While some co-op and condo communities have tried social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or Twitter as ways to build community spirit and facilitate better communication between neighbors, management, and even the board, most have remained ‘old-school,’ sticking with newsletters, bulletin boards (both digital and cork) in the lobby or mail room, and email blasts to residents. With the ubiquity of social media these days, it may be worthwhile to ask why multifamily communities haven’t really embraced it.
If It’s Not Broken…
“We have a Facebook page that was started by one of my neighbors,” says Dana Greco, a longtime resident of a large, active co-op community in the Bronx, “but nobody posts anything.” The 17-story high-rise building features a pool and manicured grounds. “We have a brief newsletter perhaps twice a year,” Greco says. “There’s just not a lot of newsworthy events. We also have a bulletin board for those in need of assistance from neighbors, or who want to sell something. Honestly, most of our news comes from gossiping with the doormen.”
Gayle Goodman, director of communications for Gumley Haft, a prominent co-op and condo management firm based in Manhattan, says, “With the many channels of communication management can avail itself of, we disseminate information in multiple methods so residents are notified of building news in the way they may prefer. When there is news—whether it be regarding COVID regulations, water shutdowns, or notice of annual meetings—we use email notification, BuildingLink where subscribed, and snail mail, as well as lobby distribution of materials and signage when appropriate. Residents are always invited to communicate with their property management team about issues or questions of concern. It often happens that these issues are already under discussion by the board, or we will bring new matters to the attention of the board. As managers, we are proactive in our communications with shareholders and unit owners. Not everyone in our buildings uses social media, and we do not currently use social media as one of our communication methods to residents—but that could change in the future.”
In the writer’s own building, a 54-unit co-op in upper Manhattan with a large community garden in back of the building, communications are even more basic. We have an old-fashioned cork bulletin board in the hallway leading out to the garden. If anyone has a message about anything for our neighbors, including using the backyard for a private event, we leave it prominently posted there in bright, bold, magic marker.
Zachary Kestenbaum is CEO of BuildingLink, a company that provides many forms of computer and cell phone-based community and management apps for co-op and condo properties in the tri-state area and around the country. He says he has come across communities that have tried common social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, but that such efforts usually take the form of private Facebook groups, and their success is pretty limited.
“They don’t work for several reasons,” says Kestenbaum. “First of all, it’s a separate platform that’s not integrated into the life of the community, so there’s little engagement: a low level of participation and community penetration. Second, these forums are freeform and unmoderated, so anything can get posted—and that’s a minefield that devolves quickly into a complaint situation and infighting. Communities can’t control the complaining, and factions form within the community that can cause conflict, or make existing conflict even worse. It’s just not representative of the community, and people get turned off.”
The Venn Diagram of Real Estate & Social Media
So where do the worlds of real estate and social media interact? Josh Schuster, founder and managing principal of Silverback Development, a New York-based property developer of residential and mixed-use properties in New York, Connecticut, and Florida, has had considerable experience trying to integrate the two in his business.
“Social media is a broad term,” he says. “For many, three brands come to mind when one mentions social media: Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. But we also have social media in terms of commentary. We live in an age of storytelling. Today, everyone thinks their opinion is important. Yelp, Google, and Tripadvisor are good examples of this. They serve as bullhorns for users, and everyone today wants to be heard and praised at an amplified level. If you go to a restaurant, or buy a product online, you will always be asked to leave a review.”
But in the world of residential real estate, Schuster explains, no one buys into a condo and goes onto a commentary platform and says, ‘This building is amazing.’ But “if folks are unsatisfied with the place,” he says, “they will use social media platforms to complain. So most of the time, the commentary is negative. And that’s a problem, because it’s unfair, and the sponsor is unable to respond or react.”
So is there something in between scathing personal attacks and handwritten notes on dog-eared paper torn from your kid’s notebook and stuck to a corkboard? Yes.
Kestenbaum explains that companies such as his have alternatives to commercial social media platforms that provide communities with a way to communicate electronically. “We have a module with these features for community building and many buildings are using it,” he says. “It’s a part of BuildingLink’s product and has multiple features. There’s a bulletin board that every resident has digital access to. They can post items there—say they’re looking for a babysitter, or selling a couch, for example—and it’s fully moderated by the building’s managing agent for appropriate behavior and content. One interesting thing that occurred during COVID was that in many buildings, residents used the bulletin board to help each other out with things like doing grocery runs for high-risk neighbors, or collecting funds for sick staff members. Some who had moved out to second homes during the initial wave of the pandemic offered their apartment to neighbors for quarantining.”
BuildingLink’s services also include email and newsletters, which supplement the bulletin board with general news and updates. Newsletters are usually sent monthly, while the bulletin board is more real-time. In terms of community building, there’s also a calendar where the property manager can post upcoming social events for residents to see and RSVP for attendance. “These platforms short-circuit the nastiness social media is so well known for,” says Kestenbaum.
Neil Golub, director of sales for Carson Living, Inc., a provider of online services ranging from virtual doormen to maintenance and billing services for residential buildings, notes a few key components of any online communications module for co-op and condo communities: “There must be a marketplace to post items for sale and a space for community events,” he says. “It should be monitored and must never turn into a gripe board. A cutting-edge app of this type would also include something akin to a newsfeed for the community—again, properly moderated, of course.”
Disconnecting the Megaphone
The online nastiness mentioned by Schuster and Golub doesn’t end with personal attacks. In the world of real estate, it often extends to commentary sites. And a long list of complaints about your building on sites like Yelp is the last thing any co-op or condo community wants.
“We are working on a project right now called Antenna,” says Schuster, “that will offer a whole new dimension to online-based community interaction. Residents will be able to leave comments on a social platform that can then respond to their problem, so it doesn’t get to the point where they just leave an angry, negative review.
“As an example,” he continues, “say the owner of a recently purchased condominium finds that his or her air conditioning unit isn’t working. Say they moved in during the winter and never checked it. Now it’s hot, and they need AC. Who do they call? They try the super, and then perhaps the management. Management or the super may say, ‘It’s not my problem, or it’s a construction problem, and you need someone in the trade to correct it.’ The owner of the unit has no idea who to call. This new app will act like a customer hotline. Antenna will link your address and identity to determine whether it’s a sponsor problem, a management issue, or something else, and then determine who can best help you. It is algorithm-based and designed to short-circuit the negative complaint system. It allows everyone to get to the right person before it gets to the point of a negative complaint that lives forever on the internet.”
And that, perhaps, is the most important thing for condo owners and cooperators to remember. Everything on social media lives forever—even the snarky review you left about your management company when you were frustrated over your air conditioner. So while using social media as a communication or community-building tool might seem like an obvious choice, there may be better, indeed more neighborly ways to stay connected with your actual neighbors.
A J Sidransky is a staff writer/reporter for CooperatorNews, and a published novelist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.