Connecting with Your Community: Communication Best Practices
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Effective communication fosters better relationships among board members, your residents and property management company, and keeps all parties well informed.
Here are the 4 components of a successful communication plan that create effective outreach to all members of your community.
Knowing what, when and how to use the proper communication channels ensures your messages will reach as many residents as possible.
“People have different preferences in how they receive communications, so if the goal is to get information into the hands of residents, you should use every available method,” says FirstService Residential Vice President of Strategy and Operations Stephanie Parker.
The channels available to you include email, your resident portal, community website and newsletter, text messages, phone calls, flyers, bulletin board announcements and board meetings. Becoming familiar with them will allow you to spot opportunities and identify gaps. Here are some tips for using them effectively:
- Use email as a default – Email is not only trackable, but it is also the channel people use the most.
- Regularly update your resident portal or community website – A community website or resident portal, such as FirstService Residential Connect, can help keep residents informed about events and activities, policy changes and emergency instructions, and offer access to important forms and documents.
- Use social media wisely. Social media can be a good place to announce certain community events, meetings or maintenance plans. But be sure to monitor it closely, establish a social media policy and identify who is responsible for representing the board and/or community on this platform.
- Use a mass communication tool. A centralized system, such as FirstService Residential Connect, can enable you or your management company to easily provide important information via text message, email and recorded voice message.
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Designating roles for the communication process ensures there is no overlap in efforts, and nothing gets overlooked. It also provides clarity on the responsibilities of the property manager and board members.
Roles can be assigned by:
- Task – Identify and assign roles based on communication type, such as newsletters, emails, website, phone/text communications, etc.
- Topic – Appoint people by subject matter, such as emergency preparedness, financial matters, property enhancements/repairs, events and activities, etc.
- Skillset – Consider the talents within your team as you assign roles such as writer, designer, editor, social media monitor, etc.
Remember, if there are channels you know you will use but you’re not sure if your board members and property manager know how to use them, a short training session may be necessary. It’s also important to review appropriate content, tone and messaging to create cohesive messaging.
Planning your message with fellow board members and your property manager up front will ultimately save everyone time and maintain an efficient process. Here are a few questions to answer when planning:
- What messages do you need to send?
- What is the purpose of each message?
- How far in advance should you send it out?
- Who will write the message?
- What are the best channels to use when sending each message?
- Who will send them?
Each message should focus on a single topic and be as brief as possible based on residents’ current understanding of the topic. Here are a few additional suggestions:
Communicate regularly. Residents appreciate a steady flow of information. Without it, voids can be filled with misinformation and rumors. Consider enlisting the property manager and establishing a communication committee to help maintain a consistent flow of information to residents without overwhelming the board.
Fact-check. Rushing communication can result in disseminating inaccurate communication. Make sure all the information being sent to residents has been checked to make certain it's accurate.Be transparent. Open communication establishes trust, encourages participation and helps facilitate compliance. However, some boards are guarded about sharing certain information because they fear potential litigation. Try to resist this temptation. It is much more likely that residents will accept bad news more easily if you are honest with them and explain the process that led the board to its decision.
Create a two-way street. Residents need the opportunity to voice their concerns and share their opinions. Reserve time for open discussions at board meetings so residents can express their views and regularly send out surveys to find out what’s important to them. However, make it clear that the board can act only during board meetings and only on items that are on the agenda.
Set priorities. Ideally, you want to inform residents about everything that affects them. However, if you have limited time or resources, you should focus on high-priority items first, such as meeting notices, financial information and policy changes.
Your property management company should be able to successfully develop and send out resident communications – but only with your consent."You never want to be surprised that a community manager communicated with your residents without your knowledge,” says Parker.
Here are some of the best practices a good property management company should exercise to ensure effective communication throughout your community:
- The company should provide 24/7 customer care support and an online self-service platform to make it easy for all residents to conduct community business and obtain information at their convenience.
- A welcome packet for new residents should be developed by the property management company that includes your association’s rules and regulations, contact information and other important details specific to your property.
- Tutorials for using the online platform to communicate with the manager and board should be made readily available and part of the welcome packet as well.
- In addition, the company should proactively communicate new laws and other changes that could impact your community, seek your feedback so it can improve its service and offer board training to help you become a better board member.
How well your community operates is largely dependent on how well your board and property manager communicate with residents. Therefore, if you follow the recommendations in this guide, you’ll be well on your way to helping your community be better informed and better functioning. If you need help putting together an effective communication program, contact FirstService Residential today.
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