Social Media: HOA Friend or Foe? How to Avoid Problems

Social Media: HOA Friend or Foe? How to Avoid Problems

July 20th, 2015
Author:  Clint Goodman

Technology has impacted and changed our world to be immeasurably different from 20, or even 10 years ago.  Social media is a tool that, for better or worse, touches countless areas of society. So why should an HOA board not use social media to our advantage and immediately communicate with all of our HOA members at once? As with everything, social media has both benefits and consequences depending on how it is used. Community associations can get into hot water if proper care is not exercised when using this form of communication.  Below are some tips to help your association to use social media to its advantage without getting into trouble:

#1: Adopt A Social Media Policy.  Important questions must be answered by a community association before getting involved in any potentially troublesome endeavor.  Official policies on these questions should be set by the board. Policies will vary with the makeup of each community, but we strongly encourage all boards to include the suggestions in this article in any social media policy.

#2:  Designate A Specific Host.  The policy should designate a specific individual (or a few) to review, approve or reject information posted on the social media page or website. While some communities may wish to have the board review everything, other communities may choose to have a faster review by delegating that responsibility to a committee, officer, or director.  Regardless of who is designated, the host needs to perform their duty "reasonably."  Arizona law defines acting reasonably as "fairly" and in "good faith”, meaning that information published should present both sides of any issue.

#3:  Privacy Is Key.  In Arizona and many other states, the majority of community associations or homeowner’s associations are non-profit corporations.  Under state statute, and, supported by the association's incorporating documents, the association’s books, records and affairs should not be published, they are private and should be kept confidential.  It is imperative that the association ensures that any social media page is a "closed" (aka private) group page and that sensitive information is not accessible to anyone not permitted by law or by the community documents to have access to it.

Keeping a page or website private will also help avoid data harvesting.  HOAs with "open" sites can expect hackers to gather their data for various, sometimes nefarious, purposes. The data will be sold to spammers and association members may experience unsolicited emails, including potentially harmful viruses.

#4:  Approve All Comments.   The social media policy should establish that all comments posted on the page or website should be reviewed, approved or rejected before any visitor sees the comment.  This is extremely important!  Review prior to publication will allow the association to avoid harassment, cyber-bullying or defamation claims.  If the association allowed anyone to post anything without discretion, disparaging or untruthful information about directors or owners may result.  Feelings can be hurt and lawsuits can develop when this happens.  To avoid the time and expense of a lawsuit or other legal action, all comments should first be approved.

#5:  Verify Insurance Coverage.  The board should make certain that the association’s insurance policy covers claims resulting from defamation, libel or other information posted on their website or any social media hosted by the association.

#6:  Only Use Social Media for Informational Purposes.  Social media can be used to give notice of board meetings and to let members know about upcoming and recent events. Social media was designed for simple, quick, and broad sharing of appropriate information. It should never give anyone access to membership lists, delinquency lists, financial reports, or other corporate information.  Social media can be a great tool if used with discretion and forethought.