I recently wrote about the benefits of niche social networks, primarily the fact that people are more likely to use them for networking, i.e. extending their social circle and meeting new people. On top of purely social benefits, niche networks can also provide substantial value-added functionality, specific to the demographic of the user base. A great example is the recent launch of several real estate and building-based social networks.
A few weeks back Techcrunch reviewed startup, LifeAt.com, â€œa private social network for your building which allows you, the resident, to actively contribute and improve upon your residential experience.â€�
LifeAt is a platform play (an aggregation of many mall networks plus a marketplace) which allows buildings to create private, password protected websites for exclusive use by residents. Users can then communicate with neighbors; post classifieds; and rate and review local retailers, restaurants and delivery services. Property managers and building developers might use the sites to post news and updates for residents and to attract potential buyers and renters.
Forrester and the New York Times both see potential in this SN model. Fatdoor.com and Holaneighbor.com (a product of DC Startup Weekend) are other entrants into the space. Click here to see the value proposition for Holaneighbor.
Closely related to building/neighbor based community sites are the locality-based social sites including FrontPorchForum and Outside.in. The local community sites stress connections through discussion of geo-specific community news and events. For example, my home city of Brooklyn has many local-based blogs such as Brownstoner and Curbed. However, as anyone who has lived in New York City knows, the sense of neighborhoods and community is as prominent here in New York as anywhere in the country â€“ evidenced by LifeAt and Outside.in both being NYC based. Will this fly elsewhere?
While platforms plays like LifeAt do provide value, for savvy building owners and management firms, a better play in my opinion is constructing exclusive networks owned by the building managers themselves. If a building contains the â€˜right’ demographics, it would be easy for building owners to attract advertisers â€“ especially once a good ad system for niche networks is finally developed.
In addition, privately owned building networks can be customized with specific functionality, such as online bill paying and allow building owners to gain insight into their community (or resell such information) to third party advertisers. Ultimately if implemented correctly, a building based social network could be a fruitful revenue stream, in addition to offering considerable organizational and efficiency benefits.