Nextdoor – The Challenges of Hyper-Local Social Media

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Nextdoor is a social media platform that was launched in 2010 as a “virtual neighborhood” program. The idea was touted as a new platform for community engagement, offering a hyper-local and highly accountable alternative to Facebook. Over 43,000 neighborhoods have been created across the United States on Nextdoor.

Nextdoor divides a city geographically into several virtual neighborhoods where members of each neighborhood can communicate online with each other. They may only communicate within their own neighborhood though sometimes proximate neighborhoods can communicate with each other. In order to participate in Nextdoor, a resident must validate their address inside a defined neighborhood.

When Nextdoor launched it solicited many cities to help “launch” their platform. This included working with cities to set the boundaries of different neighborhoods, as well as involving cities in the promotion of the platform. Cities were motivated to participate because the platform provides an opportunity for cities to communicate directly with individual neighborhoods within their cities, providing even more targeted information than can be accomplished with other platforms like Facebook.

As evidenced by the growth of Nextdoor, the platform has gained traction and users. Connected neighbors create healthy neighborhoods and that results in many benefits for the community and the City. Some cities have proven adept at using the platform to drive important messages to specific residential areas. In September 2014, Nextdoor announced a special program geared at using their platform to address emergency communication situations called Nextdoor for Public Agencies that provides even more tools for government agencies to connect with their communities.

Cities have, however, encountered some challenges with Nextdoor, based on conversations Tripepi Smith has had with city staff through the course of our work with public agencies. While these challenges don’t necessarily suggest Nextdoor is more heartache than help, there are lessons to be shared for the benefit of all city staff.

Challenge One – City Staff Blindspot

City staff cannot view what residents are posting within their neighborhoods. Staff may set up an account and send posts out to selected neighborhoods or to the entire city and then view any responses to those posts. However, staff cannot see general posts by residents. So for example, a city may send out a post about water conservation in the wake of California’s drought. The city will see any responses to that post. But if a resident makes a separate post about a number of broken sprinklers wasting water in the community, the city will not be able to view that post. Nextdoor did this by design (see Nextdoor FAQ) to avoid the perception that “Big Brother” government was spying on residents. Yet, this creates a challenge for cities because city staff does not know what information or misinformation is being shared amongst residents about city related matters. As a result, city staff are not given the opportunity to set the record straight or at least inject facts into a situation that might be boiling over in a Nextdoor comment chain.

Challenge Two – City “Ownership” of Nextdoor

Because cities were and continue to be involved in promoting Nextdoor by highlighting it on community newsletters or linking to it from the City website, some residents have the perception that Nextdoor is a city-endorsed and managed platform. In truth, Nextdoor is neither city-endorsed nor managed by city staff. It is completely independent and for reasons cited above, city staff have little insight into the conversations happening on Nextdoor, except the ones the city starts. With some residents assuming it is a city platform, residents are left to wonder why cursing, blatant spam sales activity or generally fantastical information is not moderated, shunned or addressed by the city. The truth is, the city can’t.

During rollouts with cities, Nextdoor pitched to cities that there would be strict quality control and moderation for profanity and SPAM by Nextdoor staff. However, public agency staff has communicated to Tripepi Smith that in practice, this has not been the case. Cities have had issues with profanity remaining on Nextdoor unmoderated and blatant sales activity spam, often by real estate agents.

As a result, the public sometimes becomes confused as to why a city platform is allowing profanity or sales messages on a “city communication channel.”

Challenge Three – Reporting Channel Conflict

Police departments have made an effort to use Nextdoor as part of their neighborhood policing strategy and to remain connected with the communities they serve. Meanwhile, some residents have connected with the idea they can report neighborhood nuisances through the Nextdoor platform, resulting in people posting messages directly to the city account about minor issues (noisy dogs, couches left out, etc.). In truth, these are often issues for other departments in a city to handle, but the police end up with a lot of information pollution to weed through to get to the crimes that warrant their attention. Law enforcement would prefer that residents use other channels to report these less pressing issues, making it easier to focus on crime-related matters that the police can address.


None of these challenges should be viewed as deal killers for a city working with Nextdoor. If the platform continues to sustain itself and add residents, cities likely won’t have much of a choice to not be involved with their Nextdoor neighborhoods. But these challenges do raise concerns that cities should proactively address as they manage or startup Nextdoor neighborhoods. It will also be interesting to see how the Nextdoor platform evolves to meet the needs of the cities or adjusts its business plan to monetize the web traffic it is generating. So, too, could these changes impact a city’s use or perceived endorsement of the platform.

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