Local Social Networking

So you’ve developed a nice circle of “friends” and attracted some fans in Facebook and MySpace but let’s face it, these social networks are all starting to feel the same, and the communal effects are no longer satisfying your needs. Remember the theme song “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” from the TV comedy series Cheers? Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name and where people are all the same. Cheers were the place where bar owner, Sam Malone, served up beers and traded one-liners with the regulars.

Perhaps it’s time to get back to the basics of what makes a community. The popularity of social networking has created a sub-trend whose timing couldn’t be better. Lots of us are moving around, uprooted from our familiar surroundings. All of this makes for a long ramp-up time for familiarizing ourselves with our neighbors and local commerce. Imagine if you could actually see and talk with the person within your social network. If you knew people in your social network, somehow a site member’s glowing comment about the Thai restaurant two doors down from you seems to hold more credibility. With the rise of social media platforms such as Instagram DM, Facebook, and Twitter, local social networking is more convenient than ever. You can easily connect and communicate with your friends easily 

It’s a good thing social networks have gone local. Okay, probably hyper-local. What do I mean? This is networking at the grassroots level – networking among neighborhoods, streets, and even buildings or condos. The idea is that neighborhoods, streets, and apartment buildings get their own internet or intranet site. The aim is to not only promote the benefits the buildings have for their current or prospective residents but to foster a sense of community through interaction and localized services. At its best, it even allows occupants to gripe about the current noise pollution, sometimes lack of heat, or malfunctioning elevators. All these gripes are translated into feedback for the property managers, who can be held accountable for their services.

Take LifeAt, for example. They realized the opportunity in 2007 when they approached the idea of “local” in an innovative way. What’s refreshing and unique about LifeAt is that social networking is at the building level. The idea is that in urban cities, your building is your neighborhood and community. As a city dweller, the experience you have depends on how much you know about those around you. LifeAt provides property managers with a turnkey solution for launching a network for their building. The property Web sites are private and password- protected. Residents can virtually meet and communicate through posting ads and rating and reviewing local businesses. Property managers can post notices about vacancies and maintenance work. With a one-off setup fee with no yearly fees, this local social network may appeal to most property managers.

Why It Works

People have been more likely to share information online, which makes the local social network an optimal forum or outlet. Companies, such as LifeAt, that are poised to capitalize on this need, are not only providing logistical information, they provide a connection between people with similar socioeconomic backgrounds. According to the U.S. Census (www.census.com), 20% of Americans move each year. These transients never get a feel of their own town and neighbors, but with the localized social network it can be the catalyst for gathering relevant information about neighbors and local businesses – getting the real scoop on the lay of the land, so to speak. Residents in a condo who create personal pages or ads reach a larger and more receptive audience because it’s relevant to where consumers live. Newspapers have joined the local network to establish themselves as the hub of their community. Some have also used the source from social networks to print in the newspapers, which provides further exposure to the site’s members.

Outlook

What is the depth and scope of localized social networking? Let’s say it has the potential to extend to office buildings or other countries. LifeAt has branched out to England and Australia. However, LifeAt is not the first to try this new approach to the social networking model – there are others such as Townconnect. Unlike MySpace and Facebook, Townconnect allows you to share information about your children’s coaches, classes, teammates, and carpools.

With these types of venues, local businesses should start thinking about and acting on the opportunity to interact socially with potential customers. It’s as simple as adding contacts, joining groups to find local residents that might be interested in your product or services, or using the Classified section to advertise your business. The prospect of Yellow Pages and Google Local buying you are high.

If Facebook or MySpace finds a way to partner with third-party applications, the opportunities are endless for location-based social networking. For some of us, it’s important to know who’s in the same coffee shop downtown and whether we want our friends to know about it, too. For example, the iPhone 3G, by using GPS, provides third-party applications such as Loopt or Whrrl that create hyper-local interactions with friends (or strangers) currently in the neighborhood. It also finds local restaurants and other points of interest in the area. Loopt even includes a link to your Facebook or Twitter accounts. If that wasn’t enough, those who are addicted to social networking can continue to microblog with small local groups.

Skeptics continue to voice opinions about local social networks as being short-lived. The belief is that they have minimal member participation and interaction. It’s too early to make that call. In the meantime, if you’re in a city or building that offers the local social network, you should kick the tires a bit and see if it works for you.x

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