Connecting with Your Community: Communication Best Practices
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So why do you receive so many emails from people asking the same questions, or misunderstanding it, or perhaps not receiving it? Your message didn’t connect with your community.
Effective communication not only keeps everyone informed, it also fosters better relationships among board members, your residents and property management. company.
Here we outline some best practices that will help you connect with your community and ensure that your audience reads, understands, and acts if need be, on your messages.
What form should the communication take?
Your audience determines the platform and medium your communications take.
“It’s important to know how your audience responds to information and how they want to receive it. For example, an email isn’t effective if people don’t have an email account. We have to understand our audience in order to communicate with them appropriately,” says Avery Cox, Director Business Development, FirstService Residential Alberta.
The channels available to you may include email, social media, your management company’s communication portal, community website and newsletter, text messages, phone calls, flyers, bulletin board announcements and board meetings. Becoming familiar with them will allow you to spot opportunities and identify gaps where people aren’t receiving enough information.
Emails win for fast messaging to a large group, where readers quickly read, act on and can save for the future. They also allow you more space for background information or complex ideas.
For a brief, more urgent communication a one-page flyer may be more appropriate.
Phone calls excel for succinct requests and replies to individuals, speedy updates, short reminders, check-ins, and speaking about more complex information.
Conversely, it can be expensive mailing hard copies of large reports, so the communication vehicle may need to change.
Community corporation laws proscribe certain types of communication channels for certain activity; ask your property manager if you’re unsure what vehicle you should use.
If you usually write for the same audience, you probably already know how they like to receive information and how they might respond.
It’s important to motivate people to read your message, so think about what they want from you and how you can capture their attention.
While everyone is motivated to read a communication warning them about a pipe leak in their building, they may not be as motivated to read and respond to a request from you for paperwork benefitting the managing company.
How should the message be presented?
Start by answering these key questions:
- Who is your audience and what do they want?
- What do you want them to know or do?
- What do they need from you to do it?
- What is the best vehicle for your message?
One approach to writing a simple message is to follow the same method used for press releases and newspapers articles. Start by trying to answer “Who? What? Where? When? How? Why?” in the first sentence or two.
Beginning a draft this way builds a skeleton that will flesh out and target your message, and help you build a good, logical message.
If your audience is highly interested in your communication, you can go directly to the point without taking much time to arouse their interest.
If your audience has a low interest level, you should use more of a tell/sell style to motivate the reader’s interest. Keep your message as short and focused as possible since long documents are intimidating, and readers may tune out information that seems like rambling or repetition.
Cox says, “It’s hard to gauge a person’s tone when reading an email, so keep an open mind. You may want to speak with the person if the discussion seems heated.”
Verbal cues are important given people don’t see body language through phone or email. Reflecting and repeating back on what people say so they know they’re understood is helpful.
What not to write.
Be careful about what and how you write about corporation business. When handling sensitive situations, be thoughtful with all subjects, particularly those discussing:
- Race, color, genetics or national origin;
- Sexual orientation, age or gender; or
- Disability, marital or military status.
These topics, and other emotionally charged situations like lawsuits, are best handled over the phone. Written correspondence, email for example, can be easily misunderstood.
If you’re having trouble getting the person on the phone, send them an email or letter asking to arrange a call. Always stick to the facts and leave opinion and personality out your verbal or written communication, lest it comes back to bite you.
Always keep your writing professional. Maintain a proper level of business formality and avoid any off-color language, jokes or comments that could be misconstrued. Review any sensitive/charged email before you send it or ask someone else to review it for you. A good rule of thumb if you can, is to leave your message for 24 hours then return and reread.
Pro Tip: To avoid accidentally sending an email before you’re ready, always add the email address right before you send it.
Remember, any corporation-based email can be subpoenaed in a lawsuit. It’s best to stick to personal email when conducting your personal business. Best practices suggest that board members use corporation-based email addresses for board business, not their work email accounts.
If a statement would be unwise to say in an open meeting, don’t add it to an email. Remember, the “forward” button on emails means your message can end up anywhere. Be wary of writing confidential information; if you’re concerned about the ‘whole world’ reading it, best not to write it.
How well your community operates is largely dependent on how well your board and property manager communicates with residents. Following the recommendations in this guide will help you craft messages that help your community be better informed, efficient and functional.
We’re here to help. Contact FirstService Residential Alberta today if you need help putting together an effective communication program.