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#2 Mastermind: Authentic Coliving Experiences — PART 1

Written by Laura Henke

In the current Community Manager Mastermind Series organized by Co-Liv and powered by Sowebuild, 35 coliving professionals from all over the globe came together in order to connect, interact, share and discuss all things coliving, -working and community management.

The second session of the series featured Gaetan de Dietrich in the hot seat, Head of Community & Sales at Hmlet, a coliving community that offers a home away from home in Singapore, Tokyo, Sydney and Hong Kong. The session’s main theme was centered around the topic of understanding and building coliving spaces as authentic experiences. Gaetan shared a very interesting approach about the reality of coliving as a concept and how that plays into tenant activation, steering and facilitation of communities.

This article will discuss the authenticity of coliving and the role of the community manager. You will learn about the following topics:

  • WHY coliving exists
  • HOW community management plays into that experience
  • WHAT the role of a community manager adds to it

Community calls the Coliving Industry into existence

Coliving and coworking places become more and more popular around the globe as the idea of people choosing lifestyles where they can share and interact with other people becomes increasingly mainstream. While coliving communities grow, it is not an exaggeration anymore to think of coliving as one of the most dominant living models in the near future. But why does the coliving industry even exist and what makes concepts like Hmlet so successful worldwide?

“Community makes our industry exist; it is our strategic differentiator. Community allows us to sell residential real-estate experiences that feel more authentic. This is a huge strategic advantage we have built for ourselves compared to other forms of residential real estate. Our strength is that we are able to create real-estate that feels very personal without the sacrifices that it usually entails — high cost in money and time, no flexibility and oftentimes loneliness. By sharing resources and connecting tenants with each other, we are creating an experience of inclusion that makes them feel right at home, even though we all know the spaces we create can never truly be home.” — Gaetan de Dietrich, Head of Community & Sales at Hmlet

Coliving is an experience that goes beyond the plain delivery of accommodation and a set of fixed services. “The way we make it feel customised to our members’ life circumstances is what makes the difference.” says Gaetan. Coliving makes the experience of living somewhere very personal, more customized: “The active engagement of the members in shaping their experience makes the difference — if I commit to a place and group it feels like it’s mine a little bit too — and we tend to like what feels like ours.” That is what makes it an experience rather than just a vacation or stay.

Successful experiences feel: Authentic

“The management of the customer’s perception of authenticity is the primary source of any competitive advantage” Gaetan de Dietrich

But what makes coliving authentic and differentiates it from other real estate services or the hotel business? To what extent can a man-made experience feel like a genuine, organically developed community even though it is clearly steered and managed by its facilitators, operators and tenants? Gaetan based some of his explanations and definition of coliving as an experience on the Real-Fake-Matrix from Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore:

This matrix can be used in order to analyse the customer’s perception of businesses, brands, products and concepts in any industry. The idea being that customers today need to feel that they buy from brands that feel right, and are aligned with how they perceive themselves.

So what is authenticity on the Real-Fake-Matrix? Full on authenticity basically means that the business in question is aligned with what it tells itself it is and with what it communicates to others about itself (real-real business). A good example are most 5 stars chain hotels: a place to stay temporarily in luxury. They are what they say they are and stay true to themselves while communicating that same thing to others. Some serviced apartments serve as an example for a fake-fake experience, claiming that they are an apartment: i.e. a place to live — while they could have used the term Suite to describe themselves (is what it says it is). While in the same manner not delivering any of what “Living” entails — no services beyond accommodation and cleaning — not true to themselves.

Knowing that, where does this leave Coliving on the matrix? Can you guess it?

We know that coliving uses the idea of community in order to create authentic experiences and in the case of Hmlet “a home away from home”. Looking at it from a tenant’s or outsider’s perspective, coliving feels like it could be a real-real-industry, hence it is what it says it is while staying true to itself.

However looking at coliving from inside out we can’t fully agree on coliving being a 100% real experience. Why? Because it simply is what it is: an experience that was and is created through operators, facilitators, community managers and its tenants. Coliving is a man-made concept that uses and recreates the authenticity of living in a community. “Coliving renders the experience of feeling at home and belonging by making it’s members commit on some level to the well-being of people in the space,” says Gaetan. “This is how the authenticity of the experience is created”. To make that happen, not only are operators involved but also community managers / facilitators (see also my previous article about the definition of the role of the Community Manager as a Community Facilitator) and of course the tenants themselves.

But let’s take a closer look at Hmlet: “We want to make sure that our coliving spaces are experienced as a home away from home. It is not a home though, and will never really be — that place where they have to take you in no matter what. But if we align our value proposition to replicate the feeling of home, with the good and the less good — our members will do the rest and make themselves feel at home” — Gaetan de Dietrich

Putting across the ethos of community has helped Hmlet to grow fast, provided structure to facilitate their places and actually make them successful. Gaining more members, opening new locations by keeping the focus on creating real connections between members and with the operator’s teams. Unlike organically established communities, such as families, circles of friends, villages etc, coliving is a man-made experience and therefore in the eye of Gaetan it can never really have the intrinsic qualities of naturally occurring communities — but that’s ok, as long as operators embrace that truth. This puts coliving in the bottom right corner of the matrix: Fake-Real. Coliving is not what it says it is: a home; but is true to itself: it offers the feeling of a home: people caring for each other. “Coliving will thrive by delivering a consistent and congruent home-like experience, that doesn’t pretend it’s anything more than a time-bound living arrangement for people seeking a rich human experience.” — Gaetan de Dietrich

Coliving basically creates a Fake-Reality. It is a makeshift community where its members can feel very accepted and welcome — like they would at home.

“Is one of the goals of an authentic coliving space to be a home? Or just feel like a home? Or are coliving spaces just not yet homes?” Matthew Lesniak gives some food for thought. In the end coliving is not an organically established community, like i.e. families are. But it definitely gives off the same vibe. Because it will always try to find a balance between the business and the living side of the coliving community, theoretically it can’t be a full-on real-real business. Coliving tries to constantly find alignment between its members and the product itself, which makes it fake-real. So it is not what it says it is (a community), but it certainly stays true to itself: recreating community for its tenants in order to deliver the most authentic experience possible.

Now you can fight us on this, because a coliving community might genuinely feel like home and family, and also naturally occurring tension within the community does feel quite real. However the constant involvement of the purpose and needs of the business side, that are and must be taken into account as well, reminds us that coliving in the end is an artificially created experience. Even though it comes very close to the original, it must make ends (monetizing, cashflow etc.) meet on a regular basis in order to not let the whole community fall apart. There are always investors and other stakeholders involved that want to see results and measure the place’s impact on the market.

“As long as we are aware of the fact that we create an experience it’s okay to be fake-real as a coliving community, because you create a sense of community — fake — but there is also reality, i.e. in the form of real bonds and conflicts between its members)” — Rick Schols (Co-Founder Sowebuild, Co-Liv Ambassador NL)

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Sowebuild / Buildr Apps — We build thriving communities

Sowebuild is a community proptech consultancy, management and SaaS provider. We support building places where people live, work and play by developing a clear roadmap for our clients with our suite of products and partners. Get in touch to collaborate with us or request a demo version of our Buildr Apps. More info on community building? Download our ebook ‘6 tips for building a thriving community’ to get started with the essentials for your place.

Co-Liv — Global association of coliving professionals

Co-Liv is a non-profit think and do-tank focussed on creating valuable content, events and initiatives that help foster the coliving industry. With 300+ worldwide members and 35+ ambassadors in five continents, Co-Liv helps its members through networking events, educational tools and resources to achieve faster business growth. Join Co-Liv today!

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Co-Liv is the global association of coliving professionals, guiding and empowering the coliving industry.🏡 (www.co-liv.org)