You’re going on a week-long South Pacific vacation next month and need a house sitter. How do you find someone you trust enough to take care of your dogs and house?
Maybe you know someone who knows someone who has an awesome house sitter. Or, you could go online, scout what’s on Yelp and trust the advice of strangers.
Or, you could log onto NextDoor and see who your closest neighbors recommend.
NextDoor coined itself as the “private social network for your community.” Once your address is verified through your phone number or credit card, you gain access to your neighborhood’s private, micro community -- I just joined mine for San Francisco, and it’s approximately a two block by two block piece of Cow Hollow.
Within these micro-communities, people post everything from lost and found items, to babysitter and dentist recommendations, to rants about parking, upcoming community yoga classes and more. NextDoor also pairs with many local agencies to send alerts, like Amber Alerts, construction projects and safety trainings, pertaining to specific communities.
Private online communities make perfect sense in hyper-local environments. And community builders and managers can learn a lot by examining why and how these real-life turned online communities thrive.
Reinventing the neighborhood listserv
At a base, human level, tools like NextDoor or traditional listservs thrive because people crave connections with people they have something in common with. That’s why professional communities, customer communities and common interest communities work so well -- everyone has a strong point of reference.
And what’s more personal or ripe for bonding than shared living space? Especially if your micro-community is only a few block radius, as mine is. You walk the same streets, see the same sights, go to the same stores and send your children to the same schools. But even though you live so close together, it’s often difficult to actually connect with your neighbors.
NextDoor surpasses listservs, though, because people can interact on a deeper level and have real conversations within their communities. In my NextDoor group, a woman posted to a discussion thread, asking who is the best internet provider for the area. What ensued was a helpful, honest conversation from several other neighbors about who they use and the pros and cons associated with those providers.
Which segues into another lesson about community building.
We trust peers more than strangers
If you’re looking for a plumber or car mechanic, whose advice do you trust? Peer recommendations always weigh more than recommendations from strangers. It makes sense -- you trust the people around you more than someone you’ve never met.
NextDoor takes rating sites like Yelp to another level. I often go to Yelp for all sorts of recommendations, but know that I need to take those ratings with a grain of salt -- I don’t know the people, what their tastes are or how the whole experience was. On NextDoor, neighbors can recommend local nearby services. The experience feels more trustworthy than going to Yelp or Google since the recommendations aren’t random -- these are the people you live with, either on the same block or same building. Even if you don’t know them very well, you have a strong context for them and know they benefit from giving good advice -- they hope one day you’ll give helpful recommendations as well.
Offline meetups strengthen online ties
NextDoor also easily melds two worlds -- the online with the offline.
Online communities are incredible at connecting people who wouldn’t normally cross paths. But it’s important to remember that in-person meetups further connections between members and your organization.
NextDoor does a great job of reinforcing the online-offline connection. Neighbors can connect, discuss and help each other online, but one of the reasons they have a high level of trust amongst each other is because they see each other outside.
Private communities differ from social media
Finally, private neighborhood communities do a good job of highlighting the differences between private communities and social media. On social media, people post their thoughts, pictures of pets or children, articles they found interesting -- there are tons of reasons people are drawn to social media. All that has a place, but the dialog is often one way or doesn’t connect other people in their network.
Communities like NextDoor connect people with purposes. You don’t go to NextDoor to post a picture of your cat -- you go there because you want to sell a couch or borrow a grill for the weekend. Or you post a picture of your cat because you need help finding it.
Every community should be take a page out of NextDoor’s system
Really, NextDoor proves that communities are impactful no matter how practical or down to earth the purpose or cause is. Community helps people get important answers to everyday questions, find unexpected resources and connect with people they might not otherwise know. And what we “used” to have in a small, intimate neighborhood still exists today -- just in an updated, modern way.