What do you get when you put “YouTube,” “Twitter,” and “Facebook” together? YouTwitFace. That may be a running joke in my household, but six or seven years ago uttering the phrase “friend me” or “follow me” would likely produce a bunch of blank stares.  Now, friend requests on Facebook and follow me requests on Twitter are commonplace.  Communication methods have expanded beyond the telephone, the letter, the fax, and even the email to an entirely new level of conversation through what is called social media.

How does this relate to community associations? Today’s associations understand the need to convey, and even over-communicate, important information to their members. And, to reach as many members as possible, an association should be sensitive to different and perhaps preferred methods of communication. To that end, some associations have jumped into the cyberworld with their own websites, online newsletters, and even Facebook and/or Twitter pages.

Social media outlets may be attractive tools for an association to consider as part of what could be called an “open-door policy”. They are another means of conveying important information, but they also invite participation and overall community-building. These platforms are great for shooting out bits of information quickly: meeting date reminders, spotlights on successes, community event headlines, to mention a few.  Some platforms also allow a forum for member questions, comments, and relevant postings. And, these types of platforms may entice participation from those members who appreciate the ability to instantly post on the go … but that is exactly where an association could get into trouble.

What if a member or director posts, tweets or blogs a false, offensive or libelous statement? Or a director posts confidential information? Litigation seems to be on the rise in cases involving social media sites, often revolving around defamation allegations and the site operator’s failure to remove information. Although an association has some protection under federal law if it gets sued for information posted by a third party, and may include a disclaimer on its page, use privacy controls, or review comments before they’re posted, part of the allure of social media sites is the instantaneous appearance of the post. Prohibiting member posts or screening posts may take care of the problem discussed; however, it also cuts much out of social media, instead turning it into an online bulletin board—not valueless, to be sure, but not social media unleashed either. Strict posting controls may thwart the very goals an association is trying to achieve –community-building and outreach.

So what should an association do if it wishes to create a social media profile? A good first step is to adopt a social media policy. The policy should include : who gets to view and/or post on the site, the kinds of messages allowable and prohibited that repeat offenders will be blocked, and that the Board may remove offensive, false or potentially libelous posts. And, it’s best to keep posts informational; the site shouldn’t be the board’s editorial column. Contact us if you need assistance with drafting a social media policy for your association.

Social media hubs are becoming an increasingly visible part of an association’s presence with its members.  And though there are real concerns in using them, they are only becoming more popular. Social media should not, however, take the place of in-person attendance at meetings or other association gatherings. It should, instead, be used to encourage people to get involved and participate in their communities.

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