how to communicate effectively with your hoaAs a board member, one of your responsibilities is making sure that your community members have the information they need, when they need it. Whether it’s about an upcoming social event, severe weather approaching or a change in policy, communicating clearly and effectively is essential – and can sometimes be a challenge. When communication is done well, communities are able to overcome challenges, residents get their questions answered and the community can grow stronger. Open dialogue enables the exchange of ideas and information.
When communication from the board is executed poorly, havoc is more likely than harmony. Thankfully, building a good communication strategy is easier than you think. Follow our guidelines to keep everyone on the same page and your community on track.
1. Update contact information frequently.
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.
2. Know what communication channels you should be using.
“Communications in an association tend to move 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 you have available to send communications. Email blasts?  Text messaging?  A printed quarterly newsletter? Flyers in common areas? A website that people check regularly? Announcements at meetings? Phone calls? Social media? If your board has questions about how your residents want you to reach them, ask! Send out a survey using a free online tool or take a vote at the annual meeting. If there’s a way that people want to be reached and you aren’t using it, consider getting it. Your message can be important and it won’t matter if your audience doesn’t get it. 

When drafting your communication plan, list all of the ways that you can reach your community. Next to each, list the types of messages that are appropriate for that channel. For example, a trunk fashion show or wine tasting in the clubhouse is perfect for social media, newsletters and flyers, but doesn’t warrant the urgency of a text message. Text messages are the perfect tool for making sure that people see urgent or truly important information, such as reminders for the annual association meeting or severe weather alerts. Be judicious with your use of any form of communication that implies urgency – people begin to ignore them if they are too frequent.
3. Put your board committees to work for you.
If your community is large, committees can help with communicating to residents about the items related to their committees. For example, if you have a committee that plans social events, they should also know to work with your management team and designated social media manager to promote those events. Each committee can plan which methods they want to use to promote the event and calendar those items with the right people, working far enough out to allow plenty of time to do so. That takes some of the burden from the board’s executive committee and ensures that all communication items are in a central calendar for even distribution. Too many messages at once overloads residents and may cause confusion, so having the committees all schedule with the right people, instead of “going rogue” will limit that.
4. Create a solid social media policy. 
Social media is fun and it can be a fast tool for mass communication. 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:
  • Which channels are best for your community? 
  • When and how should social media 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 to make the most of it for your board and residents. Choose which channels to use, considering the demographics of your community and the channels that they already use. (If everyone is on Facebook, don’t make them sign up for Twitter.) Include the logos, handles and links for your social media on all printed pieces and your website to help build followers. Mention it at every meeting and have it on a sign at the entrance. For more detailed information on best practices for social media, read our article here.
5. Consider how a management company can help.
A professional community association management company will have the resources to help your board create and execute a comprehensive communication strategy that includes all of the ideas listed above – and then some. The right company will allow you to enable 24/7 availability through a customer care center, alert service in emergency situations, surveys that invite feedback for improvement and tech-forward solutions.
Clear, complete communication from the HOA board to residents and the management company that serves them has a value that cannot be overstated. The strategies defined above will help your board be able to craft messages that work for your community. For more information how a professional management can help you implement effective communication strategies, contact FirstService Residential, Washington DC's leading community association management partner.

For further information on how a community association management company can help your community, fill out the form on the right.
Wednesday January 25, 2017