It’s no secret that communicating effectively with association members is a vital part of managing any community. But in today’s digital world, methods for communication are ever-changing. So, what works and what doesn’t? We spoke to Nancy Hastings, Regional Vice-President of Associa’s Eastern Region, to find out her perspective on association communications.
In Hastings’ opinion, the “best” method for communication is in person. “The message you are delivering will be conveyed with all of the right body language and intended purpose,” she said. “Regrettably, in person communication is not the most convenient, the timeliest or the most frequent method of communication.”
Therefore, Hastings noted that most communication methods today include mass messaging (email, text and phone) products, newsletters, websites, mailings and apps. It’s important that multiple formats are available so that association members can determine what method is best for them, she explained.
Although she recommended mass text messaging as a form of communication, Hastings warned against sending individual text messages. “I am not a proponent of the management team sending or receiving individual texts from association members. This can lead to expectations for an immediate response to non-emergency issues. The casual tone in texts is not conducive to delivering a professional message. Either of those two possibilities could disappoint or even anger members,” Hastings said.
When it comes to an association’s newsletter, Hastings noted that digital distribution is a more cost-effective and timely option; however, managers should keep in mind that some members may not have the means to receive an electronic copy. In that case, resources will dictate whether paper copies can be sent to such members, she explained. Associations may be able to offset their newsletter costs with income from advertising. Hastings suggested negotiating a maximum space for ads in any publishing contract.
Whether electronic or paper, a newsletter’s content and timing will vary based on the type of community and resources that are available, said Hastings. “Know your audience and know your purpose. The content should be relevant to the audience, and the articles should be clear and well written. The format should have good readability with proper graphics and photos,” she noted.
Hastings also suggested including articles on community members. “Remember, names make news,” she said, and advised against creating “no-letters” instead of newsletters. “If you must outline rules, do so in a friendly manner and with the spirit of cooperation,” said Hastings.
She also urged associations to use caution with regard to publishing minutes, naming specific individuals or disclosing delinquency and/or violation information. Hastings said that establishing communication/newsletter guidelines or a committee charter can help ensure consistency and reduce liability exposure. She added that associations should consult legal counsel for templates and specific guidelines to guard against libel.
Some items Hastings suggested including in an association’s newsletter are the date of publication, community activities such as events and meetings, updates on association initiatives and projects, local topics of interest, contact information for management and local resources, committee updates, deadline and instructions for newsletter submission, personal interest stories, puzzles, recipes, neighbor accomplishments, photographs, “how to columns” and a “for sale” section.
In addition to being sent electronically or by mail, the newsletter can also be made available for members to view on the association’s website. The website will also typically include an event calendar, photographs and various documents, said Hastings. “More advanced apps such as TownSq allow you to have all of the self-help benefits of those items plus polls, announcements, forums, service requests, amenity reservation bookings, package tracking, online payment options, account access and task tracking,” she noted. “You should consider these sites as an extension of your customer service.” The easier an association’s website or app is to use and the more that can be accomplished with a simple click or tap, the better the association living experience will be, Hastings said.
Of course, with the popularity of social media today, many members may turn to outlets such as Facebook and Twitter seeking community information. Associations should err on the side of caution when utilizing social media, noted Hastings. “These accounts can be set up and named as association information sources; however, if they are not hosted or maintained by community management or the board, incorrect information can be shared with community members inadvertently. Used appropriately, though, they can increase community unity, share real-time happenings and be a convenient way for members to get information,” she said.
Therefore, Hastings suggested that associations create specific communication guidelines for social media accounts that include photo release information.
In addition to communicating with existing residents, communicating with new residents is also important. According to Hastings, the best way to welcome a newcomer is through a welcome committee. However, with the digital age, comes the digital welcome package. Hastings estimates, though, that approximately 50% of welcome packages are still being sent via mail due to forms, fobs and other documents. She said some associations also use orientation videos and FAQs on their websites to supplement the welcome packages.
By Sherri Hall