How to use Facebook to connect your community association.
In a digital age where people are more likely to connect online than in person, it's completely possible to live in a community and never see your neighbors. Many community associations are turning to Facebook to strengthen community ties and share information with residents.
With more than 1 billion people active on Facebook, a community page is an easy way to reach a wide audience in real time and link with residents who never set foot in association meetings. It also comes with no costs, unlike traditional printed mailings. “When boards want to involve and engage with their unit owners, all sorts of possibilities open up,” writes Jane Bolin in her book, Mastering the Business of Your Association. “People get more involved, it's easier to recruit, the community starts to thrive, and the association vision gets realized.”
Setting up a Facebook page is as simple as a few clicks of your mouse: Go to Create Group, name your page, choose your privacy settings, and then invite members of your association to join. Don't forget to add a profile picture and a cover photo to make your page inviting and let people know they are in the right place.
But Facebook – like any social media – isn't a platform to use lightly. There's truth to the saying: what goes on the Internet, stays on the Internet. Even if a post is deleted, it's likely to leave a permanent footprint. So how can a community association create a Facebook page that lets them reap the rewards of social media instead of the pitfalls?
- Define your goals. Before you create a single post, consider what you want your Facebook page to accomplish. Do you want to keep owners informed about community news? Are you hoping to build a better sense of community? Make sure everything you post furthers your objective. A strong community association page might include:
- Information about upcoming events
- Community news, such as upcoming maintenance work, lost pets, or neighborhood watch reports
- Helpful tips, like energy saving ideas or reminders to disconnect hoses before the winter
- Celebrations of community members, perhaps with pictures of community events, attractive gardens, or tasteful holiday decorations. Just be sure to get permission before you post!
- Friendly reminders of rules and regulations, including holiday light policies and how long hurricane shutters can remain closed after a storm
- A way to help members get to know each other by encouraging interactions. You might let them post items for sale or request information about service providers.
- Put someone in charge. Maintaining and monitoring your Facebook presence is important, and it should be assigned to a trusted person such as your Community Association Manager or a board member. The role isn't just about posting. The site administrator must also respond quickly to comments and feedback, and make sure interactions are positive and appropriate.
- Create a policy and stick to it. Don't let your association's page deteriorate into a place for complaints and heated debates. The best way to encourage proper behavior is to consistently enforce your Facebook policy so members understand what is expected and there can be no complaints about the administrator taking sides. Establish a code of conduct that clearly defines who has access to the site, who gets to post, and what kind of posts are welcome. It's also a good idea to reassert residents' privacy rights regarding information you might post, and to put a process in place for your administrator to screen content before it's published. Post guidelines that outline your policy on your page and set the expectation that you will delete inappropriate posts. Be very clear about what is prohibited – such as sharing confidential board information or using derogatory language – and reserve the right to block repeat offenders. You also can take advantage of built-in controls that Facebook offers, such as blocking certain words from your page.
- Close your group. Closed groups create a sense of legitimacy because members know everyone who belongs has gone through an approval process. This should be done when the page is created by selecting “Closed Group” in the privacy options. Screen people who ask to join your page to be sure they are association members, and send invitations to all residents so everybody knows the page exists. Decide whether your page will also include teenagers who live in your community and important non-members such as a property manager. Finally, make sure your administrator promptly removes people from the page if they leave the association.
- Don't overdo it. Residents will ignore your posts if they are full of too much long, tedious board information. Try to post excerpts from your rules only when reminders are really needed, and add a link so members can refer to the whole document if they prefer.
- Provide helpful information. Create a tab on your page where residents can find important documents such as your bylaws, rules and regulations, meeting minutes, and agenda items for your annual meeting. Another tab might include a list of important contacts such as your property management company, your neighborhood watch leader and reliable vendors for big-ticket items like plumbing and HVAC.
- Remember that the law applies to Facebook. Facebook is not exempt from legal rules concerning copyright infringement, defamation, plagiarism, and violations of privacy rights. People also can forward information outside the group, so it's important for associations to keep in mind that their posts can reach unintended audiences. Remember that everything you post leaves a permanent footprint – even if you delete it – so carefully consider every item before it's published.
- Get your community on board. After you send out your Facebook invitations, find other ways to spread the word to residents about your new page. Put a link on your community website, include information in your newsletters and other printed communications, and promote the page at community meetings and events. Encourage members to check in regularly for important updates.
Facebook can be an effective marketing tool for your community association as long as it is used properly. If you follow these tips, you can create a page that keeps your residents informed and makes your association stronger with an even greater of sense of community.
PeytonBolin is committed to providing knowledgeable, resourceful, and consistent legal representation to community associations. For more information on how to operate a successful community association, contact us or download Mastering the Business of Your Association.