The simplicity of creating a social media account for your community association is tempting. After providing just a few pieces of personal information and an e-mail address, your association has joined the other 2.7 billion users on Facebook, 1 billion users on Instagram and 330 million users on Twitter.
While creating the social media account itself is relatively easy, there are a host of issues an association’s board of directors must consider before even setting up the account, along with ongoing issues to resolve once the account has been created. Below we provide a list of our recommended dos and don’ts for associations to consider when creating and running their social media accounts.
- Be selective about the social media account(s) you create. What is the reason you want to create an account and which social media platform will best support this purpose? Is it to provide another means for members to communicate with one another? Then maybe Facebook or NextDoor is the best option. Is it only to provide announcements or reminders? Then Twitter may best serve this purpose. Create an account that is active and meaningful to your members, not just to have one available.
- Amend your governing documents to grant the board of directors specific authority to create and regulate social media accounts and restrict your members from creating social media accounts or other websites using the association’s name. While many governing documents grant the board of directors broad authority to manage the association and community, we recommend amending your governing documents to specifically address this issue and allow you to adopt a social media policy that regulates access and content on the accounts (see more below).
- Consider trademarking your association’s name and purchasing domain names with your association’s name. Depending on the social media policy you decide is best for your members (see more below), once you provide a platform that expands member-to-board communications beyond the otherwise limited scope of meetings, phone calls, letters and private e-mails, there also is an increased opportunity for more members to air their grievances against the board, the association and even other members. Both of these preventative measures are also recommended even for those associations who decide not to create social media accounts or webpages, as other members may still attempt to create these using the association’s name for harmful, hostile purposes. For more information on why trademarking your association’s name is important, read our blog post here.
- Create and adopt a social media policy. This should be a comprehensive policy that addresses, at a minimum, the following:
- Posts and comments. Who can create posts? Will only directors or officers be allowed to create posts or will members also have this ability? If only directors or officers can create posts, can members leave comments on those posts? If members can create their own posts, will they be prescreened (i.e. their post will only show up after an administrator has approved it) or will they automatically show up on the page? When a board member creates a post or leaves a comment, how can you determine whether they are speaking on behalf of the association or in their personal capacity?
- Content. What content will and will not be allowed on the account? For example, an association may want to limit the content to only reminders for upcoming association meetings, access to the governing documents and meeting minutes and headlines for community events. Even if an association wants to have a more expansive policy, it still will need to place some limits, such as prohibiting content that is illegal, promotes violence, is discriminatory, contains unauthorized trademarked or copyrighted materials, includes photos of members and/or their children without their consent and so on. If members will be allowed to post or leave comments on the account, then also consider including a violation and enforcement policy specific to the social media account, such as notice of a violation and removal of the content up to removing the member from the account.
- Talk to your insurance provider and verify whether the association, directors and officers have coverage relating to the accounts being run, such as social media use and cyberliability coverages.
- Review your social media account(s) and social media policy on at least an annual basis. Has the account served the purpose you initially created it for? Is there another platform that can better accomplish this purpose? What new features and issues have come up in the association’s and members’ use of the account over the past year that should be addressed in an updated social media policy?
- Don’t include members’ personal information in a post, such as whether they are behind in paying their dues, or create a post that targets a particular member. Both of these will help the association to foster a positive online environment and encourage members to do the same.
- Don’t post copyrighted or trademark material on your site, such as photos, images and other materials. If in doubt, there are a number of online platforms that provide access to free
- Don’t post information regarding a dispute or pending litigation between the association and a member or pending litigation without consulting with the association’s attorney first. These posts may inadvertently waive the attorney-client privilege related to the dispute or litigation and also may be used in the pending litigation against the association.
- Don’t use your social media account as the association’s formal notification system, both from the association to its members and from the members to the association. Your governing documents have specific notice requirements that must be followed for annual and special meetings, which may include first-class mail, hand delivery, etc. Even with the ease of posting an announcement to your social media account, you still must follow the notice requirements within your governing documents. Similarly, your members should follow policies for contacting the Association, such as submitting complaints to the property manager and document inspection requests in compliance with the Michigan Nonprofit Corporation Act.
- Don’t escalate a member’s negative post or comment by trying to set the record straight or engaging in a never-ending comment-and-response loop. Acknowledge the post or comment and try to connect with the member offline to discuss their concerns.
If your association is considering creating a social media account or already has one running, we recommend consulting with your community association attorney to help you strengthen your governing documents and adopt an enforceable social media policy that fosters a positive environment within your community.
Kayleigh B. Long is an attorney with Hirzel Law, PLC and focuses her practice in the areas of appellate law, community association law and civil litigation. Ms. Long received her Bachelor of Arts degree in International Studies from Indiana University. Prior to attending law school, Ms. Long joined Teach for America, teaching kindergarten in Harper Woods, Michigan and southeast Washington, D.C., and received a Master of Arts in Teaching from Oakland University. Ms. Long then obtained her Juris Doctor degree from Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, where she graduated in the top 5 of her class and served as the Senior Executive Editor on the Indiana Law Review. Her law review note was published in the Indiana Law Review, and she has published a law review article in the Denver Law Review. She can be reached at (248) 480-8758 or firstname.lastname@example.org.