Curry Association Management’s Annual Meeting

I will be presenting at Curry Association Management’s Annual Meeting for their clients.

The meeting is on Monday, May 9th at 6pm at the Holiday Inn on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City.

I have a short 10 minute presentation prepared where I’ll provide a quick overview of our services and some tips for generating participation on your neighborhood website. You can also meet with me after the presentation and I can answer any questions that you have in person!

If your HOA is managed by Curry, please be sure to attend, I would love the chance to meet with you.

If that’s not enough, we’re also giving away some gift certificates to Jack Stack BBQ to a few lucky winners.

LionsGate Neighborhood Survey Results

The LionsGate Homeowners Association Board of Directors recently asked their residents to complete an online survey to help them to better understand what their residents are thinking. LionsGate is a community of nearly 600 homes in Overland Park, Kansas, 500 of which are registered on their eNeighbors website. The survey was distributed via eNeighbors and they received 296 responses.

From Mark Spraetz, LionsGate Board President:

“Suffice to say, we were very pleased by the level of response. Most surveys, on line or otherwise, generate a marginal response rate so achieving a 50%+ level shows a high level of on-line engagement within our community. There are many survey tools on the web that are very affordable and will generate a link that you can publicize easily with a “bulletin announcement” via your website service. We tried a variety of questioning formats and learned that some worked better than others so future surveys can yield even better results. There was an open ended option so residents gave us free-form feedback on a couple issues that we did not include [for a variety of reasons] when we published the results but many of those comments gave great perspective, too. I would encourage any Board looking to poll their community to think about this approach; easy and affordable and the tabulation and reporting was all handled by the survey service…just had to log in…”

If you are a board member on your HOA you will find the survey results interesting and perhaps even helpful.

Download full survey results (PDF)

eNeighbors Traffic Reports vs User Feedback

I monitor the traffic reports for our website (eNeighbors.com) at least once a day and get caught up in the upticks and downturns in traffic. The data that we can track is really helpful like pageviews and visits, which gives me a measure of the health of our site, but it lacks the intangible perspective that you get from user feedback.

In the case of South Village, they have 318 registered users on the website from 287 homes. This is good to know, but what does it mean? Can they communicate with these residents effectively? How can we test this?

One way to test this is to simply ask your users, which is exactly what a communications committee member in South Village did. He simply posted an article to see if “anyone was out there”. (An ingenious and completely tangible way to track usage and response.) I posted a screenshot of the article with the comment string below so you can see. In total, he received 86 comments, which is pretty impressive considering that there are only 318 registered users on the website. Anyone who blogs knows that this is a tremendous response rate.

I think the response was awesome and it gave me a great feeling that their website was so frequented. The comments help to give better insight into our user’s attitude and feelings about eNeighbors that you cannot get from traffic data. The comments also solidify our feelings that our automatic email newsletter and other notifications are working to promote traffic and usage.

Some of my favorite comments include:

  1. I try to log onto eNeighbors at least once a day when I can, because I want to know what my fellow homeowners are discussing. I don’t always respond to postings, as I am just one Board member and don’t represent the views of the Board as a whole. What I do is try to find out what topics are generating high levels of interest among homeowners so that, if necessary, we can include these topics in future meeting agendas.
  2. we read weekly and sometimes more! love this!
  3. We read it regularly. Thanks for taking the time to do it.
  4. Wouldn’t miss it for the world. 🙂
  5. Yup, we read them as soon as something is posted..
  6. We’re tuned in. Thanks.
  7. Hello – I look at this quite a bit – especially since I get the alerts regularly.
  8. I read this site whenever the email informs me of new posting. I set my account to receive email daily from EN.
  9. I look up eneighbors every day when I am home (I was out last two days).
    I do read all the postings and the comments that follow and make notes on them, but usually do not make any comments. (Any comments I make are my own and do not represent the Board’s views). I do believe that all Board Members do read the postings on eneighbors.
  10. I read when I see new things that I want to hear more about. (Get the reminder weekly.)

 

Is there anyone out there?

Censorship and social media

In April I posted an article about content moderation, a feature of our website that allows a board member to review information posted by residents before it is published on the website. In it, I recommend that board members do not utilize this feature and allow residents to freely communicate, so long as no one is violating the Terms of Use or the law.

As a follow up to that post, I would like to provide board members with an alternative to content moderation in this post.

The video below is titled “How social media can make history” and it is 15 minutes and 48 seconds long. If you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, scroll forward to 12:27 into the video for the relevant part where Clay Shirky shares a story about MyBo.com, the social networking site that the Obama Campaign established during his campaign and how Barack Obama responded when the registered users of the site were not too happy with him about reversing his decision on the Foreign Intelligence Surveilance Act. He didn’t shut the site down, he didn’t make it harder to register, he didn’t moderate the content. Instead, he simply told them why he decided what he did and let them use the service to talk about it. The speaker in the video concludes with this statement:

“They [the Obama Campaign] had understood that their role with myBo.com was to convene their supporters, but not to control their supporters. And that is the kind of discipline that it takes to make really mature use of this media.”

The alternative to moderation or censorship is to operate transparently and openly by communicating. Let your residents know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

A partial transcript is provided below between 12:27 and 14:30:

“We saw some of the most imaginative use of social media during the Obama campaign. And I don’t mean most imaginative use in politics. I mean most imaginative use ever. And one of the things Obama did, was they famously, the Obama campaign did, was they famously put up MyBarackObama.com, myBO.com. And millions of citizens rushed in to participate and to try and figure out how to help. An incredible conversation sprung up there. And then, this time last year, Obama announced that he was going to change his vote on FISA, The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. He had said, in January, that he would not sign a bill that granted telecom immunity for possibly warrantless spying on American persons. By the summer, in the middle of the general campaign, he said, “I’ve thought about the issue more. I’ve changed my mind. I’m going to vote for this bill.” And many of his own supporters on his own site went very publicly berserk. It was Senator Obama when they created it. They changed the name later. Please get FISA right. Within a day so of this group being created it was the fastest growing group on myBO.com. Within weeks of its being created it was the largest group. Obama had to issue a press release. He had to issue a reply. And he said essentially, “I have considered the issue. I understand where you are coming from. But having considered it all, I’m still going to vote the way I’m going to vote. But I wanted to reach out to you and say, I understand that you disagree with me, and I’m going to take my lumps on this one.” This didn’t please anybody. But then a funny thing happened in the conversation. People in that group realized that Obama had never shut them down. Nobody in the Obama campaign had ever tried to hide the group or make it harder to join, to deny its existence, to delete it, to take it off the site. They had understood that their role with myBo.com was to convene their supporters, but not to control their supporters. And that is the kind of discipline that it takes to make really mature use of this media.”

Please comment with your thoughts below. What are the benefits of moderation? What are the costs? How do you operate your neighborhood website and why?

National League of Cities on Strong Neighborhoods

I’ve always felt that strong neighborhoods are the key to affecting positive change in a community – especially in city government. My Dad, who is an Overland Park City Councilman, echoes this sentiment.

By my definition, a strong neighborhood is a local community of people that frequently communicate to socialize, pool resources, and solve problems.

eNeighbors helps neighborhoods develop stronger bonds through more efficient communication online and in many cases, our neighborhood websites are used to organize residents around important causes like reducing crime and working with the city to improve new developments.

The National League of Cities recently shared their “Lessons Learned” from community-based initiatives in collaboration with local government. (The full list of lessons is available here.)

Unfortunately, the list doesn’t provide anything actionable, but it is good food for thought. I do want to pick a bone with the last bullet point in their Lessons Learned though:

“The Internet is a powerful new tool for civic engagement. However, there is greater power in building relationships through face-to-face communication. While President Obama had a powerful Internet-connected organization, even more importantly he had a very strong on the ground organization built through individual contacts, house meetings and local actions.”

The above comment is a great example of the hesitation shown by old-line organizations fearful of how the Internet may replace face-to-face communication, but it’s exactly the opposite in my experience: the Internet increases face-to-face communication. The example that I always reference is the Nottingham Forest South Easter Egg Hunt.

The year before our website was in place, the Nottingham Forest South neighborhood relied on a paper flyer to communicate. They announced their annual Easter Egg Hunt in the April newsletter and 25 kids showed up. The next year, the website was in place and an email was sent out – 150 kids attended.

My point is that the Internet fosters face-to-face communication, it doesn’t replace it. And maybe even more importantly, when face-to-face communication is not possible, communication doesn’t stop, it can continue online.

If I’m the National League of Cities, I’m doing everything I can to research what works best in online communication and then encouraging my members to invest money in the online communication tools that make it easier for neighborhoods to interact with their elected representation and affect change. (HINT: A key component to this is real-time communication.)

Neighborhoods truly struggle with establishing good communication channels with their residents. If you send out a paper flyer, it’s costly (first class postage is now $0.44), people throw it away without reading it, and it contains information that is at least 30 days old. If you organize block captains they lose interest, or move away, or are on vacation when you need to get the word out.

But when neighborhoods can establish a real-time online communication channel that is sustainable over time, they can become organized and solve any challenge that they face. They can email and mobilize everyone in seconds, literally, in seconds. They can provide up-to-date and relevant information on a daily or weekly basis and it isn’t dependent on any single person to function so it will be sustainable.

The bottom-line: if you help neighborhoods establish better communication, you will form a stronger neighborhood.

Even simpler: better communication = stronger neighborhoods.

And just for fun: better communication, better communication, better communication.

Sharing Information: Yes we can

It seems like every day I have a conversation with at least one customer about whether or not they should post some type of information online – such as their neighborhood’s financial reports, bylaws, or meeting minutes. My answer is always absolutely yes, 100% without a doubt.

I’m always puzzled as to why this is even a hesitation, but I’m now convinced, given the breadth of the concern, that many, if not most people feel fear about sharing information on the web.

Here are some of the better “reasons” for NOT sharing information. (The quotes are paraphrased.)

  1. “If we publish our financial reports, our vendors will see what we pay and offer us less competitive rates.” Well, maybe. First, let me explain that if you use eNeighbors, only residents have access to your neighborhood website. So, unless your vendors are also residents, you don’t have to worry about this. However, why would you assume that the rates would be less competitive? You might find that they are more competitive and try to undercut your current rates. At the end of the day, you have to negotiate your rates, or allow your property manager to get you the best rate. This has nothing to do with what you’re currently paying. It has everything to do with what you’re willing to pay and what they’re willing to sell it for.
  2. “We have a resident that is filing a lawsuit against us and we don’t want him to have this information”. Sorry, but you can’t hold the information back from him anyway. You are making it a little harder on him to access it, but if he’s filing a lawsuit, it won’t really matter. One thing to consider: If you had made this type of information available in the first place, would there be a lawsuit at all? Boards that share information and operate transparently instill trust with their residents.

Here are my reasons for sharing information:

  1. Sharing information online instills trust with residents
  2. Sharing information online holds board members accountable
  3. Sharing information online provides a repository of historical knowledge for future boards to reference
  4. Sharing information online is convenient for board members, property managers, realtors, renters, and residents
  5. Sharing information online leads to unexpected results that will improve your community

As a board member you don’t really have a right to hold back information. Most of the information is publicly available (such as your HOA bylaws) and it is certainly the right of due’s paying members to have access to it.

And finally, I’ll leave you with a video of Sir Tim Berners-Lee (father of the Internet) and his perspective on sharing data. He’s way beyond sharing documents, he wants your raw data now.

Spruce Creek South: Retirement Community for Active Adults

When evaluating our product, neighborhoods that have an older demographic, like a retirement community, often express concern that their residents don’t have access to the Internet so they won’t use the neighborhood website.

My experience is that the age of a community is not an issue.

Case in point: Spruce Creek South is a retirement community in Florida. They currently have 651 residents that have registered for website access and subscribed to their email newsletter.

I have provided a screen shot of their email newsletter that was sent out today to give you an idea of the participation level in their community. My observation has been that older communities are very active, an in some cases, post more “Events” than any other neighborhoods that we have online.

sps-weekly_email_newsletter

UPDATE: According to the property management company for Spruce Creek South, the average age of a resident is 70 years old.