how to communicate effectively with your hoaCommunity association residents expect and rely on consistent information from their community management associates, as well as board members. When communication is done well, challenges get faced, questions get answered and community spirit becomes stronger. It provides an opportunity to exchange information and ideas. However, when communication is done poorly, confusion is more likely than clarity.
Think of your own answers to the questions below as a roadmap to great communication that will keep everyone on the same path.
1. How will you communicate to your residents?
“Most association communications flow along one of three paths: from the board to the community, from the community manager to the community and between the board and the community manager or management company. This closes all of the loops and keeps all interested parties informed,” said Robert Teeling, Senior Vice President in the East region of FirstService Residential. “What we have found is that when the community does not know what is happening in their own community they ‘fill in the blanks’ with what they think is happening and are usually wrong.” Teeling also recommends that, in addition to the necessary “negative” communications to community members about things like violations or overdue fees, that boards and managers make an effort to send positive communication about events, safety tips and other beneficial information.  Once you know what direction the communication needs to flow, how will you send it?

Think about the means with which you will send communications. What resources are available? A printed quarterly newsletter? Email blasts? Flyers in common areas? A website that people check regularly? Social media? Text messaging? Announcements at meetings? Phone calls? If you’re not sure how your residents want you to reach them, ask. Conduct a survey using a free online tool or ask for a show of hands at the annual meeting. If there’s a tool people prefer and you don’t have it, invest in getting it – the best messaging is irrelevant if no one sees it.
When creating a strategy for good communication, list all of the ways that you can reach your community. Next to each one, list the types of messages that are appropriate for that channel. For example, a July 4th barbecue announcement is perfect for social media, newsletters and flyers, but may not be something that you want to send a potentially disruptive text message about. Text messages, on the other hand, are great for making sure that people see urgent or truly important information, such as severe weather alerts and reminders for association elections. Knowing which messages should be communicated in which way is key to clear, effective communication.
2. Do you have their most current contact information?  
Is your database of resident contact information up to date? Make sure you have the most recent cell phone numbers and email addresses for your community members, not just mailing addresses and home phone numbers. When gathering the information for your community association, make sure that you include all homeowners and residents, including rental tenants, in the process. Make it easy for people to report when their information changes so that you always have a record of the best way to reach them, especially regarding any urgent matters.
Announce the means for providing updates in each issue of your community newsletter, on your website and at events and board meetings. Post a flyer in a community common place. Most importantly, assign someone on the management team or board to make sure that those updates get entered into the contact system promptly.
3. Have you created a policy for social media?
Social media is fun and trendy and it can be a fast and easy tool for communication too. That said, it also has its drawbacks, but those are easily overcome with good strategy and planning.  Take some time and create an official social media strategy that defines the following:
  • When should social media be used?
  • Which channels are best for your community?
  • How should it be used?
  • Who is responsible for managing it?
  • How should negative comments or feedback be addressed?
It’s important to know why you are using social media and how. Choose which channels you want to use carefully, considering the demographics of your community. Announce your social presence at every opportunity by putting the logos, handles and links on all printed pieces and your website. Mention it at every meeting. For more in-depth information on social media best practices, read our article here.
4. How can your committees help?
If your community is very large, committees can help with communicating to residents about the items that they are in charge of. For example, if you have a committee that executes social events, they should also be in charge of communicating those events to the residents, working with your management team and social media committee as appropriate to spread the word via newsletters, website updates, email blasts, social media posts and flyers. Committee members should calendar events and work back from them to schedule these vital communications in advance so that they work with the overall communication strategy, rather than conflict with it by requiring too many messages at once.
5. Should you hire a professional?
The right community association management company can help you and your board create and execute a comprehensive communication strategy that includes all of the ideas listed above – and then some. A solid management company will allow you to enable 24/7 availability through a customer call center, alert service in case of emergencies, surveys that invite feedback for improvement and tech-forward solutions.
Don’t ever underestimate the value of clear, complete communication from the HOA board to residents and the management company that serves them. The strategies defined above will help your board be able to craft messages that work for your community. For more information about effective communication and how a professional management can help you implement it, contact FirstService Residential, New Jersey’s leading community association management partner.
Wednesday January 25, 2017