Inside: Neighbourly

After launching halfway through last year Neighbourly is growing quickly, with 142,000 households now signed up and a number of big brands getting onboard too. Having just launched its business platform, we thought it was about time we caught up with Neighbourly to see what it’s up to and how these brand partnerships are coming along.

Neighbourly, which launched on June 1 last year, is a website designed to help Kiwis connect with their neighbours. Some common uses for it appear to be helping your neighbours get rid of their surplus fruit (only too happy to oblige) or getting rid of that old couch that’s been gathering dust in the garage, raising awareness about community events, discussing local issues, exchanging recommendations on local services and generally getting to know one another.

“We’re adding between 10,000 to 15,000 new members each month,” Neighbourly head of communications Sarah Moore says, and some big brands have used the platform to market themselves. “Pedigree Found, Panasonic, Generate, Countdown, Fonterra and others have used Neighbourly to support their marketing campaigns.”

We’re fortunate in that we’re able to customise aspects of the site for our advertisers and partners, she says. “ … whether it’s the sponsorship of a category or even building new features such as the recently released Home Contents Locker, supported by AMI.”

How does Neighbourly make its money, we asked. “We have six corporate partners on board: ANZ, AMI, BP, Contact, Spark and The Warehouse who help with the day-to-day running of the site,” she says. “Now that the business platform is up and running we also have opportunities for those small to medium businesses who are looking to do more local work and wanting to reach those living around them more effectively.”

She says its 1,200 Neighbourly Leads provide invaluable support by spreading the word about Neighbourly in their communities. “These guys are real advocates for Neighbourly and true community heroes. They’re passionate about their communities anyway – and Neighbourly is providing a platform for them to just bring their neighbourhood even closer together.”

Our partners have got right behind us, using their channels to encourage both their customers and their teams to be neighbourly, Moore says. “Our partnership with Fairfax has also played a huge part in raising the profile of Neighbourly – whether it’s been through geo-targeted advertising or just providing column space to share some of the incredible stories that come out of the site every day.” 

On that note we asked how its relationship with Fairfax (which owns a 22.5 percent share in Neighbourly, as of December last year) is going. “Fairfax has always been incredibly supportive; even pre-partnership Neighbourly regularly featured on their pages. Neighbourly is an integral part of Fairfax’s digital strategy – and really, the growth of the site over the past seven months is testament to the strength of our relationship.”

Back in December last year Neighbourly, which was co-founded by Casey Eden and Shane Bradley, founder of Finda, GrabOnePet.co.nz and ShopHQ, employed 14 staff and made no money, according to Stuff. The venture until December last year had been privately funded, primarily by Bradley, Stuff reported.

Neighbourly has employed four more staff since then, Moore says. “We’re still very wee. There’s 18 of us. Eight of them are full-time developers and the rest are admin/management. Four of the admin/management team are part-time.”

The Neighbourly team – supplied.

Fairfax managing director Simon Tong told StopPress earlier: “Neighbourly is flying along. They connect people up in communities. We’re not selling ads. The sponsors are using it to meet their obligations under corporate social responsibility. We’re really careful with that. It’s a key, the base premise of it is trust and relevance to the community we’re in. It’s a digital version of what our community papers have provided for years: hyperlocal news. What’s happening on your streets. You can ask the neighbour if they know a good plumber. And it’s grown at such a rate shows you that it’s required and wanted.”

It’s a privilege to have our logo on every Fairfax community/suburban newspaper, a weekly column to discuss community issues – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg, Moore says. “Their publications can now have a local profile on Neighbourly – an additional channel to reach and engage with their local communities. And there’s a lot more to come.”

Moore says a lot of awareness about the site has come via word-of-mouth through incentivizing members to invite their friends, family and of course neighbours to join them on the site. “In the early days we did a lot of the traditional stuff, but we also were down at the local community markets, pounding the pavements, handing out flyers in our launch suburbs and attending any event we could, either inviting ourselves or gratefully accepting invites that came our way.”

On Monday Neighbourly launched its business platform after trialling it in five Auckland suburbs, a release says. “The platform enables businesses to boost their community profile by creating a free listing in a local business directory which supports communication and engagement with people living nearby.”

Moore says the platform will be good for communities. “We’ve always said that when businesses are strong, our communities are strong too – and strong businesses are also important for vibrancy and community pride.”

People are genuinely interested in their local business community but for a long time there’s been the challenge of finding out whether there’s someone just down the road that might be able to help, she says. “And of course there are many benefits to businesses; most of them would like to do more local work rather than driving for an hour across town.”

“We’re closing the gap, giving businesses a chance to reach the people living nearby, keep their messages local and relevant, while making it easier for members to find a great local plumber/doctor/agent/yoga teacher. Also – it’s a great way for local businesses to find local employees and to boost the community economy.”

She says it’s free for businesses to list themselves on the platform, but there are options for those who want to really stand out.

Will there be advertising, we asked. “Yes – but don’t expect to see banner adds popping up all over the place. We’re working closely with advertisers to ensure they’re focused on community. A local real estate agent who is running seminars for first time auction attendees or a cafe doing free cake with coffee for neighbours is going to be better received than a retailer who screams buy, buy, buy!”

We’re here to help any kind of business – big or small – make sure they nail that message at the same time as getting their brand and services out there. It’s as much about us educating businesses as it is about them trying it out for themselves and seeing what works best, she says. “Ultimately, the members will tell them what they do and don’t want to see in their Neighbourly community. Members can also filter business posts if they’d prefer not to see them and follow the businesses they want to hear from most often.”

Another initiative Neighbourly launched recently, as Moore mentioned above, is its ‘Home Contents Locker’, an online tool for members to securely store information about valuable personal and home items via their Neighbourly account.

The Locker is sponsored by AMI and provides a record of belongings that would need to be replaced in the event of fire, burglary or other unexpected events, a release says. “Accessible instantly anywhere, at any time, the Locker is useful for insurance claims and can also assist Police in tracking down stolen property.”

All information stored is private and can only be accessed by the Neighbourly.co.nz member who has uploaded it.

AMI general manager customer claims Ruth Colenso says the Locker is an intuitive resource available to all Neighbourly members that will make the unthinkable easier to deal with.

“House fires and burglaries can be traumatic experiences, and the last thing you want to do is sit down with your insurance company and try to remember all the things you’ve lost ” she says. “It also takes a lot of time. The Locker helps you keep track of your belongings – big or small – so if the unthinkable does happen, it’s easier to make an insurance claim or file a Police report, because you know exactly what you’ve lost and how much it’s worth.”

Moore says an app for the Locker will be launched any day now.

As well as partnering with brands, Neighbourly has also partnered with organisations and councils. Moore says it now has 1400 organisations using Neighbourly and has launched official partnerships with Age Concern, Red Cross and six official council partnerships (Hastings, Napier, Whakatane, Whangarei, Taupo, Tauranga and Rotorua).

“Upcoming partnerships include Far North District Council – and Christchurch City Council. We also work very closely with the New Zealand Fire Service who have been successfully using Neighbourly for over a year to educate communities on important safety announcements,” she says.

She says each organisation uses the site a little bit differently depending on their need to connect with their local community. “Some are using it to recruit volunteers and new members, share safety tips, educate on community classes, spread the word about events, and gain feedback on everything from submissions to logos.”

In regard to member numbers, Moore says: “Auckland has the most members (almost 50 percent of members) but Tawa in Wellington still leads the way in terms of suburb membership. They have 1,735 households signed up now. First and second place are taken by St Heliers (1,482) and Remuera (1,450). But ultimately it’s not about numbers – it’s about people connecting. Some of our smallest suburbs are some of our chattiest.”

And Neighbourly is showing no signs of slowing down yet, Neighbourly.com.au is currently being trialled in 80 Sydney suburbs.

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