In January of this year (remember January?  It feels like it was about six years ago?  Another lifetime?), residents of the Val Vista Lake community, located in Gilbert, Arizona, were taken aback when they received letters from their community’s board of directors.  The letters threatened to fine members $250 dollars per day, as well as revoke their access to certain community amenities and common areas if they did not comply with a very specific request; they must remove comments from the community's Facebook page.  12 news, a local news outlet reported that the letter claimed that posts, which focused on board members, were defamatory, speculative or untrue.  After consulting with a lawyer, Ashley Nardeccia, the resident (not a board member) who runs the page, concluded that the HOA could not, in fact reprimand them for their comments.  However, the whole situation initiates a timely, and compelling  conversation.  Social media permeates nearly every aspect of our lives, in some instances, becoming our primary vehicle of communication.  Social media allows us to easily communicate with friends, family and total strangers, across the world, or across the street.  This being the case, many board members are left asking, should the HOA employ the use of social media?

The Upside                                                                                                                 Social media, if implemented and utilized wisely, can serve as an incredibly useful tool for HOA boards and members of a community alike.  Information can be decimated quickly, and to many all at one time.  If Community members have questions regarding neighborhood events, happenings, recommendations, etc, they can pose these questions to the hive mind that is the social media collective and have those questions answered quickly by either board members, or other informed members of the community.  

This can also serve as a vehicle for positive interaction between the board and community members. Instigating positive communication, like pointing out laudable behavior, can have a surprising impact on the way that members of the community view each other, as well as the HOA as a whole.  

“Hey, shout out to the  friendly neighbors that I saw picking up trash along the trail this afternoon.  Thanks for keeping our neighborhood looking good.”

“Thanks to everyone who helped with the food drive, I feel so proud to be a part of this community!”  

Not only does this provide an arena in which to applaud individuals who are bettering the community, it encourages others to post when they witness such behavior.  Even better, this sort of positive reinforcement encourages others to go out and do good as well.  

Keep in mind that social media is NOT the place to discuss serious community or board business.  Places like Facebook are best utilized when conversation is light and upbeat.  We can all enjoy an innocuous post about the “life-altering” vacation that aunt Gladys took to the Grand Canyon with her quilting group, or pictures of your cousin Karen’s one-year-old rubbing Pepto Bismol-pink cake matter all over her chubby face.  Conversely, when Stan, the guy who works in your office that you are vaguely acquainted with, starts aggressively spewing conspiracy theories across your feed, we all begin to get a bit uncomfortable and wonder about the general state of humanity.  The take-away, keep it light, positive and factual.  Social media is is a great place to remind residents of the community BBQ, Let people know the date that the community pool will open, or to give a shout-out to the totally awesome empanada place nearby, but is certainly NOT the place to discuss official business, address members that are behind on payments, discuss specific infractions or the like.  

Sticks and Stones...                                                                                                     The great thing about social media is that anyone and everyone has the ability to express their thoughts and speak their mind.  The most terrifying thing about social media is that anyone and everyone has the ability to express their thoughts and speak their mind.  When providing a group of people with an open forum to communicate, you may end up reading some things that are not necessarily flattering in nature, as the board members of the Val Vista Lake community found.  These types of posts should be handled carefully.  First, do not simply ignore the post.  Not responding can further aggravate the poster and promote other members to chime in.  Instead, take the opportunity to respond in a positive manner, showing all members of your community that you appreciate their thoughts and feedback, and alert the original poster that you will contact them privately to discuss the matter.  This may seem simple, but it keeps negative chatter to a minimum, and shows other members that their concerns are taken seriously.  Most importantly, DO NOT respond in an antagonistic manner.  While it can be difficult to hold your tongue, or the keyboard, in this instance, it is incredibly important that all communication from board members or page administrators remain positive, or at least neutral, for the best possible outcomes.

Keep in Mind

  • It is important that these accounts are carefully and actively supervised.  Be sure that you carefully select the individual(s) who will act as administrators for the account.  This can take a surprising amount of time and effort, so these individuals should be aware and prepared for the commitment.  It could be beneficial for your association to form a committee for this task, so that the responsibility is shared among a (small) number of people, who can share the work, and confer with one another as to how to approach potentially sticky situations.  
  • Residents should not consider social media platforms as the primary means to communicate needs or concerns to the board.  Namely,  this is not the place for residents to write a formal complaint against another member or request permission to build a deck, or.  The procedures for these types of actions, outlined in the governing documents of the association, should still be followed.  
  • Create a social media policy, and have the association's lawyer review it after it has been drafted.  This policy should outline the rules and expectations surrounding the use of the platform for the association.   This can include the type of information that is allowed to be posted, as well as how members can interact with others through the page.  It can also prove incredibly useful to make the page private, so that only members of the community, who also agree to the terms put forth in the policy, are admitted to use the page.  Administrators can also moderate and/or remove comments when necessary, and potentially ‘block’ users who violate the policy.  

Social Media has become one of the most impactful innovations of our time, and its ability to connect us with others has, quite literally, changed the world.  It is important to keep in mind that, While this can serve as an incredible tool when used correctly and with good intentions, it also has the ability to take on a more sinister and destructive role when used inappropriately.  An HOA who seeks to proactively establish a social media presence with clear, fair and enforceable expectations for its members can certainly reap the benefits and bring their community closer together, something that we can all “like.”

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