Community Association and HOA Websites are becoming mainstream. They used to be vitamins, now they’re more like oxygen — necessary to survive in the digital age.

If your community association had an HOA website 10-15 years ago, it was “cool” or a competitive advantage for community association management companies. Today, if your community or HOA doesn’t have a community website or some sort of online presence, it’s not only un-cool, but your community is missing out. Sure, your budget might not support it today, but ask yourself one question:

Where are my residents and homeowners allocating their attention?

I’m not talking about the small sliver of attention residents allocate specifically to the community association, I’m talking about their full attention.

How are you, as a community leader, capturing the attention of your homeowners and residents?

The Attention has Shifted

In the last 10 years, attention has dramatically shifted to digital devices and online platforms – especially mobile devices. You may not be a firm believer, but you’re not going to win the battle of arguing against it, and it’s not going away – at least anytime soon. The way we communicate, gather information and distribute media has changed.

Technology and digital mediums didn’t change the what, they only changed the how – but, the how is always changing. The only difference is the accelerating rate at which the how is changing.

The Early, Industry-specific, HOA Web Tech Innovators

TOPS Software was one of the first providers of whole portfolio community association website solutions and HOA website hosting services, which was powered by AtHomeNet at the time. TOPS is still around today, but their focus is accounting and automation. They were early back in the 2000’s with HOA websites. Probably too early. I’m guessing adoption was difficult, the internet was still too new, especially for an industry that’s waves behind modern technology, and the attention of the modern consumer wasn’t fully vested in the idea of digital engagement. In the early 2000’s, HOA websites were a vitamin, unnecessary to survive.

TOPS Software Website Screenshot from Early 2000's
A screengrab from the TOPS corporate website back in the early 2000’s

TOPS is still an innovator today. Look at what they’re doing with TOPS [ONE]. Their innovative approach to modern community management software is young but very compelling for the future of our industry. Check out my previous post on The Subscription Economy and you’ll find some insight to why I believe their new business model will shape up to be a market leader in the coming years.

Transitioning in the Digital Age

If you’re a leader or company executive at a community management business involved in sales or winning new business, how many of your discussions with prospects include board members asking for some type of digital experience for both board members AND residents? Actually, flip the question. How many of those discussions didn’t end up asking for an increase in digital engagement? That’s the real question…

The community website (a.k.a. digital engagement) is no longer a want or competitive advantage for the organization, it’s an expectation driven by modern consumer habits.

The attention of the majority, humanity in general, has shifted in the last 10-15 years. Physical paper is a dying communication medium. Its speed alone is too slow to meet modern expectations. Expectations have and are changing more rapidly than ever before. Digital engagement and online experiences are no longer just for the community geeks and industry innovators – it’s becoming mainstream and necessary to survive, like oxygen. The transition to the Digital Age is taking the main stage in the community association industry today, although it’s been slowly cultivating for years.

The Benefits of an HOA Website

It’s important to note that a community website is not a means to an end – the community website is just the starting point for modern engagement. You must first have a platform for delivery. Once you have a mechanism to engage with residents in the digital age, the true value will come from delivering relevant content and engaging with the end consumer in a swift manner. You cannot meet those modern expectations without a starting point, whether that’s an individual community website, your management company’s corporate website, or a third-party app or portal. Let’s go over some very apparent benefits of utilizing an individual community website as the starting point for modern digital engagement:

  • Self Service
    The operational costs associated with self-service are proof enough to make the transition for management companies. Not only does it reduce the operational costs for the managing organization, self-service benefits the end consumer as well. HOA websites are a perfect mechanism to offer modern self-service opportunities for your customers. A large portion of your customers (residents & homeowners) would rather figure it out themselves than have to call your office and wait on hold to speak with someone.
  • Marketplace Leader Reputation
    Consider what your prospective client is seeking and why they are changing management companies – they’re looking for change or improvement. Not offering a digital experience is a sign that your company is not in line with modern needs. It’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
  • Focused Inquiries
    When a phone call comes in, you or your staff must do some tedious investigation to figure out who you’re talking to and where to route the call for the fastest resolution. Inbound discovery is expensive and time-consuming, not to mention the back and forth is annoying for both your staff and your customer. Even shared inboxes and email has the same problem. By utilizing web forms with required inputs, you’re able to eliminate the initial discovery, which wastes unnecessary time. By requiring certain pieces of information prior to website form submission, such as Name, Email, Phone, Community Name, Address, etc…, you can resolve inquires without the inbound discovery.
  • Increased Transparency
    Today’s expectations for transparency are driving old practices out the window. Distributed systems and peer to peer networks are overwhelmingly popular. An increase in proactive interaction can shift the tide in the community’s overall engagement and happiness. Transparency in the digital age can equate to increased trust. Trust eliminates the ignorant accuser from disrupting normal business operations. Give them what they’re looking for before they go looking for it.
  • Indexed and Searchable Archive (living timeline)
    In the past, your community may have published a newsletter to keep residents informed about community updates and events. How are those stored and shared? Published documents? Mailed as paper? Emailed via listserv? By shifting engagement efforts to a community website, you’ll be able to create an online archive of community events and updates – you’ll create a living timeline of historical data that becomes easily searchable and indexed. Similar to your Facebook profile, every post creates value for the future by logging information into a living and searchable timeline.
  • The Starting/Entry Point
    A community or HOA website gives your community a starting point for digital engagement. It’s the easiest way to share news and updates about what’s going on in the community, self-serve documents and web forms, and display useful information to visitors. Remember, the HOA website is just a starting point, and the true value comes from consistent engagement, regardless of the medium.

When is the Right Time to Go Digital?

If you plan on changing the way you’re doing things when times are bad or declining in your business, you’re already too late. The best time to change is early and often when times are good. When times are good, it’s easier to implement change. If your community doesn’t have an online presence, you’re limiting your community’s reach. Engagement is a derivative of reach, and if you don’t have reach, your engagement will decline. Your homeowners and residents are online, why aren’t you engaging with them where they spend their attention currency in bulk?

Even if you start with a solution that’s free, choose something that’s familiar, like Facebook. You might not like that option, but I can guess you don’t like it because modern transparency makes you uneasy. Remember, transparency is increasing with the digital age. Transparency = trust. Privacy is still a very big deal, especially when it comes to personally identifiable information. But, transparency of data that doesn’t necessarily need to be behind lock & key, is becoming increasingly popular.

Here are some objections I’ve heard or read over the last 10 years from other professionals in the industry while I spent my time managing community associations and running operations at my family’s community management company:

  • My community doesn’t have the budget
  • Managing all of our websites is too much work and too many logins
  • Facebook/Social media is just a place for complainers to whine
  • HOA websites create more problems than they solve

Although the objections above might have some validity and at one point I might have believed in them myself, online platforms and digital interactions are no longer a fad. These are now just artificial excuses we’ve fabricated to avoid change. This shift in distribution and engagement isn’t going anywhere and it’s no longer a vitamin. Digital engagement is oxygen. Attention has shifted, so must your engagement efforts.

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