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Should Your Association Maintain A Facebook, Twitter Or Other Social Media Account?
Many common interest developments have identified the need to set polices for the use of electronic media by their control group and apply those policies to different forms of social media. Developing these policies before problems arise will be helpful in the smooth running of your association.
Your Association’s Online & Social Media Presence
Most likely, you have a Facebook account. So does almost everyone in your common interest development. Facebook has 800 million users currently and it is projected that by this summer there will be almost one billion users. That’s right—a billion. Twitter is another common social media outlet. It is even more popular than Facebook for many of your members, depending on the demographics of your association. With over 500 million users this year, Twitter has become its own news network reporting in real time on everything from tornados to foreign political revolutions. Using only 140 characters at a time, it has become a main source of facts and inspiration for the entire world.
The fact is, most of your members aren’t surfing the web anymore and probably won’t be checking your association’s web page either. In many instances they won’t even be reading your newsletters. Instead, your members will be following you as board members, committee members and the association itself (if it has an account) on Twitter and Facebook. It will be a Tweet or a Facebook message they are reading to remind them of an annual meeting or to gain information about the association’s activities, not the minutes or a meeting or a notice mailed to them or posted on a wall in the common area.
With all of this and the transition which is occurring by many associations to various social media outlets, issues relating to privacy, free speech, defamation, trademark and copyright and other legal issues more than suggest that a policy be considered for associations as to the use of social media. With some limited exceptions, the board of a common interest development will not be able to legislate to its members what can and cannot be communicated by them via social media. The board can, however, put in place a policy for its board, committees, professional management companies and vendors to adhere to when using social media.
The importance of establishing a policy for use of social media for your association.
Social media policies can be loose or detailed, long or short. You get to choose. What is important is that you make a choice. To do nothing invites problems while at the same time taking away from the board the protections offered by the business judgement rule—a defense which can be raised when the board makes protected business decisions such as these. A sampling of the social media policies being used by 100 large companies and organizations can be found at: http://socialmediatoday.com/ralphpaglia/141903/ social-media-employee-policy-examples-over-100- companies-and-organizations However you decide to craft yours, among the points you will want to consider for inclusion in social media policy will be the following:
- Decide who is approved to speak on behalf of the association in social media. The association might consider picking one person to speak on its behalf and direct that person to the articles and other training which will help them steer clear of problems.
- Make it clear who is authorized to create social media accounts for the association. For instance, consider adopting a rule that no new Twitter, Facebook or other social media accounts be established without the approval of the board.
- Set some boundaries for content. For example, matters which involved the association’s contracts, its employment decisions, attorney-client matters, collection matters subject to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and other matters of a sensitive or private nature should not be discussed. What personal matters are discussed is a matter of discretion; however the board should give some guidance to those involved in posting to social media sites on behalf of the association as to matters which are appropriate to achieve the purposes decided upon.
- An association is a community. What is said by the leadership in the community can create harmony or friction. As to board and committee members personal accounts, when discussing association affairs they should make clear that they are not speaking on behalf of the association when they are not.
- Some content just should not be posted anywhere. This probably includes offensive language or photos, private or confidential information or posting anything which is defamatory. This may seem obvious, but put it in the policy anyway.
- Make it a policy that any social media postings be professional and respectful. No inappropriate or intemperate words, harsh words or crude comments should be allowed. Remember, you are trying to build a community with social media, not tear it apart.
- Use privacy controls. By doing so, the board can control what is posted on the “wall” of any Facebook page the association may have. This does not leave people who want to comment on the association’s page without a voice. They can attend a meeting and provide their thoughts rather than have license to post them on the association’s Facebook page directly.
Does your association want a Facebook page?
It’s your call. There are as many reasons to have one as there are reasons not to. The same goes with Twitter. I’ve found that Twitter is a great vehicle to spread encouragement as well as information. For those who have not driven this social media vehicle around the block, users can “follow” you and your tweets. I started two years ago and have 62,000 followers. Your association will have less—probably just the number of unit owners in your development. You can choose to provide information such as upcoming board meetings, special opportunities for members to serve and needs the association and its member may have. You can also provide inspiration and guidance to the members. It would probably be wise to spend less time reminding people of rules and more time inspiring people to act together for the benefit of the community – but these are among the decisions you can make when crafting your social media policies so they fit the objectives of your board.
Social Media & Potential Legal Issues
While there are many areas for potential problems, probably the greatest liability exposure which your association is trying to avoid in its social media postings will have to do with making defamatory statements or disclosing private or inappropriate information. Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed against people involved in social media. In 2009 alone, over $17 million in judgments against bloggers occurred. That’s a big number and your association won’t want to contribute to it. The answer isn’t to avoid participating in social media; it is to do it wisely.
Keep in mind, this: whatever you publish on social media can and will be passed along to others. Some of the people who will end up with your messages will be the intended recipients. Others won’t be. A recent California Court of appeals case ruled that there were no privacy protections applicable to the words of a blogger. What that means, is that if you say something defamatory in your social media outputs and it is passed along to third parties for publication, liability for any offensive or improper comments can follow its way back to the sender.
Be Social Media Smart!
In summary, go ahead and develop a social media presence. Do it wisely and you will encourage and inform your members on important information in the life of your association while at the same time developing a greater sense of community. Do it with a well thought through social media policy in place and you will give a real boost to your entire community.