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How to blend hyperlocal social media with e‑commerce apartment rentals: meet Urban Compass

Here’s a con­cept that might squeeze the adren­a­ls of the aver­age social media man­ag­er or com­mu­ni­ty man­ag­er: fuse a “hyper­local” social net­work with an e‑commerce apart­ment rentals site. Sound tricky? Not to Ori Allon, co-founder and exec­u­tive chair­man of New York-based start­up Urban Compass.

Urban Com­pass scooped £8m in seed fund­ing last year and is now step­ping out of stealth mode into pub­lic beta. And it’s man­ag­ing that tricky jug­gling act between social and e‑commerce admirably well. If that’s elicit­ed a wave of skep­ti­cism amongst com­mu­ni­ty mangers and social media man­agers, here’s how it works.

Hyper­local expertise

In Jan­u­ary, Urban Com­pass began hir­ing a tal­ent pool of “neigh­bor­hood spe­cial­ists” with inti­mate knowl­edge of dif­fer­ent locales in the Big Apple. Let’s unpack that. These peo­ple are data col­lec­tors, report­ing all the high­lights of a spe­cif­ic neigh­bor­hood and feed­ing them into the startup’s Neigh­bor­hood Guides. These are the build­ing blocks of an “Urban Com­pass Net­work”, the social network’s twin: an online hous­ing rentals e‑commerce plat­form that helps home­seek­ers locate, secure and pay for accommodation.

But neigh­bor­hood spe­cial­ists are also agents: with train­ing and licens­ing pro­vid­ed by Urban Com­pass, they go out and bring prospec­tive res­i­dents to view pos­si­ble homes. By the end of the year, the start­up plans to have recruit­ed 200 of them.

An answer to the skep­ti­cal social media manager

Invet­er­ate social media man­agers may balk at the idea. After all, don’t social net­works work best when they’re organ­ic and non-com­mer­cial? Allon says he likes big chal­lenges like this, and Urban Com­pass’ social and e‑commerce wings are run by the same peo­ple and are built on the same plat­form, mean­ing that they both get equal weight.

By cut­ting out expen­sive bro­kers and bypass­ing sites like, Urban com­pass is offer­ing an attrac­tive pack­age: a one-stop shop for the entire rental deal from begin­ning to end. The evi­dence that’s emerg­ing is show­ing that it’s already pay­ing off. A big New York cor­po­rate has signed on and is refer­ring all employ­ees who are relo­cat­ing to the city to the UC. In turn, these peo­ple are refer­ring oth­ers to the site. With every lease com­plet­ed, UC draws a per­cent­age and rev­enues are already impressive.

A homes-to-buy ser­vice will short­ly be added. As Allon puts it, “We want to help peo­ple find a place to live, both as a neigh­bor­hood and a home.”

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