Social Networking for Condo and Homeowners Associations
A growing number of owners in condo and homeowners associations are getting on the social networking bandwagon and using sites like Facebook and Ning to build their community. Here, they reveal their efforts and the results.
Websites HOAs Use
Several homeowners have created Ning or Facebook sites that allow participants to network online with their neighbors. Kim Hollenshead, communications chairperson of the Estates at Settlers Park Homeowners Association in Round Rock, Texas, has done just that.
"Before we started our Ning site, there were a lot of mass e-mails," says Hollenshead. "People would have e-mail conversations that I didn't want to be a part of. People can now continue to have these conversations on Ning without e-mailing everyone because it allows residents to get to know their neighbors, share information, and receive timely updates from others in our association. It's been well received."
Ning is similar to the more well-known social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, but Hollenshead says it offers more flexibility to site administrators. "People are much more familiar with Facebook or MySpace," she says. "With Ning, I can set up a site where all homeowners can set up and manage their own profile, have conversations, and post pictures. But a Ning file can allow you to dictate whatever access you want. I can give administrative rights to committee chairs, so it makes it our site a little more than an association site. I can also delete and block photos. I'm a human resources person, and I'm used to policing things because you never know who's out there."
Chad Norman, an owner at the Longpoint Homeowners Association in Mount Pleasant, S.C., which includes about 600 single-family homes, has also set up a Ning site for his neighbors because he also likes Ning's versatility. "I don't see any reason to create a Facebook group because the functionality in Ning is better," he says. "You can have your own site and your own blogs. You can set up a play group or a gardening group, and within those, you can have subgroups. You can't have groups nested within other groups on many other social networking sites."
Using Facebook is Paul Palian, president of the Wil-O-Way Homeowners Association in Naperville, Ill. "Our Facebook group has 48 members now, approximately half the number of members in our association," he says. "You can post something on your wall, and any member can look at it so you don't have to send an e-mail out to everybody. Also, from a liability standpoint for the association, we probably shouldn't be endorsing events like residents' parties at which alcohol is served. Our Facebook page is the social side of the association where people can put that kind of stuff."
What's the Use?
What do residents use social networks for? You name it. "We use it to communicate social events outside the association," says Palian, "in addition to events sanctioned by the association."
At Longpoint, the opening page of Norman's site suggests uses for participants:
- Form a group: Organize a playgroup, gardening club, or street party.
- Start a discussion: Post items for sale, ask the board questions, or find a sitter.
- Write a blog post: Tell a story or share lawn care tips.
- Schedule an event: Setup a birthday party, action committee, or house hop.
"It's to help us better connect and organize," explains Norman, who complains that his association has been poor at communicating with residents. "We organized our Fourth of July parade on the site, which was super easy but has been cancelled in the past. We've also gotten a recreational vehicle removed from the common area. Participants complained, and the association finally did something about it. It's all stuff that never would have happened if the site hadn't launched."
Hollenshead's association is also using the site as a community-building and information resource. "I can post real-time photos," she says. "I like to post a lot of pictures of things like people during garage sales, and I can post a lot more pictures than I could in our newsletter. Our community manager who works for the association has also recently sent out a notice reminding residents that we have new homes being built and asking residents to keep an eye on kids so they don't vandalize empty lots."
Not all homeowners are pleased with their association's online groups. "We've had people who are opposed to our Facebook page and are opposed to joining our group because they're afraid their private information will be posted," says Palian. "You have to balance those concerns and proceed with caution so everybody's heard."
Despite concerns, Hollenshead, Palian, and Norman are seeing growing membership on their sites. Norman's site grew to 46 members in less than two weeks, and Hollenshead's has grown over time.
"We just started our Ning site last fall," says Hollenshead. "Each time our hard-copy newsletter comes out, I usually get a few more people who join the Ning site. It's still in its infancy, but the people who are on there really get value out of it. It's definitely more helpful for real-time communication than a newsletter or e-mail blast."
Twitter Coming? Maybe Not
Though Twitter is creating buzz, these residents aren't sold on its association use. "We haven't used Twitter for the homeowners association," says Hollenshead. "I've been on Twitter for more than three years, but I don't think there are enough homeowners on it. I'd like to survey our users on it."
Norman has the same problem. "I Twitter for my job, but at this point, I don't think Twitter would help us because we're still trying to build a community," he says. "No residents are in my network, so it wouldn't be an effective channel for us."
Ditto Palian. "We haven't come up with a strategy for Twitter," he says. "It could be a useful communication tool, but I don't think the association and board consider themselves worth following on Twitter. Much like marketers haven't fully found out how to take advantage of Twitter, we haven't figured it out yet, either."
(You can follow HOAleader.com on Twitter.)
No matter what tool you use, the key to social networking is sharing information and building a community. "People are having fun with our Facebook group," says Palian. "That goes hand in hand with trying to engage members and get our numbers up so we can act as a full neighborhood as opposed to just part of the neighborhood."