September 15, 2021

How to Use Technology to Foster Communities and Facilitate Connection to the Neighbourhood

There has never been a time when technology has had so much to offer with regards to operational excellence. In coliving, it is critical to take advantage of the myriad of tools available to create the most human-centred experiences possible within and around the community.

From humanising your brand to connecting individuals with their local neighbourhood, Digital Estate’s team provides unique insights and offers concrete, real-world examples of the best technology has to offer. By reminding us that technology is not the end goal, but the ultimate means to creating a thriving community, industry stakeholders can open up a world of possibilities – and a world of meaningful human experiences

In the last edition of Coliving Insights we explored the topic of fostering innovation in coliving through automation using simple integrations. As many coliving owners and operators are not fluent in 'tech language', they often struggle to understand the potential of already available solutions. We believe that technology should not be complex and should easily fit the needs of its end users.

In this edition we are deep diving into the impact of technology to support the creation of outstanding living experiences. We will be focusing on the different opportunities offered by technology solutions to foster thriving communities and facilitate connection with wider neighbourhoods, an aspect often disregarded when designing the digital experience for tenants.

Building community to create authentic brands

Community building is a long and continuous process and its effects can be measured only in the long term. However, successful community building starts with strong foundations: strategies to ensure that tenants perceive a sense of belonging, which has to be translated into different online and offline touchpoints from the early stage of concept development.

In order for a community to be successful (e.g. strong resident engagement and ownership), brands have to establish an emotional connection with the audience. This can be done by humanising the brand, meaning that its behaviour within online communities should be as close as possible to that of an individual’s. In the ideal scenario, the audience should relate to the brand as an expert and friend at the same time. The “ingredients” required to build an impactful online community are authenticity and a unique, but very recognisable, brand identity. Transparency and honesty are crucial values for the audience to create trust and become loyal brand ambassadors.

Building a community greatly depends on an initial analysis of the living product and its target. This will be easier in the case of themed or hyper-targeted coliving spaces, such as the example represented by Artist Housing, a coliving space for film and music artists, rather than concepts with a broader group of tenants. But community building does not stop at the end user; it has to be extended to all stakeholders and take into account the area or district where the building is located as well.

After personifying all branding aspects, the brand identity has to be deployed throughout multiple touchpoints, namely the website, social media channels, prints, signage and more. Two more important points to consider are to develop an engaging tone of voice, as well as listen to the feedback collected from the end users. What is clear is that originality is key: following a beaten path and using old-fashioned strategies will not be enough to build a happy community that will prosper in the long run.

Considering that the basics have been taken care of, it is now the time to learn how technology can help facilitate the community-building journey at different levels.

How technology can enable thriving communities

Technology is not a means by itself, but should be used to enhance the overall residents’ living experience, ultimately leading to higher satisfaction (and better reviews!). This is what we call human-centred technology.

As there are plenty of possibilities to foster communities using technology, what operators should choose depends on the business needs and target groups. Keeping the community as a guiding star, before deciding on any tech product, it is important to define exactly who the customers will be and design their ideal experience moments.

The most crucial aspect to keep in mind is to actively and continuously listen to the community, their feedback, complaints and ideas, and then turn them into actionable efforts. This should be done with a very interactive, visual and quick format, while the community should also have a platform or an unmoderated space online where they can have discussions with each other.

Among the ideas that can be easily implemented – at different stages of the building lifecycle – to foster communities using technology, we suggest to:

  • Build interactive experiences online (website, social media, etc.) and on-site;
  • Conduct purposeful surveys and turn the results into real actions;
  • Collect first-hand data through IoT and track the online behaviour of tenants;
  • Start, facilitate and moderate conversations (and feedback) though a branded app or digital platform;
  • Provide online support to tenants, so that they know that you are there whenever needed;
  • Offer a library-of-things to promote sharing between residents;
  • Offer smart mobility solutions (bikes, e-scooters, e-cars, etc.);
  • Use digital solutions to connect to the neighbourhood.

Connecting to the neighbourhood

After over one year of a global pandemic and continuous lockdowns, the demand for experiences and simply doing things outside of the living space has increased dramatically. While creating a high-level living experience for the residents, especially in serviced environments, real estate businesses often lose the opportunity or disregard the importance of connecting the community to the neighbourhood and local scene.

But, how to connect your community to the rest of the world?

The biggest value of a community is the invisible bond between tenants that allows them to connect to each other, create meaningful relationships and get rooted into a new place. What further contributes to the community experience is going beyond the borders of a building and connecting with local neighbourhoods, cities and economies. Building beneficial commercial partnerships, while providing an overall richer experience to the tenants, will also make them more willing to stay if they feel a sense of belonging to the area. Following this thought, using technology to connect buildings to local communities can serve as a powerful placemaking tool and help to create districts where people would love to stay long term.

At the most superficial level, companies should use their digital channels to offer tips about the surrounding areas, its attractions and local events. Going further, shared living spaces are the ideal place to offer workshops and events involving the local community, as well as provide experience packages around the city, connecting with the local art and culinary scene. This can be powered by a branded application or platform, which can also include discounted offers to local restaurants, stores and so on. Setting up purposeful partnerships with local companies will ensure benefits to both parties, as tenants will be happy to receive exclusive discounts and local experiences, while commercial parties can grow their customer base, fostering the local economy.

One example of a coliving concept that has put communities and neighbourhoods at the center of their model is Venn, which brands itself as The Neighbourhood Company. Venn implemented an operating system for the neighbourhood, giving residents meaningful ways to connect with neighbours both virtually and in real life, attend local events, shop locally and submit maintenance requests. The platform is powered and co-created by the users themselves, who are able to organise volunteer events and provide continuous feedback to improve the application.

Another company that is empowering engaged communities is Built-ID, which through their breakthrough platform Give My View has collaborated with real estate businesses such as The Collective, First Base, CEG, Flagship Group and even with the University of Oxford and the City of London. Their breakthrough engagement platform – which can be customised for specific needs following thorough digital consulting activities – uses the gamification principle to encourage digital engagement, reach new audiences and provide better community feedback through interactive surveys. Moreover, the Give My View features do not stop with residents, as they can also support in engaging and collecting feedback from employees and other stakeholders.

There are some other available solutions to build and maintain engaging communities, from platforms focusing on the connection between tenants and the local community, to applications centered more on member-to-member interaction, to community-run platforms or even more comprehensive solutions including property and resident management platforms.

Even the biggest tech companies like Google are experimenting with different ways to empower local communities. Over the last few years the company launched two platforms, Neighbourly and Bulletin, which were both discontinued but suggest a high interest by the tech giant to reinforce their localisation efforts. Their crowdsourcing app Google Neighbourly, which was only available in India, enabled users to ask neighbourhood-related questions and submit answers in an open chat forum. Other users were able to follow certain topics or swipe Q&A cards in a Tinder-like format to get familiar with the local environment. On the other hand, Bulletin, which was launched only in the United States, was created to give people the ability to share hyperlocal stories about their community as well as promote what is happening in the neighbourhood in real time. While both platforms shut down, Google declared it will continue to experiment with other solutions in an effort to support the creation of more inclusive and human-centric neighbourhoods.

Key Takeaways

Establishing deep connections is much easier and faster if people in the community are just a short walk away. Relationship building is part of the appeal of coliving: in a society where a lot of our social networks highly depend on our work, connecting with people in a different way looks like a refreshing idea.

In today’s era, creating original digital experiences to support thriving communities is not anymore a “nice to have”, but a necessity. The positive side is that technology offers plenty of possibilities to explore, including platforms and digitally enabled frameworks connecting buildings to the neighbourhood and local economy, which can bring numerous benefits for all parties involved.

Selecting the right tools to foster communities online and offline is a task that requires alignment with the business and brand strategy, as well as an understanding of current and future tenants. One size does not fit all, and what works in one location for a small community might nor work for another. Leveraging the industry know-how and having an overview of the tech landscape in coliving, Digital Estate helps in the match-making process. Digital Estate scopes, seizes and curates the best-in-class solutions for coliving, including community apps and platforms. When there is no match, Digital Estate can ideate, design, develop, integrate and automate tailor-made solutions that are well-fitted to your business needs.

To conclude, it is important to highlight that technology can support in empowering communities, but it does not create them, nor ensure their long-term success. Social resilience is a shared effort that has to be continuously nurtured.

Get started

Digital Estate can help you find or design and build the digital solution that is most appropriate for your needs, elevating the experience of multiple real estate stakeholders, from building companies, to investors, to operators, to community managers until the end customers (the residents). Through providing easy-to-apply solutions, we are looking into the democratisation of the technological revolution in real estate. Digital Transformation does not have to be complex, let us help you. To start your journey with Digital Estate, reach out to our team here.


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