Association Times

I just ran across a new website (new to me anyway) called Association Times. It looks like a great resource for those of you who sit on a HOA board. This month they cover topics such as:

When you become a board member, no one hands you an instruction manual. Sure, you get a set of bylaws that have a legal definition as to what you’re supposed to do, but that doesn’t help much. In fact, I would argue that it gives new board members the wrong impression about how they can add value to their community.

In my opinion, the number one contribution you can make to your community is to promote a sense of community. How do you do this? Through communication and social activities. Eleanor Hugus, a contributor to Association Times, recommends the use of frequent communication through newsletters, social gatherings, websites, and surveys.

If you’re considering a website for your neighborhood, be sure to check us out.

The Neighborhood Champion

There’s always that one person in every neighborhood. You may not know them personally, but it’s likely that you’ve benefited from the time and effort that they put into your community.

I’m talking about the person who plans the annual garage sale, organizes the progressive dinner, gets the kids together for the pool party, publishes the neighborhood newsletter, and may even call you for a donation for the neighborhood swim team.

As you might imagine, I love working with these people. At some point, I’m almost always in contact with the “neighborhood champion” in every community that uses our services.

If you sit on the board of directors in your neighborhood and you don’t know who your neighborhood champion is, I implore you to recruit them immediately. The energy that they bring is overwhelming and will be amplified with the support of the board of directors.

Neighborhood champions are so important because they bring the community together through constant communication. They spend hours in Microsoft Publisher creating flyers and newsletters in hopes that they can get a few more people to come to the Fall Bash.

I was talking with a neighborhood champion today who explained to me how eNeighbors acts like a neighborhood champion, which got me to thinking about the similarities between eNeighbors and the neighborhood champion:

  1. eNeighbors constantly communicates with the neighborhood by automatically sending out weekly eNewsletters via email. Neighborhood champions constantly communicate by sending out paper newsletters.
  2. eNeighbors promotes and organizes social events online and even accepts RSVPs. Neighborhood champions organize social events by printing flyers and making phone calls.
  3. eNeighbors forms social groups like bunko clubs, playgroups and poker games. Neighborhood champions form social groups too, it just takes a little more effort.

Whether you have a neighborhood champion or not, eNeighbors can help keep your neighborhood connected. If you’re interested in seeing more, Request a Demo today.

Newspapers need to take a distributed approach

It seems that everyone agrees – newspapers must innovate to salvage their business in the age of the Internet.

But what exactly should they do? Jeff Jarvis suggests on “CalacanisCast 23” that newspapers must adopt a distributed approach and accept the fact that they are no longer the single conduit of news that they once were.

But what does that mean – distributed approach?

In my mind a distributed approach means that newspapers would distribute their content across the Internet to whoever wanted to publish it, so long as it came attached with advertisements controlled by the newspaper so they could get paid.

You wouldn’t necessarily go to the washingtonpost.com or wsj.com, but instead, you would visit sites centered around vertical interests like the war in Iraq, or more likely, the latest celebrity gossip.

The content of these sites could be supplemented or entirely supplied by professional journalists. But the sites themselves would be run by individual publishers who could pick and choose what stories to run.

eNeighbors is one publisher that would be interested in taking advantage of professional journalism.

The content on our neighborhood websites is entirely supplied by residents, which would be greatly enhanced by professional journalists in local communities. And what do newspapers do best? Yep, local coverage.

For eNeighbors this would be a perfect marriage to bolster traffic to our site and provide more value to our users.

For newspapers, eNeighbors’ network of online neighborhoods creates a hyper-local platform from which they can distribute and monetize their content without the overhead that they have today. In addition, they could charge more for the advertising since the audience is much more focused.

I’m sure other website publishers would find professional journalism a valuable addition to their site too. Citysearch is another example of a website that could benefit from professional journalism.

As Jeff Jarvis said, you’ve got to ask yourself, “WWGD?” (What would Google do?)

Baby Boomers vs. The Internet

Fact #1:

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000, the majority of homeowners are between the ages of 35 and 55.

Fact #2:

eNeighbors sells an online communication service that serves as private social network and communication tool for managed communities and neighborhoods.

Conclusion:

This would lead one to believe that the primary audience for the eNeighbors web service is the baby boomers since they make up the majority of the residents living in most neighborhoods.

Now we all know that this particular generation has a varied mix of tech savviness. For example, my parents couldn’t tell you what a social network is let alone why they would want one. On the other hand, most of the top tech companies where founded and are now operated by this same generation.

So, how do you market to this audience? Great question.

The answer is: We don’t know.

Seth Godin touches on this dilemma on his blog today. His summation is essentially that psychographics are more important than demographics when it comes to this audience. I would agree. Just because they are older doesn’t mean they don’t get it. eNeighbors is banking on this fact.

So far, all I can tell you is that people love being social (even the old ones). As broadband penetration keeps growing and the older generation gets more comfortable with technology, they’ll want to stay in touch. Especially within their local offline community.

That’s when eNeighbors will be there for them.

Can a website slow cars down?

To a certain extent, it can. How? By increasing awareness.

The Highlands Ranch Board of Directors asked the city of Leawood, KS to conduct a speed survey due to the concern that cars were speeding through the neighborhood, putting residents and children at risk.

Then, they published the results on their neighborhood website.The survey showed that only 3% of cars (20 vehicles of 647) were going over the speed limit by 10mph or more.

The highest recorded speed was 41 mph.

While 3% sounds like a small number, it’s not for a street like 141st Street where thousands of cars move through on a weekly basis.

At some point, it may make sense for the board to pursue traffic calming measures like roundabouts. If they do decide to request this from the city council, it will take the support from the entire neighborhood.

Educating residents early on and keeping them informed of their progress will be critical to garnering the support for traffic calming measures in the future, if that turns out to be the right thing to do.

In the meantime, the board has opened up a dialogue in the community allowing people to comment on the article or to submit private “Community Feedback” to the board.

Part of the reason I wanted to post this information was because it’s a great example of how an online neighborhood communication channel can add value to a community. I also think that our other customers will appreciate knowing what other boards are doing about speed problems.

66224 – My new favorite zip code

If you go to www.eNeighbors.com and type in a zip code, it’s unlikely that you’ll find your neighborhood. Since we’re still technically in beta and limiting the number of neighborhoods that are online, our zip code lists are pretty sparse. However, yesterday we launched another neighborhood in zip code 66224, making it the first zip code with more than one online neighborhood. Congratulations 66224!

If your neighborhood isn’t online yet, what are you waiting for? Request a demo today.

Where the magic happens

Running a virtual company has huge cost-saving benefits, but the downside is you don’t get a chance for the “watercooler” chat. There are about 4-7 people working on eNeighbors at any given time, some in Overland Park, KS, one in California, and me, I’m in Boulder, CO.

Anyway, in an effort to make things a little less virtual, I thought I’d show everyone where the magic happens in Boulder, CO.

Note the key elements (1: coke on desk, 2: computer, and 3: dog…)

Neighborhood social networks and the importance of privacy

I just read a Business Week article titled “Social Networking Goes Niche“. I loved reading it because it validates the eNeighbors model of neighborhood social networking. It even goes on to say that advertisers will pay more to advertise on sites like eNeighbors with greater targeting ability.

What I really liked reading about though is the evolution of social networking and the greater need for privacy controls over your personal information because eNeighbors has aggressively pursued privacy for our users (almost) from the beginning.

I’d like to think that I’m a visionary, but I’m far from it. It’d be great to claim that I knew privacy would be really important for social networking sites, which is why I built it into the eNeighbors app, but really, I just let my customers tell me.

The first 10 neighborhood websites that we built were stand alone sites that included a public and and private side. Approximately 70% of the information was publicly available. It’s a good thing that we didn’t commit to this approach because it turns out that not everybody wants this.

Our customers were vocal about their concerns over information about their neighborhood being made publicly available. One by one, we started to move things behind login. First it was the social event photos of their kids at the Easter Egg Hunt, and then they wanted financial information behind login, when finally they asked, “Why don’t you just put everything behind login?”

So we did.

What a great decision that was. It not only answered the privacy issue, but also made things more exclusive, creating greater interest from the neighborhood. (What’s behind that login screen anyway?) Early indications are that this is helping to increase adoption rates (the number of homes registered in a community).

But I digress.

Privacy and information control will make or break niche social networks. If we weren’t able to assure our customers that their information will be kept private, I don’t think we would see the registration numbers that we do. At MySpace, you can hide behind an alias in a sea of 100+ million users, but in smaller social networks where you might actually run into people you meet online, it’s necessary to have control over what information you share with others.

Our community experience

We have experienced the value of an eNeighbors website. Nottingham Forest South has 582 homes and is about twenty years old. Enhancing our ability to communicate had a measurable impact on our community.

There were several challenges we faced as an aging community:

1)How do we revitalize our neighborhood and get more people involved?
2)How can we get more people attending our social events?
3)How do we educate our residents to gain voluntary compliance with our covenants and restrictions?

We had restraints. We realized that our number one issue was communication. Our neighborhood had published the same monthly paper newsletter for twenty years. It was expensive and boring. The Board of Directors had limited space to deliver the meaningful information. The cost of production and mailing costs were significant considering the size of our community.

We also had difficulty finding residents willing to serve. Retiring board members were encouraged to recruit a replacement. This was an effective process but it literally involved begging each year.

Finally, the straw that “broke the camels back” was when 25 kids showed up at the Easter Egg hunt. We were prepared for over 100 so the 25 children walked away with what looked like a Halloween load of goodies. Somehow we had to find a way to put community back in the community.

We had a website but so what. No one could remember the web address and no one visited the site which had grown stale with out of date information. How much were we paying that guy to manage the site? Too much for zero value.

The eNeighbors product did wonders for our community. Using their process we were able to get over 70% of our residents registered to receive eAnnouncements (email notifications from the board with links to content). This process enabled the Board of Directors to send email to the majority of the community with ease. All of a sudden we were sending weekly eAnnouncements. Communication had basically become free. The following Easter over 100 kids showed up at the annual hunt. Because of the registration process we knew exactly who was coming and bought the exact amount of supplies for the event. We were amazed that residents were filling out online registrations at 11:00 p.m. The key was reminding residents of the event three times the week before the event with a feature called bulletins which is basically instant email.

The following November we found ourselves in the enviable position of having more resident volunteers for board and committee positions than available openings. We attributed the interest to the new communication process.

The real proof of the success of the new system appeared when a hail storm rolled through the community. Our architectural committee received over 300 applications for a new roof in four months. Every one of the applications was sent using our new eNeighbors website. We gained 100% compliance.

Excuse me if this sounds like a sales pitch but if you have issues in your community and you are considering eNeighbors and are willing to commit to their process you won’t be disappointed. It took several mailings over four months to get our community registration to an acceptable level. It took some patience on our part. The fact we knew exactly who was registered and more importantly, who was not registered made the process measurable and kept the board focused.

Wow! There are 286,000 ‘association-governed’ communities in the US

According to Community Associations Institute, as of 2006, there were 286,000 association-governed communities in the US that house 57 million residents. This is a staggering number given the fact that homeowners associations really only started about 40 years ago and now over 25% of the US population lives in some type of community association, whether that is a homeowners associations, condominium, cooperative, or other planned community.

More interesting is the continued growth of planned communities. Even though homeowners associations have come under criticism (some believe that they are unconstitutional) they continue to be the preferred type of development for home buyers as evidenced by their growth, and for obvious reasons.

If you’ve ever lived in or driven through a planned-unit development the difference is clear – the common grounds are well-kept, garbage cans are neatly tucked away in the garage, neighbors’ fences all match, and the entrance monuments welcome you home.

Whether your a fan of the cookie-cutter model or not makes no difference. The bottom line is that planned communities protect property values through the codes and covenants that dictate what you can and cannot do as a homeowner in a particular community. Like it or not, it protects the investment in your home.

But still, there’s something more to this planned community thing. And I believe its the “community” part.

By nature, we are social beings. We want to belong, we want a sense of place, and living in a community satisfies that need to a certain extent.

Overland Park, Kansas is a great example of this. The next time you’re in Overland Park, ask someone where they live, they probably won’t say Overland Park. It’s more likely that you’ll hear Nottingham Forest South, Lions Gate, or White Horse. These are all the names of the HOAs that they live in. It’s the name on the entrance monument that they read everyday driving home. And there’s a since of pride associated with living in these communities, as their should be – they’re all wonderful neighborhoods to live in.

But what makes them wonderful neighborhoods isn’t the value of their homes, it’s the Easter Egg Hunt, the Fall Bash, the Swim Team, the Bunko group, the Poker Club, and the Progressive Dinners. These social functions bring neighbors together and feed our need for social interaction.

Drum roll please, it’s time for the plug…

eNeighbors can help to facilitate these types of social groups and functions through our “Groups” feature, which allows you to organize and promote your groups online. Neighbors can join your group with the click of a button. Once they join they are automatically added to a mailing list, which makes it easy for you to get a hold of everyone in your group instantly.

It’s my hope that eNeighbors fosters this sense of community in every neighborhood that uses our services by bringing people closer together through the use of features such as eNeighbors Groups.