​From gamification to warm pastries, how social network Nextdoor is building its Dutch community

Despite some success in the US, neighborhood-focused Nextdoor has had no presence overseas, until its recent move into the Netherlands.
Written by Tina Amirtha, Contributor

Nextdoor has been cultivating local communities across the Netherlands to adopt the community-based social network

Image: Nextdoor

When local-community social network Nextdoor decided to expand its web and mobile app platform globally, it didn't immediately move to the UK, where it could exploit a common language. Nor did it move to China, where it could mine a large user base.

Instead, Nextdoor moved to the Netherlands, a relatively small country the size of the US state of Maryland.

It was a carefully-considered choice. The Dutch are known to have high rates of volunteering, strong broadband networks, and were early adopters in the sharing economy. They also consistently rank highly on social-media usage internationally.

San Francisco-based Nextdoor, valued at $1.1bn, is used by more than 90,000 neighborhoods in the US.

According to the company's estimates, over 50 percent of all US neighborhoods use Nextdoor to exchange online messages about services, home goods, announcements, and events with their neighbors, within user-defined local boundaries. Now, Nextdoor wants to become even bigger.

In January, Nextdoor officially launched in the Netherlands, under the domain Nextdoor.nl, after running a three-month pilot from November.

Nextdoor's team in the Netherlands employed much of the same strategy that the US team used to grow its network. It courted potential power users, who it knew could mobilize local communities and relied more on word-of-mouth exposure than direct marketing.

But Nextdoor's most successful tactic was simply announcing its formal launch in the Netherlands. Within three days of the announcement, Nextdoor.nl's user base quadrupled to more than 10,000 users.

"We're everywhere now, even on the islands," Tamar van de Paal, country manager for Nextdoor Netherlands, tells ZDNet.

But Van de Paal knows that expanding across the Netherlands doesn't solely hinge on the reputation that Nextdoor has built in the US. Since November, he and his team have been relentlessly cultivating local communities across the country to use Nextdoor.

The team started in three communities that had strong, local neighborhood watches, called buurtpreventie programs. Before Nextdoor started looking for pilot testers, community buurtpreventie leaders had already been using online forums to exchange information about local safety.

Van de Paal says these were the power users who have given Nextdoor its first push forward in the Netherlands.

"People will always gravitate to the best platform to meet their needs," van de Paal says. "This is how it happened with buurtpreventie."

In December, van de Paal introduced a gamification strategy to get more neighborhoods to sign up. He challenged community organizers to get 10 or more people in their localities to join Nextdoor by 25 December.

Any community that met his challenge would receive fresh oliebollen, warm pastries that neighbors typically share while huddled on their streets at midnight on New Year's Eve.

In the week before January 1, the Nextdoor Netherlands team drove across the entire country, delivering fresh oliebollen from local bakeries to new Nextdoor members. Van de Paal biked around his hometown, Amsterdam, to connect with users there.

But there have been challenges. Nextdoor Netherlands needed to modify all its platforms' code to display its user interface in Dutch; every button and form on the iOS and Android apps, as well as its web interface, needed to be translated from English. In the US, an email-based listserv is available but not in the Netherlands.

However, a few buttons accidentally remained in English. Van de Paal said his users haven't been deterred by the mistake, adding that easy-going attitudes and a willingness to give direct feedback helped overcome the problem.

Beyond the translation missteps, the Dutch team is working on devising a strategy for communities to receive national and regional emergency notices in real time.

In the US, Nextdoor established partnerships with government agencies to relay official emergency notices through Nextdoor's apps. Rather than simply replicating that model, Nextdoor Netherlands is studying other opportunities in the country's own infrastructure.

With the Dutch market on board, Nextdoor is planning its next pilot tests for the UK this year.


Local community social network Nextdoor's first step outside the US was marked by its official Dutch launch, with, from left to right, Ruben Nieuwenhuis of Startup Amsterdam, Nextdoor's Jasper Hooijkaas, Nextdoor co-founder and CEO Nirav Tolia, and Netherlands country manager Tamar van de Paal.

Image: Ernst van Deursen/Nextdoor

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