As an HOA or condo association board, it’s always your primary responsibility to put the community’s well-being first. Whether you’re protecting finances, keeping up with maintenance, or managing public relations, the board’s fiduciary responsibility to the entire community must always be a first-order priority.
And whether you like it or not, social media risk management is part of that fiduciary obligation.
Social media usage among your residents and board members can be a great communication and engagement tool; however, it can also be a public relations nightmare and a serious legal risk if not managed effectively.
If you’re part of a condo or HOA board that does not have a formal, documented social media policy in place, it’s high time you spoke up. Seemingly innocent board member posts on Facebook or Twitter can put your community in danger of legal action and financial jeopardy. While your board members might be social media savvy, it’s less likely they’re informed regarding what social media territory is safe and what is dangerous.
Developing a clear, comprehensive and formally documented social media policy for your HOA or condo board is not a luxury — it’s an absolute necessity.
Every day that you go without a formal social media handbook you put your community’s reputation and legal standing at risk. Here are a few simple social media policy tips to get you started:
Your First Step: Create a Social Media Task Force
It’s not advisable to point out your board’s social media problem without suggesting a solution. The first step to action is building a social media task force comprised of your most well-informed board members.
- Create a small working group
- Assign specific tasks to each working group member
- Create milestone dates to report to the entire board
- Gather data from other board members, the community, and your lawyers
- Draft a social media policy and present it to the board
- Get approval and buy-in on the social media handbook
- Execute and hold board members accountable for violations
Your Social Media Policy Should Include: Social Media Strategy
Not all social media platforms are useful for every audience. By being strategic about which social media the board uses, what information fits best for each platform and then matching that with your residents' preferences, you can create a wonderful communication structure that enhances transparency, participation, and overall responsiveness to resident needs.
To develop a strong social media strategy, do the following:
- Document and distribute the strategy to all board members for input, including:
- Develop a brief guide for how to use each platform and what types of information should be delivered via that format
- Develop a content calendar to maintain regular frequency
- Develop a policy for how you will handle resident social media comments and questions
- Many communities allow comments but police them, editing out inflammatory ones and leaving positive commentary
- Get buy-in and approval from the board
- Everyone must buy in to share accountability for the strategy
Once you've developed an overarching framework for social media strategy, get approval and consensus from the board. And remember, your social media strategy is just one part of a larger social media policy handbook. Attacking the strategy first, then using it as a jumping off point for developing your comprehensive social media handbook is a good approach to deploy.
Your Handbook Should Include: A List of Social Media Activities to Avoid
When it comes to official board social media communications, you need to set clear parameters for posts and engagement. Create a comprehensive list of acceptable posts — like event updates, for example — and a list of no-go posts, like critical comments about a resident or items that should be discussed at an official board meeting.
There is a lot of gray area when it comes to social media; you will not be able to eliminate every risk. That said, the more guidance you provide to board members the less likely it will be that they slip up and create unintended consequences for your community.
When it comes to personal social media use by board members or residents, controlling this activity is next to impossible. On the other hand, you can educate board members that comments made on their own social media accounts can have real and dire consequences for their board position and for the community as a whole. The legal dangers here are very real and very often little understood by boards operating in the social media space.
Your Handbook Should Include: Social Media Gatekeepers
Assigning board members as social media gatekeepers is different than creating a social media task force. The social media task force will do the heavy lifting to get the social media policy created and launched. The social media gatekeepers are tasked with monitoring specific social media platforms on a regular basis.
During the strategy development process, appoint your social media point person or people. Depending on how robust your social media plan is — i.e., how often you’ll post, how many social media platforms you’ll use, and if you’ll allow resident commentary — you’ll need a single person or a small team to handle this task on a consistent basis.
This means that one person or a small team are the only board members that post and respond within community-sanctioned social media sites. This allows for increased control over your social media content and clear lines of accountability should something go wrong. To create your social media team effectively, remember the following:
- Like blogs and other forms of public-facing content, social media posts need to be reviewed, so make sure you clearly assign board members as social media watchdogs, reviewing everything from grammar and tone to privacy issue breaches and the appropriateness of a post.
- If your team is large enough, separate the tasks of social media content creator from social media editor; this will increase the effectiveness of content creation and editing. If only one person handles these tasks, make sure the frequency of your posts takes this into consideration as to not overwhelm them with volume at the cost of accuracy.
Your Social Media Policy Should Include: Oversight by Lawyers
When you’re ready to rein in social media use at your community, it’s well worth the time and money to engage your legal counsel for advice on your risks and how to create policies that reduce them. Understanding the law, its scope, and the ramifications of social media misuse will empower you and your fellow board members to create a highly effective policy.
If your lawyer or law firm does not have social media risk mitigation experience, ask them to refer you to an expert. When you engage your lawyer — at the start or as a review mechanism for your drafted social media policy — will depend on your board’s experience and comfort level with social media overall.
Lawyers are expensive, we know, and you need to use their services selectively. We would offer that seeking out legal advice pertaining to your social media policy will be money well spent.
At Comsource, we have unmatched expertise when it comes to HOA board and condo association management, including the facilitation of resident communications and how it interfaces with the law. Reach out to us today and learn more about how we can help you take control of your association’s social media activity.