Residential Associations and Social Media: Legal Considerations

Social Media

By:  Lee S. Schofield

lschofield@zdfattorneys.com

The rapid development and availability of mass social media communication tools that has occurred over the last dozen years or so has been trans-formative. Anyone from our grandmothers to the largest multinational corporations can have a social media presence, using platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, as well as more niche platforms, and can almost instantly communicate and have dialogue with audiences of up to millions of people. For residential associations, the availability of media can potentially provide numerous benefits, including: access to a broader audience, the ability to rapidly communicate and disseminate information and updates, the ability to spotlight individuals and issues, and a forum for feedback from the community as well as for discussion among members. Social media truly can build community as well as increase transparency. Of course, along with each of the mentioned potential benefits come corresponding issues that every community should consider before establishing a social media presence.

While, as mentioned, social media creates an opportunity to engage a broader audience and communicate more effectively and conveniently with community members, including those that otherwise might not be easily reached, the association must consider who exactly this audience will be. Who will be allowed access to the association’s social media site? What, if any, controls are there in place to ensure that the audience is tailored appropriately and in accordance with the board’s desires? Whether relatively large or small, before proceeding with establishing a social media presence, a person or committee will have to be designated to act both as “gatekeeper” and to monitor and control access to the association’s social media page under the supervision of the board of directors. Said person or committee should be prepared to adhere to guidelines established for the role by the board.

As stated, the availability of social media creates potential for rapid and thorough communication of information and increased transparency. However, the association’s board of directors should carefully consider what information should be posted and when. The board of directors may likely give standing instructions to the individual who is monitoring the social media page to post links to certain recurring or standard information such as budgets, governing documents, rules and policies, community directory, meeting minutes, proposed amendments to governing documents, annual financial reviews or audits, and newsletters via social media. However, the Association should be careful about providing opinions of legal or other professionals so that there is no waiver of attorney-client or other applicable privilege. Also, the privacy of individuals in the community should be protected. Associations should also be aware that, while posting links to information on social media may be convenient and relatively simple, the governing documents will likely contain requirements regarding providing notices of meetings, budgets, and other information that must still be followed.

Social media can be used to facilitate the creation of forums for constructive feedback and discussion of community issues. Assuming that an association allows the posting of comments and discussion from community members in such forums, before the first comment is posted an association should adopt a formal written “use policy” to which all participants must agree as a condition of use. As anyone who has attended a residential association annual meeting can attest, people can get passionate about issues related to their homes and assessments. The association’s policy will minimally address such important issues as: who can participate in social media, and setting standards for discourse (which would include prohibitions on language or material that is discriminatory, harassing, hateful, threatening, obscene, or defamatory). The policy should also stress the association’s right to remove any content that violates the policy and to block and/or fine repeat violators.

Social media is now likely a permanent part of the communication landscape. Whether or not you are a heavy user of social media, residential associations should recognize the potential of social media to increase engagement and transparency in the communities they serve. At the same time associations should recognize there are risks to having an online presence and take steps to minimize those risks.

Lee S. Schofield is an associate attorney with the firm.  He has extensive experience in community association law, having been with the firm since 2005.  Lee’s expertise in community association law includes social media issues, association loans, collections, construction contracts and project management, and Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac lending for condominiums.

You can reach Lee at our Plymouth office at 734-459-0062 or via email at lschofield@zdfattorneys.com.

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