With smart-phones dominating the cellular market, people now have Internet access anywhere and everywhere they go. While shopping and “googling” are leading reasons to use the Internet, the rise of social media has radically changed the way people interact with one another, with businesses, and even with their condo association neighbors and administrators.
A recent CNET report found that 27 percent of small businesses are on Facebook, 18 percent are on LinkedIn and seven percent use Twitter. While the Facebook percentage may appear small, the report found that social media use in this demographic has doubled, with 75 percent of businesses polled owning a page on some type of social networking site. Boards and home owner associations that have not taken the plunge should consider the importance of having a social media presence. For example, 64 percent of Twitter users and the 51 percent of Facebook users say they are more likely to buy brands if they “follow” a company or are a “fan” of a company.
“More and more directors—even ones from older generations—are using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+,” says Attorney Donna DiMaggio Berger, managing partner of the Fort Lauderdale-based law firm of Katzman Garfinkel & Berger. “Because of this, it is important that our common interest ownership statutes keep pace with technology and the way boards operate today.”
“Social media has allowed for two-way conversations to take place on the Internet using the same vehicles that consumers, no matter their age or generation, are already using,” says Deborah Boza-Valledor, chief marketing officer for the Miami Association of Realtors.
Social networking initially grew in popularity due to the personal one-on-one experience best facilitated by Facebook. This trend has entered the business world, with more realtors and brokers using the service which translates to how boards and management companies are beginning to communicate and interact. “Realtors can now have true market and information conversations, as well as social conversations,” says Boza-Valledor. “They can go where the consumer goes.”
While the writing is on (Facebook’s) wall, some remain slow to adopt, explains Berger. “I don’t see social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn as being particularly helpful for community associations in themselves,” she continues. “Those tools are much more suited to the managers running these communities and the directors serving them individually to benefit from the shared wisdom out there in various LinkedIn groups and on Twitter and Facebook.”
The Internet Age
When the Internet first came to prominence, there was a generational divide among adopters. The safety and security of email was originally suspect, and for the then-older generation, the medium itself was deemed impersonal. Today, emails are not only second nature for all computer users, but are viewed by some as a more antiquated form of communication. Text messaging and communicating through social media sites is used more often among many.
“The fastest growing segments of the social media user market, especially Facebook, are those over 55,” says Boza-Valledor.
“According to the Nielsen survey for the third quarter of 2011, more than twice as many people over 55 visited their social-media networks via a mobile phone this year than they did in 2010. In part, this means that businesses, services and philanthropic outreach must take into account that one of their larger markets is becoming as mobile and connected as their Millennial counterparts.”
According to recent Pew research poll, mobile users aged between 18 and 24 send, on average, 109.5 text messages per day, or 3,200 messages per month. Texts sent by 25 to 34 year olds averaged 41.8 per day. Respondents 55 and older sent between four and 10 texts per day.
As a result of increased communication, the once vibrant and informative community bulletin boards that used to announce meetings, events and legal notices has become more so static with the rise of technology. Like the domino theory, more and more people look to advanced, streamlined technology to receive information.
“In the Miami area there is certainly an increase with social networking, especially with the developers,” says Sarah Elles-Boggs, a realtor with Keller Williams Realty. “People are tuning into these pages and becoming fans,” she says, adding “It’s a great way to meet your neighbor.”
Among social networking concerns is security. According to Bloomberg, out of 4,640 organizations polled, more than half said computer attacks increased as a result of workers using social networks. One quarter reported that the attacks rose by more than 50 percent.
“You have to be willing to take the good with the bad and must be willing to monitor 24/7,” says Berger. “Monitoring your social reputation—the reputation of a condo or homeowners association—is a full-time job, and when consumers want an answer to a question or post a comment, especially negative ones, they want and need to be answered as quickly as humanly possible. The ability to turn a negative comment into a positive response takes 24/7 monitoring and takes someone who has the ability to respond appropriately.”
The Facebook Effect
In 2010, the film The Social Networkwas a huge success. With over 800 million Facebook users worldwide, it is no surprise that the movie grossed nearly $225 million, as ticket holders were essentially extras in the movie. From a persona standpoint, Facebook has been a resounding success due to its ability to share updates, photos, media and other interests effortlessly. However, not all businesses or organizations are seeing the value, and remain watching the game from the sidelines.
With no hard data to determine how many boards and management companies are currently using social networking sites, it is difficult to ascertain how this aspect of Internet connectivity is impacting this business demographic. Aside from security, there are understandable reasons why some organizations are slow to adopt.
“Up to now, many associations haven’t taken on [the responsibility of] social networking, as it is something the management company will usually do,” says Elles-Boggs. “For many boards, the slow adoption rate is due to a management issue. “If a resident in a building used social media to somehow attack the building due to an issue, they might not realize who is managing the social media site and therefore the problem is not effectively communicated but exists on the page,” she continues. “There are other cases where the person in charge of managing the social media site will turn over complaints to the building’s on-site manager. It does come down to social media management.”
Social networking is longer a hobby, but a profession. According to Monster, the number of postings for social media-related jobs rose 75 percent over the last year. In September, for example, there were roughly 155 positions available—an increase from an average of 88 per month a year ago. If the decision is made to move forward with a social networking presence, the first question that should be asked is: who will manage it?
“Moving forward, proper management will be in place, but whether that is the management company or the board is to be determined,” says Elles-Boggs. “I don’t see as many privacy issues as I do management issues.”
Berger maintains that social networking might not be the right fit for every organization suggesting that there is more than one way around the barn. “In terms of the community as a whole, a well-run community association website makes much more sense in terms of organizing information and soliciting member involvement. Association websites like those provided by AtHomeNet can reduce a director’s and manager’s workload and cut down on association costs such as printing and postage by directing members to the website for most of the information they need such as copies of certain association records or calendar of events,” she continues. “The board can use someone internally to serve as the website administrator or they can use a company to do so for them.”
There are some protections under Federal law for operators of social media sites. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act eliminates liability (primarily for defamation) for information posted by third parties and Section 512(c) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act eliminates liability for copyright infringement claims involving content posted by third parties.
A post on condoassociation.com spelled out the benefits and drawbacks of HOAs using Facebook. “There may be great benefits, but there are plenty of risks to consider as well. If you do not have a policy in place for using social media within your HOA then get working on it as soon as possible.”
Having a policy is imperative, the writer continued. “The policy should include who (staff or board member titles, not individual names) should have access to create posts. You must define what constitutes a post. If “friending” is going to be permitted by the organization, what form (if any) of validating “friends” is in place and what is the decision criteria for "defriending" people. You must consider if this is going to be used as a one-way or two-way form of communication. A limit should be placed on the time used to manage the tool or at least some definition of the types of information that should be posted and at what time of day the information is suggested to be posted—events, announcements, news, etc. and those should be easily distinguishable from opinions (by definition). A reporting mechanism—not to Facebook but to the HOA board or property manager—should be provided to communicate abuse or other similar issues. There is more to it than just jumping on board and saying "friend us on facebook." Don't let software vendors or web developers (of which I am one) fool you into thinking this is the greatest thing since sliced bread. I'm not saying at all that Facebook is not a valuable tool. I'm just pointing out that its value can come at a cost if you are not prepared.”
Linked Into Tweeting
Twitter is another social networking phenomenon; however, according to the company, it has about 200 million open accounts although it estimated that 100+ million are active or used weekly opposed to Facebook which claims that of its 800 million users, half return on a daily basis. While there is business viability in both platforms, the adage “different strokes for different folks” holds true.
LinkedIn, the professional social media site, has grown considerably in recent years. In September, President Barack Obama gave a speech on The Jobs Act at a town hall meeting in San Francisco that was sponsored by LinkedIn. The company has upwards of 120 million registered users, spanning more than 196 countries. For many management companies and boards, this site represents the possibility to connect with vendors and other professionals. Another social site MySpace claims to have about 125 million users.
Berger explains that at 2,000 members her firm’s Condo and HOA Law blogs and groups on LinkedIn and Facebook has the largest presence of its kind in Florida. “We have board members, managers, accountants, attorneys, engineers, insurance agents and others servicing community associations around the country who engage in frequent dialogue and debate on issues of importance to the community association lifestyle and industry,” she continues. “These groups should not be a substitute for obtaining specific legal advice from the association’s attorney but they do provide general information and comfort to countless directors, managers and residents.”
W. B. King is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The South Florida Cooperator.