In May 2022, we moved. Within a week we received a DIY-looking printout in our mailbox that appeared to be created by a neighbor inviting us to join the neighborhood group on the NextDoor App. I had never heard of the app but thought it couldn’t hurt to join a neighborhood group online for updates and perhaps to meet some folks in the area.
I put up with this app for a month and that was a month too long. I deleted it for reasons I set out below.
I tossed the printout that was delivered in our mailbox but I now suspect it wasn’t a friendly neighbor but instead a very clever marketing strategy. It sure worked with me cause I signed up within a day of receiving the printed invite to join the group. My suspicions were somewhat confirmed when I received a broader neighborhood email newsletter (it’s a legit association) sent an email saying that they are not the group behind the Nextdoor printout campaigns. While the neighborhood association doesn’t outright say it’s more marketing than anything else, it insinuates it by saying these printouts don’t have any contact info for the person delivering it. It just has a name at the bottom.
Nextdoor is a decent idea but badly executed
Nextdoor isn’t malicious or anything nefarious as far as I can tell. Instead, it’s simply badly executed and far more a nuisance than helpful. Here’s are my gripes about this app:
Isn’t restricted to your neighborhood: I turned on notifications believing I’d receive super relevant updates and info but that’s not what happened. I was getting notifications about neighborhoods 10 miles away. In fact, very few posts pertained to our local area.
Way too many local businesses plugging services: I’m all for marketing. I’m all for supporting local business. I’m not all for joining a group to then be bombarded with local businesses, most of which are pretty far from where I live, hawking their services. I didn’t sign up for that. I certainly don’t want to receive notifications for that.
Cluttered UX: There’s too much going on in the app. I can’t figure it out.
The biggest problem is the group I joined isn’t restricted to people in my direct neighborhood. If the app could get that right, I can put up with businesses marketing services and the cluttered UX.
It’s unfortunate because it seems to me that restricting notifications members received to their immediate neighborhood is possible.
Better options for a neighborhood platform
Facebook Group for Your Neighborhood
Facebook group is a better solution IMO. I can’t believe I’m saying this because I’m not a big fan of Facebook Groups but for a neighborhood group, FB Groups is perfect. The reason for this is it can be tightly monitored with respect to who is admitted as well as what’s posted.
The only downside is it does require an administrator to take the time to administrate it. It’s a bit of a thankless job but if done reasonably well, it can be very effective.
Managed website & email newsletter
Our broader neighborhood has a website, print newsletter and an email newsletter. It works great. The website posts updates and events. The newsletters do as well. Ours is an established association that runs it. The newsletter sells ad spaces for reasonable rates.
What’s important here is there are people running it so it’s properly managed.
The downside is it’s not as timely as social media. The website isn’t updated daily (more like weekly or monthly). The newsletter is monthly.
The perfect combo is a website, email newsletter and Facebook group
If you want a well-run neighborhood digital presence, setting up a website, email newsletter and Facebook Group is ideal. It’s a perfect gig for someone who has quite a bit of spare time and has an interest in their neighborhood. There’s so much that these platforms and forms of communications could do for a neighborhood.
Our broader neighborhood association takes this approach and it’s great. I receive the email newsletter and am part of the FB Group.
If your neighborhood doesn’t have an association or group, is it worth starting?
IMO, it is. I’m not super involved in my community but I like being kept up to date with what’s happening. I’m more involved in my kids’ school (which is in the neighborhood) and I coach local teams but I do very much appreciate all the folks that contribute time to the running our neighborhood association.
If you don’t have much time, the easiest and most effective thing to launch is a Facebook Group. It costs nothing. There probably won’t be much administration needed if you restrict it to a very localized area. The key will be getting your neighbors to join which does require getting the word out a bit. Just make it clear it’s not going to be a spam fest or permit marketing. It’ll be used for helpful information only.
Running online platforms for neighborhoods can get tricky
I run an online forum and the pr0blems associated with that are similar to running a local neighbhorhood Facebook Group. The biggest problem, asssuming you don’t have a spam issue, is determining whether to permit certain posts or not. Specifically, should you permit people to post things for sale? It veers toward marketing but isn’t entirely.
While it might seem like a tough one, here’s my two cents’ worth. Do not permit people to post stuff for sale. Before you know it, you’ll be running a classifieds page which goes against the purpose of the group in the first place. There should be no commerce happening, whether a small business or people selling stuff.
Selling ad space in the newsletters
I actually think our larger neighborhood association does it right. They do offer ad spaces for local businesses at the bottom of the email newsletter and on the website. They’re not obnoxious. It generates some revenue for the association. It gives very local businesses an opportunity to reach their customers. It’s a win/win. I just wouldn’t permit in the Facebook group. That’s a slippery slope.
And yes, you can certainly sell classifieds in the email newsletter as well.