Nextdoor is the social network working to get neighbours to connect offline – and it's taking off in Australia

Nextdoor is connecting neighbourhoods

It’s been one year since Nextdoor launched in Australia and it’s been quickly gaining traction.

CEO Sarah Friar told Business Insider Australia that Nextdoor is one of the company’s fastest growth markets – growing faster than both the UK and Canada.

“Today, if you live in Australia, 76% of the households are covered by a Nextdoor neighbourhood that has been founded,” she said.

The social platform aims to bring local neighbourhoods together. On first glance, it looks similar to Facebook, as users can post about events in their area, offer their maintenance services or sell their wares. There are other useful functions like ‘Lost and Found’ as well.

One of the main points of differences though is that the company verifies its users to make sure they actually live in a specific neighbourhood. And when you do sign in to the platform, you can see everyone’s name and what suburb they are in.

“We have verified users,” Friar said, adding that there are “no bots” on the site. “It’s true, real people at real addresses,” she said.

Friar joined Nexdoor in 2018 after serving as the chief financial officer at payment service Square. She highlighted that the three main reasons for Australians using Nextdoor are to give each other recommendations, for crime and safety-related issues and for organising activities in the community.

Nextdoor CEO Sarah Friar.

But when asked what makes Nextdoor truly distinct from Facebook, Friar explained that it was about accountability – especially when it comes to buying and selling through the platform.

“We find that on Nextdoor, people really do show up,” she said.

One other factor Friar pointed out was Nextdoor’s ‘kindness reminders’ – introduced in September this year – which lets users think carefully before they make a potentially harmful post.

When you make a post that is possibly offensive, a ‘Kindness Reminder’ will be prompted before it goes live. It gives you a chance to edit your reply or not make a post at all.

Friar said it was about slowing people down, getting them out of their biases and into their cognitive brain to be able to be more thoughtful about what they post. She added that racial profiling was one of the problems the reminders seek to tackle.

“What we found was that in slowing people down and causing them to be more thoughtful about how they make that crime and safety post, we took down instances of racial profiling someone by 75 to 80%,” Friar said. “So it had a very dramatic impact.”

The feature is designed to encourage respect among Nextdoor members and create a kinder neighbourhood.

“We still want people to discuss tough issues, but we want them to do it in a respectful way.”

Friar further added that Nextdoor “would love to see all tech platforms be more thoughtful.”

At the end of the day, Friar acknowledged that people may still join Facebook groups, but that Nextdoor provides another option.

“Many people are in strong Facebook groups and I’m sure those will continue,” she said. “But we want to prove that there is another platform that could also be helpful in their daily lives.”

Fighting against loneliness

Friar explained that Nextdoor wants to get people to move from the online to the offline world.

“I do think that there is something about online where there is a lower barrier to making that first outreach or having that first conversation,” Friar said. “People feel a little safer [when] they maybe don’t have to expose their whole self.

“But thereafter, we don’t want to keep people stuck behind that pane of glass. We actually want to figure out ways where we can cause communities to actually do something in the physical world.”

Friar suggested activities like a walking group or a book club that people can organise through Nextdoor. But the platform has been taking this idea one step further. In its efforts to bring neighbourhoods together, Nextdoor has also been working to tackle loneliness.

Research from the Australian Psychology Society together with Swinburne University found that one in four Australians feel lonely for three or more days.

In 2018, Nextdoor launched a #HelloNeighbour challenge in the UK where members were encouraged to spend an hour a week to help tackle loneliness in their own community, through actions like inviting someone for a coffee. The company also partnered with an organisation in the UK called Big Lunch which encourages people to set up a lunch in the street for your neighbours to join.

Now Nextdoor is thinking of bringing similar initiatives to Australia but it is first looking to get an idea of the landscape first.

“We’ve been thinking a lot here in Australia: is there something similar where we could actually get on board working with partners who bring people out into the physical world and bring them together,” Friar said.

“We want to do a pulse check before, then we would like to do something probably similar to the Hello Neighbour challenge or just something that gets a community spirit going.”

“[It could be] going and knocking on a neighbour’s door, maybe thinking about the senior in your community that may have lost a spouse that year, thinking about the young person that maybe is new to the neighbourhood and doesn’t know anyone.”

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