Social media plays a bigger role in engaging associations

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Social media

Associations today are increasingly engaging the Internet to send their messages, though how they do it varies. (mathisworks, Getty Images / August 4, 2014)

The communications mainstay for community associations long has been the printed newsletter, either mailed to owners or slipped under doors.

Associations today are increasingly engaging the Internet to send their messages, though how they do it varies. Here are two approaches by Chicago associations.

Free websites for small associations. Four years ago, Taylor Clark and his wife bought their first home, a condominium in a 10-unit building in the Uptown neighborhood. They looked forward to taking part in the doings of the neighborhood and the association.

When the longtime board president moved out, Clark found himself elected to the office. He also found a scarcity of records and documents. Much of the association's institutional memory had left with the former president.

As the new guy in charge, Clark often fielded the same questions over and over. Owners who were refinancing their mortgages needed copies of the association's insurance policy, and newcomers wanted to know when the trash is picked up.

Clark, a website developer, saw a better way to save the association's information and his time. He built a website to store key documents and answer frequently asked questions.

Clark included an online assessment-payment feature, links to local news items, a building maintenance log, new neighbor welcome page, resident directory and more.

By early 2013, friends in neighboring associations started asking Clark to create their websites. He has done more than a dozen, and he is offering to do more. His services are free to self-managed associations with 25 or fewer units, at condoally.com.

"I have long-term dreams to make some money, but my original goal was to help my building and then my neighbors, and now all small associations manage their information and communicate with their residents," Clark said.

One appreciative Condo Ally user is Beth Petrunoff, a Connecticut snowbird and board member at a 20-unit Naples, Fla., association. Among other documents, the website includes leasing agreements for owners who rent to vacationers.

"Normally, they were mailed, even to our European owners," Petrunoff said. "More and more renters are trying to snatch up deals at the last minute, so having the forms at your fingertips is a huge advantage."

Residents blog their complaints. When a group of owners at a 440-unit Gold Coast high-rise felt its concerns were unheard, it created a public watchdog blog.

Since its March launch, the blog has recapped board meetings, pointed out alleged rules violations and budget overruns, rated board candidates and run photos of alleged building disrepair. Past headlines have included "Homeowner Poll: Pick Your Favorite Lawsuit" and "2013 Financial Statement: The Juicy Parts."

New posts appear at least weekly, and are written by "Your Neighbor."

Anonymity keeps the focus on the issues rather than the personalities, said former board member Brian Connolly, who acknowledged being one of the writers. He said the group's goals are transparency in operations, financial stability, enforcement of rules and laws, and improved property values.

"We are the sand in the oyster," Connolly said. "But we love this place and want to protect it."

So far, he has noted closer adherence to certain rules and ordinances, and that some repairs have been made. A $40,000 purchase for exercise equipment was canceled, allegedly because the money wasn't in the budget.

The reaction among owners and board members has been mixed.

"Some of them like it, some of them don't," Connolly said. "But they all read it."

One supporter is Diane Brazil, who has lived in the building since 1995.

"The blog has been a great tool to educate people and make them aware of what is going on in our building," she said. "The building seems to be turning around. I hope it continues to do that."

Read the blog at 111eastchestnut.org.

ctc-realestate@tribune.com

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