by phil h

Roomster is a social network for people looking for roommates, apartment rentals or sublets. Geared largely towards the college-crowd, the site allows you to create a unique profile and seeks to match you with roommates based on what kind of apartment you’re looking for, by geographic proximity and even by astrological (Zodiac) sign. Quirky, but appropriate given the audience it’s chasing.

I’ve written about social networks a lot lately (see Marketing Real Estate on Facebook). So much so, that you may be sick of hearing me rabbit on and on about them.

But I genuinely believe that the move towards community online is a hallmark of Web 2.0 and will be the direction that most websites will take in the future. If you’re not thinking about communities and how to engage them online, you’re dead in the water – especially in marketing.

Niche networks, like Roomster, are a way to connect like-minded consumers. Ultimately, if you’re the one to make the connection, you’ll be the one who benefits from the relationships.

Creating them these days is easier than ever. Sites like Ning (see Create Your Own Web 2.0 Site with Ning) or PeopleAggregator allow you to do this quickly and easily within their ecosystems – and open source projects like Elgg allow you to take it away and create a space on your own URL.

A perfect application here would be in condos. Condo marketers are among the more creative when it comes to real estate marketing. They’ve already perfected the art of selling lifestyle, starting with the catching single word name; Vertigo, Civic, Cosmo, Verge. (Sometimes I wonder if they just flip through the dictionary and randomly pick a word…)

Flashy web sites are old hat with this crowd, as is video – though, there are still some that are pushing the limits of those mediums (see Sitcom Used to Sell Condos).

Niche networks are a logical next step. A condo development could create a community that included all owners of pre-sold units – neighbors could meet neighbors, before the project is even built.

The same could be said for home builders, who are building out plats and creating subdivisions. Create a community of interested home buyers. And by engaging the community early on, the community could help shape the new neighborhood.

Or, a real estate broker could create or sponsor a niche network of home investors based in a particular city. Or a one geared to first time home buyers. Give them the tools they need and a community is born.

Niche networks allow consumers to interact and develop a relationship with a brand; whether it’s a condo, builder or broker, in a non-intrusive and trusted manner. It’s a soft sell approach, that if executed properly – could build loyalty for many years to come.

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