Technology

The Social Network Your Social Network Should Be Like

By / Jun 2, 2015 The social network Nextdoor is focused on the small stuff—much to the benefit of its members. (iStock/Thinkstock)

Rather than stealing inspiration from the hot new social networks of the world for your own private community, you might be better off seeing what Nextdoor is up to. Its beat is fairly ho-hum, but there’s no denying its ability to drive close connections.

For all the buzz that surrounds the major social networks like Facebook and Twitter—or even newer players like Snapchat and Yik Yak—they don’t really make sense for your specific sliver of the world.

Of course not; your association is most likely focused on building an insular social presence—a private community, natch—and the broad strokes of a large social network probably don’t match your niche needs.

But there is another social network with a wide reach out there that has an approach tailor-made for the world of niche, and it covers a decidedly unsexy spectrum: local community outreach.

Its name is Nextdoor, and the reason it works is because it’s not trying to be more than that.

What the Heck Is It?

The best way to describe Nextdoor is to directly compare it to Facebook, because in its embryonic form, Facebook worked about the same, targeting specific college campuses and offering a quick way for people in those spaces to share information about  themselves and what was happening around them.

But eventually, Facebook saw a bigger opportunity in connecting all those disparate social communities under one massive blue umbrella. Nextdoor, which was founded in 2011, took the other fork in the road—it keeps all those disparate communities splintered apart and embraces the people you don’t know. Only a small number of people in a relatively limited geographic area can see what’s being said about what’s happening nearby—with chat on local events, traffic issues, and yard sales leading the way.

If Craigslist removed its scary sheen and huckster intent and instead worked like an actual social network, Nextdoor is what you would get.

Proximity, Not Reach

The removal of the “scary sheen” in community platforms has been a big driver of Nextdoor’s growth. The network currently includes groups for more than 62,000 neighborhoods. More modern than an old-school email list server, Nextdoor enables connections among people living next to one another in a secure way that encourages people to actually go outside and make new friends.

“Most people don’t know their neighbors,” Nextdoor cofounder Sarah Leary noted in an interview with the San Jose Mercury News. “For us, it’s really about using technology from social media, but applying it to the concept of really bringing back that sense of community to the neighborhood.”

One way Nextdoor does that is by focusing on neighborhood safety, aided by partnerships with local police forces and other officials. In the past two weeks alone, police departments in Milwaukee and Raleigh, North Carolina, have scored agreements with Nextdoor to use the service in tracking local crime concerns. While it’s made those connections with police, Nextdoor has been careful to limit how far they go.

“People said we want to hear from the people who protect and serve us, but we want to maintain the privacy of who we are and what we’re talking about,” Nextdoor Senior City Strategist Joseph Porcelli told the Raleigh News & Observer.

The Pluses and Minuses

The result of all this is that Nextdoor may be the most unassuming company on the “Unicorn List”—the list of companies with a valuation of more than $1 billion. (They hit the mark back in March after a $110 million funding round.)

But not all’s perfect in the neighborhood. As Fusion notes, the network does surface social problems of the more traditional variety—societal biases can rear their ugly heads there. But with smart moderation, including the steps the company took in response to reports of racial profiling on Nextdoor, these kinds of issues can quickly be dealt with. And the network has earned praise for transparency and accountability.

“To its credit, Nextdoor makes an attempt to hold people accountable for what they post by asking users to submit real names and addresses with an additional level of identity validation (which many social networks don’t have),” Gizmodo‘s Alissa Walker wrote. “I went through weeks’ worth of posts in my neighborhood and couldn’t find anything inflammatory. I think requiring the use of real names certainly helps neighbors to be more civil, especially because we’re likely to bump into each other on the street.”

Strong standards, strong community.

Why Nextdoor Is a Model to Follow

In the end, Nextdoor works because it’s not trying to be everything to everyone. It doesn’t want to replace your news feed, and it doesn’t have the bells and whistles of a hipper social platform like Slack or Meerkat, nor would it be significantly better if it did. (That said, Slack has a lot of potential.)

Nextdoor—like Doximity, a social network for doctors—hits that sweet spot that association execs are looking for in their own private communities. Rather than trying to innovate for the sake of it, the goal is to get past all the bells and whistles and find a way to strengthen communities.

For associations, the goal of a private community shouldn’t be that the conversation stays there, but that it starts there—just like Nextdoor. You will never see a post go viral on Nextdoor, nor should it.

Instead, like outside social networks, association online communities can forge tighter bonds than ever.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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