to post their own status updates, or would you prefer to restrict access and allow users only to comment on community-posted photos and status updates?

4. Use the power of technology.

If your community is professionally managed, you may be in luck – some property management companies provide customized community management software that includes social components.

“We tailor our proprietary FSRConnect platform to meet the needs of all of our managed communities, and it has become one of the most popular ways for residents, Board members and the management team to connect, interact and communicate,” says Michael Bodner, Director of Property Solutions at FirstService Residential. “FSRConnect also facilitates the creation of private community websites, where community members can get info, view a calendar of events and join social groups to interact, post photos and more.”  He adds that FSRConnect is accessible via computer, tablet and mobile device, so users can virtually connect at any time, and from any location.

5. Engage your residents.

An effective social media channel must have an audience of followers, so it’s critical to making residents aware. Provide links to your social media channels from your community’s website, include messaging about your social platforms on your resident newsletters, notices and communications, and promote them at community events and meetings. Here are a few more proven techniques: ​
Take advantage of polls and other Facebook tools to obtain information from residents about events and topics of interest – then use their feedback to help plan community events.

  • Use Facebook’s Events feature to create and promote community events, and don’t forget Twitter for sending updates and reminders.
  • Create photo albums and upload photos from community events.
  • Have a community improvement project underway? Document its progress by including photos taken at each stage to keep residents updated – and part of the process. 
  • Cross-promote your social channels by featuring photos and posts from community residents in your other communication channels, such as newsletters.
  • Looking for community members go join committees?  Your social media platform can be a valuable as part of your recruitment strategy.
  • Create contests for residents, such as photo captioning contests, to boost their participation and engagement.
  • Share news about community members with newsworthy stories or achievements – but be sure to get their permission first!
  • Ask for feedback and opinions directly. Let residents know their viewpoints matter.
  • Use your channels to help grow social clubs for community members with shared interests.

6. Create a policy.

A defined social media policy will help protect you from liability and make your program more effective. Your policy should do all of the following:  define who has access to the sites, who is allowed to post information, prohibit negative or defamatory comments, re-assert residents’ privacy rights regarding published information, establish the right of the board to remove user comments that violate standards, and put in place a procedure for screening content prior to publication. On your Facebook page, you can post guidelines that outline your policy, including the fact that you will remove posts that violate it.  For Twitter, consider setting your account to “protected” or “private,” which will allow only select users to see your tweets. As for LinkedIn, your official page won’t allow much interaction, but if you form a LinkedIn Group, you can – the site allows you to post some overall rules for engagement, along with a limited ability to manage your group settings.

7. Consider special groups for committees.

Social networking is a great way to improve communication and collaboration among committee members. Encourage your committee chairs to establish dedicated, private groups for members to brainstorm and share ideas.

8. Keep some things offline.

It’s critical to keep formal Board decisions and communications out of social media. No actual Board action should ever be undertaken based on discussions that occur online. Remember, social media’s role is in community building and communication of public information and events.

9. Board members beware.

Board members and community managers should avoid connecting directly with community members on social media sites. Favoritism (perceived or real) can create real pitfalls when an association is trying to accomplish its goals, and personal relationships formed via social media can be a contributing factor.  So if you’re a Board member, carefully consider whom you agree to “friend” or connect with on social media.

10. Know the law.

Be aware that copyright infringement, plagiarism, causing emotional distress, or violating privacy rights can land your association in legal hot water if you engage in those activities through social media. Remember that anything you post remains online in perpetuity – even if you delete it – so carefully consider every item before you hit “Enter.”

Social media can be a blessing or a curse.  If implemented wisely and effectively, it can achieve significant results – if not, the consequences can cause headaches… or worse. For more information on how to use a social media strategy effectively to create a more closely-knit, well-informed community, contact FirstService Residential.

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