At the 2015 SCA Queensland Conference, Daniel Borin, Director of Sales, Marketing and Training for StrataMax presented a workshop on creating online community forums in strata communities. This article is a snapshot of his presentation and will give a good summary for any strata manager who is considering including community forums as part of their management offering.
An online community forum can take many forms, from a discussion board where people have the ability to engage in two-way conversations to one-way information sharing of news, events and documents.
As a body corporate manager, the decision to include community forums as part of your management offering can be a complex process where many aspects need to be taken into consideration to ensure the forums add value to your service.
Considerations may include: the desired business outcomes, risk, administration, scalability across your portfolio and whether a charging model should be considered in your management agreement.
Desired business outcomes may include reducing communication costs with owners by offering access to information online, enhancing your service to clients by making the communication process easier plus creating loyal clients who are impressed by the way you manage their community.
Along with these outcomes there are also risks if there is any defamation made through the forum or even loss-of-control which may result in a very unhappy community – the opposite of the desired outcomes. Managing risk needs to be a major consideration.
The administration side of a forum is probably the most challenging to come to terms with especially if you have a highly moderated forum which requires daily attention. We will cover the difference between moderated and unmoderated forums further in the article.
The following chart summarises the various aspects which need to be considered when deciding which kind of community forum is best going to suit the requirements of the communities you manage. From functionality through to the technology needed to operate your forum these are all key considerations for ensuring the best outcomes are achieved.
The functionality of the forum will determine the time and resources which need to be allocated. Type of desired functionality may include one or more of the following:
- • Body Corporate information
- • Body Corporate reports
- • documents
- • events
- • maintenance requests
- • meeting notifications and minutes
- • message board
- • classifieds
- • news
- • by-laws and rules
The greater the functionality of a forum, the more resource will be required to administer it. Understanding both the needs of the body corporate and your business will help you decide what is best. Often simple functionality may be all that is required and hence ongoing overhead may be minimal.
There are a variety of potential elements of communication as listed in the diagram below. Some of these are collaborative while others are informative. While collaborative communication can help to build a sense of community it is important to understand the potential requirements for control and moderation with regards to content being posted. One way communication has the advantage of lower administration and control.
Whether a community forum is moderated or unmoderated is often determined by the time and resources available to maintain the forum. A moderated forum can become extremely time-consuming with the moderator managing memberships, rules of forum participation, accepting or deleting posts, banning members, guiding discussions and in many instances responding to posts with appropriate information. Successful community forums are often those which have a resource allocated to them which costs time and money.
In an open forum anyone is able to join or view the forum which may create a privacy risk for a community. In a closed forum you either invite or accept requests from visitors which can be limited to the people who live or own property in a complex. As with control there is more maintenance required to administer closed forums when managing members.
There are many off-the-shelf products available which are cheap and often free, give the functionality required and are familiar to your audience. ie Facebook. Many of the current strata management software companies have integrated solutions as well that will offer some degree of functionality, often with little or no extra cost.
Custom developing a product to suit your community may be expensive, take time and require expert management once built. This however does give you all the functionality you may be looking for and be worth the investment in the long run.
Community forums have definitely had a positive impact on many strata communities where information is shared freely and feedback is treated with respect. When considering whether an online community forum is suitable for the communities you manage, ensure you consider all aspects and plan well.
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