When something breaks at your house, say a leaky shower, a roof that has outlived its useful life, or canister lights that mysteriously stops working, you feel an extraordinary amount of stress. You can mitigate that stress by having a collection of competent, trustworthy people who you can call to get the job is fixed in a reasonable timeframe and at a reasonable price.
I recently moved across the country to an area where I have never lived and wasn’t familiar with the local service providers. When I moved into our new house and it needed a half-dozen jobs done, the stress mounted.
We’ve all been there. The biggest stressor in this scenario is trust. Who will give me a fair deal? Who can I let into my home? There is that looming fear that a plumber coming by to fix the leaking tub faucet will uncover that the entire piping structure of the house needs replacing.
Additionally, it is difficult to know what a reasonable price is for specific jobs in a given region. It takes time to get multiple bids and assess both the quality and the trustworthiness of the service providers.
For me, the goal was simple; I needed the job done, I needed it done right, and I didn’t want to be taken for a ride in the process.
Reaching Out to Your Community to Solve Real-World Problems
So, I began my search in the places that one would typically look for home improvement and repair services:
- Angie’s List – I tried a couple of providers, but they never showed up or didn’t even bother to call me back and schedule the service.
- Yelp – The wide range of vague reviews didn't offer enough credibility.
- Google – The search results were too broad with not enough social proof.
While none of these sites were an effective place to start my search, they were useful in validating my short list of service providers later in the vetting process. However, the issue I was most concerned with - finding credible home repair people without spending months doing it—was still unanswered.
Next, I turned to my new neighbors and had the opposite issue. While I now had trustworthy recommendations, they only had experience with one or two people so my number of options was limited. Also, since none of their recommendations were glowing I wanted to guarantee that the names they were providing were people with whom they had actual great experiences, rather than the only people they had done business with.
I wanted quality reviews and a decent size collection to choose from. I wanted more than, "Try this company" or “Yeah, he or she was nice.” I needed the opinions of people who knew the area, but I wanted detail about exactly why these service providers were being recommended.
Finally, I turned to the Nextdoor platform.
What is Nextdoor?
Nextdoor is a private social network for people who live in a specific geographic area. The company’s mission is to provide the easiest way for you to connect with your neighbors online to make everyone’s lives better in the real world. The platform has grown dramatically over the past three years and is now available all over the country.
Through Nextdoor, I was able to get hassle-free recommendations from people who had to publicly claim to have had a good experience with the service providers.
So, I joined the network and posted a question asking for a specific recommendation and was surprised by the amount of responses.
First, I found the plumber. Next, I found a roofer, a pool guy, and a bug guy. Then, I found an electrician and a handyman. Throughout my experience in the community, I couldn’t help but applaud how engaged I was in the online community. They had built a community that had me coming back daily for more.
While I was pretty ecstatic over the health of my home, I was even more thrilled to share about the health of their online community.
Why Does Nextdoor Work So Well to Keep People Engaged?
Having spent a significant amount of time on Nextdoor.com in the past month—asking questions and meeting people from my new community, I’ve observed several elements of the network that could benefit community managers in all types of online communities.
Lessons for Online Community Managers
Lesson #1) Build Your Community Around the Commonalities of Your Community Members
People who use the Nextdoor private social network have something in common. They live in the same geographic area. While this niche approach may not be available for every online community, it can be very useful where applicable.
However, this somewhat violates the rule that states that the best communities utilize two identifiers to define the community (the “people who do X in Y” model). This works for Nextdoor because there is a vacuum filled by the platform.
Lesson #2) Create a Community that Serves One Purpose for Members
Nextdoor is also successful because people use it for a very specific purpose—to get recommendations, share information, and help people. When you can narrow your community's purpose and provide users with value that doesn’t exist anywhere else, it is much easier to increase ongoing engagement.
The people who are on the Nextdoor social network know why they are there. When someone gets an email alert or signs up for the online community, they visit the site to see what’s new and if they can respond to a neighbor's post.
If they go there to ask a question, they know exactly why they’re going there. They’re not just browsing for to see latest content, the latest viral video, or to see if anyone from my hometown has shared anything recently.
Nextdoor community members are very deliberate when they visit the community. The have a specific purpose. They’re there to get help or help others.
Avoid Creating a Community on a Platform that Serves Multiple Purposes for Members
Why is Nextdoor so active? Why can’t you just connect with people in your community on Facebook? Nextdoor only allows people from your community to join. However, all of your friend and neighbors are on Facebook too. Why not create a Nextdoor-style group for your neighborhood on Facebook?
These are all good questions for community managers to think about. However, community members don’t want to mix their reason for using the Nextdoor platform with keeping in touch with friends, family, and college roommates. These are very different activities and mindsets.
Focus Helps Community Members to Feel More Comfortable Participating
If your online community is a blank slate, members may not understand the inherent activities that are socially acceptable in the community and therefore, hold back on participating until the “societal norms” are clearer. In contrast, the purpose of Nextdoor is unambiguous. The community is for neighbors to share information and build stronger relationships with other neighbors
Lesson #3) Rely on Groups, not Walls, to Bring People Together
The people behind Nextdoor chose to design the platform around groups versus walls. Rather than community members spending time building the personal profiles and sharing information with only those who follow them, they chose a more centralized model that is seen less in social networks and more in online communities.
In this model, there are specific groups or categories for discussions, such as recommendations, free items, lost and found, and crime and safety.
Instead of having to connect with people, make friends, and build relationships before you can get any updates from other community members (since you'd see information from only those people who you’re connected to), Nextdoor takes advantage of central areas of the community where people can post questions, comments, observations, recommendations, and complaints.
Lesson #4) People Like to Help People
According to research from the Society for New Communications Research (SNCR), almost 80% of people participate in online communities to “help others by sharing information, ideas, and experiences.” In addition to visiting to post observations and ask questions, people visit Nextdoor.com to further become a member of the community by helping other people in their community.
The social network is full of people asking for things like recommendations for a hairdresser or information about the police activity that they saw on the corner during their evening commute home. Along with posting, people go to Nextdoor.com to browse the questions that other community members have asked, so they can respond with “Yeah. I know what happened. There was a minor traffic accident.” or “I have this great plumber that I know you’d love.”
This type of engagement benefits the user who responded because they get to help you. It benefits the plumber because he did a good job. Then, the benefits the question-asker because it gives them confidence that they are not going to get ripped off. Most importantly, it benefits the online community by modeling the problem/solution model that grants people permission to post questions and respond to users in the future.
Lesson #5) The Right Platform Can Make the Role of Community Managers More Strategic
You’ll notice that Nextdoor communities do not have a visible community manager. There is not a human recruiting new people for the community, connecting members, and increasing participation. However, the social network is still very active. This is largely a result of carefully designed processes that take advantage of features in the web-based platform.
For instance, when someone joins the community members are asked to welcome that new member. This is an easy way to increase the sense of community among new members and convert new members into contributing members faster.
Also, by default, when a new question is posted, an email notification goes out to members alerting them of the new message in the community.
Having key community management processes supported by the online community software enables community managers to focus on higher level tasks, like optimizing those processes, testing new approaches, and scaling engagement.
Online Community Engagement Takeaway
Online community managers can learn a lot by examining what works and what doesn’t in those online communities in which they are active as members. Participating in the Nextdoor site highlighted the ability of online communities to solve real-world problems.
However, the community would not be nearly as useful if the planners of the social network did not take certain deliberate steps in their strategy development and community management processes.
These include getting the focus of the value proposition right, structuring the community around central discussions, and setting up systems to bring people back to the community on a regular basis.