Archive for the ‘Interaction Community Systems’ Category

An F3 investor asked me whether we’ve finished streamlining the processes of creating a community on Interaction Community Systems and uploading content to FargoTube.  The answer is “no,” but we’re getting close, and we expect both updates to go live in mid-October.

The gist of the Interaction update is that homeowners associations, property managers, churches and other membership-based groups can set up their online communities without having to call us. A community representative enters its information — including members’ names, addresses, and e-mail addresses — and can start using Interaction almost immediately. The representative also provides credit-card information, though we don’t charge during an initial 30-day trial period.

The new process will save us staff time, and we believe most clients will find it much more convenient, though they’re still welcome to call us if and when they need assistance.

The FargoTube update goes beyond the streamlining of content acquisition, but I’ll discuss only that one aspect here and now:

The new interface will walk the content owner through the process step by step. It will focus on the content, rather than the social network built around that content. Content owners will still have the option to create social networks — known as “fan sites” — around their content, either immediately or later, and we strongly encourage that because it helps to make FargoTube a unique experience for fans. But we also want to keep the content owner from feeling overwhelmed at the beginning.

The site’s new organization will also encourage users to check out videos that they might not have discovered otherwise, for example by displaying links to the fan sites of artists in the same genre as what the user has been viewing.

In the meantime, a new module to go live within a few days will allow content owners to set up online stores to sell t-shirts, coffee mugs and other paraphernalia.

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Two pieces of big news today for Interaction Community Systems, our platform for managing communications and finances for homeowners associations.

You may have seen our press release this morning about our new relationship with TransFirst, the national payment processor. TransFirst processes $30 billion in transactions annually. The company has a special focus on community banks, which the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. defines as institutions with assets of less than $1 billion. HOAs and property managers are local entities by definition, making them bread-and-butter customers for community banks. So it’s safe to assume that several million of the $30 billion is in the form of HOA dues and HOAs’ payments to landscapers, roofers, plumbers, property managers and other vendors. The Interaction platform probably won’t be exposed immediately to all of that, but F3 will try to expand the relationship if all goes well.

Fewer of you probably saw Interaction mentioned in the fifth paragraph of the August 20 article in the Chicago Tribune (circulation 515,000) about the trend toward automation and digitization among HOAs and property managers. I myself saw it just this morning.

Here’s the article’s “nut graf,” journalistic lingo for the summary paragraph following the lead-in anecdote about a paperless property manager:

“Over the past decade, community associations have been performing more and more of their operational tasks electronically. Owners go online to pay assessments, request maintenance, read the monthly newsletter and download the rules. Managers move money, solicit bids and send reports. Procedures like these save money and labor by providing easy storage and transfer of information and less time spent on the telephone.”

It’s worth noting that Interaction performs all of the tasks that I italicized in the passage above, and a lot more. It also lets administrators prepare accounting reports for analysis, and includes several functions found in more purely social networks — messaging, “walls” and photo sharing, for example.

Our sales team was in south Florida this week, drumming up new clients for Interaction Community Systems, our online platform for managing homeowners associations’ communications and finances.

Paul and Stephanie met with three property-management companies. To some extent, these represent a new sort of growth for Interaction because a property manager almost always represents multiple HOAs, frequently paying based on the number of HOAs. These three manage a total of about 50.

“It’s always been a focus for us in the past,” Paul told me this morning after returning to Atlanta. “We just hadn’t had the opportunity” to approach as many property managers as we’re doing now. One of the three companies was referred from a bank where we’ve worked to establish relationships.

Another of the three, the smallest, signed with us after seeing an advertisement on a news and advocacy website for HOAs across the nation. The ad campaign is one of several new marketing initiatives that F3 has launched this year for its online services.

The new client is a new property-management company that has one HOA and expects to add four or five by the end of the year and 20 or so in 2011. The second company has 40 HOAs, and the third has a half-dozen or so.

I think these three companies are a pretty good illustration of Interaction’s flexibility. Individual HOAs can use it to self-manage for as little as $25 a month. Property managers can create an online community for each HOA they manage, and usually receive a 10-15 percent discount. F3 also offers a modified version of Interaction that churches can use to manage membership rosters, communications, donations and expenses.

Florida is a particularly important growth market for Interaction because of its sheer number of HOAs–I’ve seen figures as high as 20,000. The new client is our first in southern Florida, adding to the 120 communities that Interaction has in Georgia and elsewhere.

You may have noticed that two of our three main services are getting major updates this month, first FargoTube and then Interaction Community Systems. Both of these updates, plus several pieces of news we plan to announce via press release in the next two weeks, are specifically designed to drive faster growth for our services.

Up to now, and probably for the next couple of months, our business-development team has put a lot of effort into recruiting new partners, particularly for FargoTube and Interactive Defense because they are groundbreaking services that require a lot of explanation.

The focus of the each of the two updates has been to streamline the registration process for new partners (client communities in the case of Interaction and Interactive Defense and revenue-sharing partners in the case of FargoTube). The updates will make it easier for F3 to bring on larger numbers of customers and revenue partners with each passing week, while requiring the company to spend less staff time acquiring each individual customer or revenue partner.

At the same time, we’re launching a three-pronged marketing campaign, with paid targeted advertising buys on Google, Facebook and MySpace. Those ads could go live as soon as Monday. More details on the campaign once it’s underway.

We’re continuing our recent streak of updates and refinements to our websites as part of our transition into high-growth mode. As the enhanced version of FargoTube goes live this week – with capabilities for music and images – our developers will be finishing up with an major update to Interaction Community Systems, our management and social-networking platform for HOAs and other member associations, with the goal of putting into service it within a couple of weeks.

Perhaps the most important Interaction update: We are automating Interaction’s sign-up process, allowing us to acquire more client associations while spending less staff time on the process. A new client will be able to create an Interaction community and begin to use the system within a few minutes, either as a fully paying customer or on a 30-day free-trial basis.

We’re making similar improvements to FargoTube and Interactive Defense System in the course of this year, and for the same reason: F3 is shifting into high gear. Interaction has grown to 20,000+ registered users in recent months, thanks to the series of refinements we’ve already made and thanks to F3’s expanded sales force. We expect Interaction’s database to grow to 22,000 or so when we import the membership lists of client HOAs that have signed on in the last few days. As our client associations grow in number and sophistication, we are ensuring that Interaction also grows in sophistication. Updates to Interaction over the next few months will enhance users’ ability to manage events, facilities, and maintenance in their associations.

The August update will include streamlined processes in Interaction’s accounting module, which allows communities to collect dues and donations and to manage payments. Users will soon find it easier to journalize transactions and create invoice templates, for example. Many of the accounting improvements reflect the expertise of Senior Vice President for Business Development Stephanie Miller, who is a CPA and graduate-level accounting professor. The updated Interaction also gives each community several new options for its system’s interface, and allows admins to manage all of the design features, including log-in page, system interface, e-mail module and visual elements — in a single Design Center. And each community will now be able to apply a single visual theme throughout its system, across all communication points.

We’ll let you know when the updated Interaction goes live. We encourage you to test it out for yourselves, to see why Interaction will expand its reach. We’re confident that many of you will see its value for your own HOAs and other member associations.

We’re going to have lots of news about FargoTube and Interaction Community Systems next week, so stay tuned. The short version: We’ve made major progress on several partnerships for FargoTube and one major partnership for Interaction.

In the meantime, you may have noticed that we’re continuing to refine our corporate presence online. Our new website went live at the beginning of the week, we’ve added a few new tools to this WordPress blog, and we’ve polished up our Twitter page with the logos of our three major services. The tweets are only going to get better from here, so we’d love for you to retweet them to your own followers.

Several recent news articles have underscored the necessity of social-networking software for homeowners associations, such as Interaction Community Systems.

Perhaps the most shocking, if not entirely surprising, was this story in the Dallas Morning News, about an HOA that foreclosed on the home of a U.S. Army National Guardsman while he was deployed in Iraq. Depressed in his absence, the man’s wife had stopped opening mail and didn’t see the HOA’s notices that the couple owed $978 in dues. The HOA has expressed regret — apparently sincere regret — but argues that it can no longer help the couple because it sold the foreclosed house to an investor who then flipped the house to a second buyer.

Whether or not the foreclosure was justified, it has created a headache for everyone involved, and it might have been avoided if the HOA had been using Interaction or a similar platform. Interaction lets HOAs announce upcoming due dates through multiple channels — e-mail, message boards, “walls” and calendars. And it’s easy for Interaction users to arrange automatic payments to their HOAs.

A rep for the HOA in Dallas called the series of events a “perfect storm.” And of course the Guardsman and his wife are not an entirely typical case: Not everyone who ignores their mail is going to be checking their e-mail, for one thing.

But HOAs foreclose on numerous houses each year, for all sorts of reasons, as detailed in this article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

I’m guessing that some homeowners simply don’t prioritize their HOA dues highly enough in relation to other expenditures. The Interaction platform helps avoid that problem — and probably a lot of other problems — simply by strengthening residents’ sense of community and connectedness. People who interact with their neighbors and their association on a regular basis — whether in person or online — feel a stonger sense of obligation to the group. Interaction users can post pictures from a neighbor’s touch-football game on a “wall” where it’s visible only to their neighbors. They can put out alerts on stray dogs or suspicious loiterers. They can reserve a block of time at the community clubhouse, tennis court or golf course.

On a different note, a widely read blog about issues in condo associations features this recent post about a spat between an HOA board member and an executive at the management company that the HOA had just fired. The jilted executive e-mailed HOA board members to complain about one of their colleagues, labeling him “a troublemaker.” The alleged troublemaker is considering a lawsuit. With Interaction, you won’t have to worry about defamatory e-mails from an incompetent management company — or about the incompetent management company itself.