Watch the Webinar: Social Media & Your Community
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The landscape of HOA and COA communications has changed in 2020. Now more than ever, homeowner-to-board member interactions are taking place online across various social platforms. Given the fast-paced and highly visible nature of social media engagements, it is important to make sure your board considers and sets forth sufficient social media codes of conduct and social media policy to help reduce risk for the association.
Watch the video to get answers to your common social media questions, to improve association social media presence, including how to:
- Identify areas of risk and liability
- Build resident engagement
- Best practices in responding to online questions and comments
- Create social media guidelines that uphold your association's camaraderie and reputation.
Get answers on what HOA boards and COA boards should consider about social media:
Why is social media & online reputation important for HOAs and COAs? What should any board member know about social media and building a positive online image?
In the past 10-20 years, vast changes have taken place in the digital arena. While originally considered a “young person’s game”, social media is now easily accessed and used by all generations. More and more conversations have transitioned to online mediums and there are a number of considerations that HOA and COA boards should take into account:
- Is social media right for your organization? Consider the demographics of your community. Take a survey to determine if your residents prefer to communicate and receive information via social media, emails, newsletters or phone calls.
- Do you have enough time to manage social media? You might be surprised just how much time it takes to consistently curate a social media account. You must think about not only the time it takes to post content (outbound), but also responding/reacting to comments and questions (inbound). A healthy, positive online brand isn’t a “set it and forget it” model, but something that takes a dedicated individual or committee to nuture and monitor with established rules.
What are the potential risks of responding to homeowners on social media?
There are certainly legal risks involved and boards should first be in contact with their legal counsel to establish safeguards for the board members and the association.
Risk: One-on-one conversations
Social media shouldn’t be a forum for one-on-one conversations. By nature, it’s designed to be a platform for quick updates and high-level information. Reinforce positive interactions and mitigate risk with negative comments. Move negative conversations offline, and make sure that you post in such a way that users see that you’ve offered to address the concern privately. This lets the community know that you are responsive and attempting to address the concern.
Risk: Spread of misinformation
In instances where incorrect information is being posted, the response is the exact opposite. This is an opportunity for the association to respond with a dialogue that redirects users to the correct factual source.
Risk: Distribution of Personal Identifiable Information (PII)
Your social media guidelines should clearly stipulate that posts containing protected personal information, including financial documents, will be removed to protect homeowners and the association. PII is defined by the Department of Labor as “Any representation of information that permits the identity of an individual to whom the information applies to be reasonably inferred by either direct or indirect means. It’s information that directly identifies an individual (e.g., name, address, social security number or other identifying number or code, telephone number, email address, etc.) or indirectly (data elements may include a combination of gender, race, birth date, geographic indicator, and other descriptors).
Should a board representative respond to false information on social media? What best practices do you recommend?
PR and media firms have identified a rise in the general spread of misinformation and disinformation. There is a difference between the two.
Misinformation: Unintentional distribution of incorrect or outdated facts.
Disinformation: Intentional effort to spread incorrect facts, often to sully an individual or organization’s reputation.
Responding to misinformation posts is simple. Acknowledge the error, gently correct the facts and direct to additional information if needed. Linking to external, third-party sites where people can go check facts for themselves is also a great way to stem the flow of misinformation.
Pro Tip: If the misinformation is prevalent enough across the entire platform or reoccurs frequently, pin the post with correct information to the top of the page.
To date, rbb Communications has not dealt with instances of disinformation directed at communities or HOAs. However, the company has noted a shift in focus from solely political realm into the business realm. Firms speculate that within the next 2-3 years, non-profit businesses like homeowners’ associations could begin seeing disinformation used as “weaponized communications” that attempt to discredit organizations.
How can communities be proactive and prepared to counter disinformation?
Because people ascribe feelings to social media platforms like they do individuals, they begin to form trust in certain brands, pages, and communities online. It’s important for HOA and COA boards to begin building trust with your followers as soon as possible by being accurate and transparent in your responses. When disinformation or misinformation occur, your page will already have a track record of trusted, accurate information.
Sociologically, people tend to share negative experiences 20-30% more than positive experiences. By building a deposit of trust, your board will have a well of good experiences to balance out the occasional negative comment.
What should an HOA or COA do if neighbors are sharing financial documents or other confidential information online?
Most of the time, people may not understand what protected information is, or may not realize protected information has been released as it’s buried within a large block of text or on a spreadsheet. It is the responsibility of the board to establish a code of conduct and social media policies on the platform to which all followers must adhere. Make sure to clearly state that any posts with PII (personal identifiable information) will be removed for the safety of all users. Realize that your followers are somewhat transient, as families move in and out of the neighborhood. Take the opportunity to educate users on the guidelines. Be sure to apply the policies consistently with every post.
How can my HOA reach out to residents when the association has listed both Facebook and Nextdoor as "unapproved" or "non-official" channels?
There are a variety of options that can replace the function of social media to communicate with your homeowners. Community newsletters, easily accessible flyer stations or phone call trees are alternatives. Your community may want to consider an access-controlled area of a community website for posting of information and announcements may be a viable option that your association can use without getting into the complexities and time commitment required to have a healthy social media presence.
What are best practices for boards to engage with their community in a Facebook group?
It depends! It depends on the expectations of the homeowners in the community; does your membership expect a social media page to be their source of information or as part of the community-building aspect of your neighborhood? It also depends on the appetite of the board or a designated representative to devote the resources to maintaining an active social page. In some ways, social media platforms can quickly reach and inform a large number of residents, preventing board members from having the same conversation dozens of times.
By the same token, if your HOA or COA decides to engage with social media it is highly recommended that your board designate a person or group to act as moderator(s). Even on social pages that focus solely on posting positive lifestyle-themed content, negative comments are to be expected. Deleting all negative posts is not considered a best practice, as it can come across as deceptive. By appointing a moderator, someone who is known and can be trusted to step in impartially and only if the code of conduct is broken is critical.
What are the traits of a good social media moderator?
Moderators should have a bare minimum of training on the board’s expectations and social media policies. They should have knowledge of the social platform in use, have common sense, be kind and empathetic, and the availability to jump in as conversations are happening online to redirect if needed. Keep in mind that moderators should be perceived more as a benevolent presence than social media police.
What are best practices when it comes to moderator transparency on HOA social media?
According to rbb Communications, transparency is paramount on social platforms. The moderator is the person who can see all sides of the conversation and should be seen as a person who is fairly applying the rules of the page without injecting personal bias. Fair and thoughtful moderators typically become the perception of the board itself, so locating the right volunteers for this position is important.
The great part about social media is the ability to uncover potentially unknown issues of which the board should be aware. Moderators are there to help triage online conversations, identifying potential hot-spot items early before they become contentious, moving them offline and up to the board or management partner to resolve.
What is the best way to reach renters in a community, who may not have access to the official sources of hoa information on a website or social page?
Facebook pages can be set for owners-only, and one for the wider community. The important part is to recognize that some information should only be available to owner’s, and to segregate that information in some way. The challenging part is to keep rosters updated to make sure that residents have moved away no longer have access to these private pages.
Can social media be a liability to an HOA board? Have lawsuits arisen due to social media interactions between boards and residents?
Absolutely social media can be a liability, as you are engaging with residents. To date in 2020, rbb Communications states that they have not seen a widespread trend of social media lawsuits in relationship to HOA or COAs in Texas. Of the cases they have handled via Crisis Management, most have been related to an unintentional release of private information by a resident or board member relative to others.
Pro Tip: Reach out to both your legal counsel and insurance providers to make sure that your social media guidelines and moderators are acting within the scope of your governing documents, and that your board and association have the protection of an appropriate insurance coverage in the event of a social media incident resulting in a legal action. Many brokers provide “Cyber Liability” insurance policies that will help defray potential costs to the association.
How do you get homeowners engaged on Facebook? What works in getting owners to participate when Facebook and Twitter are so political? Is there another kind of venue to use?
We reached out to one of our managed communities, Berkshire HOA, with highly engaged residents to get an answer from their Social Committee Chairperson:
"Oh boy, do we have that problem! First, one of our Facebook page guidelines asks that everyone keep comments "positive and constructive," and that voicing concerns shouldn’t include any identifying information about other residents (street name, vehicle type, etc.). It helps tone things down a little, but definitely expect some push back from those who think the community Facebook page grants "freedom of speech."
We also moderate the page where a group of admins are required to approve or decline posts. Oftentimes, we'll reach out directly to a poster and ask them to revise the wording to avoid situations being blown out of proportion. Here’s an example:
"Come on guys, pick up your dog's business. I've never lived in a neighborhood where people just don't care. I've seen you on my camera - I know who you are!"
"Just a reminder to be considerate of other yards, and please pick up after your dog."
Once worded correctly, we've found that others often provide suggestions on fixing the problem, rather than jumping on the bandwagon to complain about it.
Second, to find out what interests your neighbors, you may want to create a quick Facebook poll, or issue a survey to your resident mailboxes. Something like:
Have you noticed cluttered yards are becoming an increasing problem in the neighborhood?
If the majority vote "yes", perhaps FirstService Residential can provide a solution. For this situation, we include notes in our newsletters. If it really proves to be a significant problem, perhaps your committee could post a follow up statement on Facebook, in your newsletter, or in flyers. Something like:
"According to a recent poll, many have indicated a problem with XYZ. Does anyone have a possible solution to this problem?" I think you'll find that
1) The "complainers" will appreciate your help and complain less and
2) Other residents will be eager to help and, provide suggestions.
Of course, every neighborhood is different, but this is what works in ours."
~Pru Bikkannavar, Social Chair Committee
FirstService Residential webinars aim to answer the most frequently asked questions of associations throughout Texas on a variety of key topics. Access additional resources here:
4 Things to Consider When Managing a Social Media Account
5 Ways to Reply on Social Media