Neighbourly on hunt for councils to create community engagement

In moves parallel to Nextdoor in the US, Shane Bradley’s private neighbourhood website Neighbourly is shacking up with councils, signing an agreement with Rotorua District Council (RDC) to be an official communications platform to complement existing channels. And Neighbourly says it’s in discussion with a further 26 councils around New Zealand.

Neighbourly co-founder and managing director Casey Eden says it is a logical move for many reasons, as most councils around New Zealand rate community engagement and resilience amongst their top priorities.

“Furthermore, local councils already have the touch points and experience in their local patches. We believe Neighbourly is a tool that can link a few of the dots that councils can sometimes struggle with, and working in partnership really does mean both parties are working towards their individual strengths. We could never expect to build up the local knowledge the RDC has and likewise it would be a big undertaking for RDC to build a website like Neighbourly from scratch.”

In a release, Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick says the site “provides an excellent platform for the council to promote the community’s Rotorua 2030 vision, and specifically the goal of creating a resilient community”.

Some might say becoming established within council organisations also guards New Zealand territory against Nextdoor if it ever arrived here, which it may do at some stage.

“We have watched with interest similar partnerships being formed in America and it appears to be a very successful situation for many local councils and police forces,” says Eden. “Regardless of whether Nextdoor expands globally this is something we have wanted to do in New Zealand since starting Neighbourly so it’s great to see the partnership with RDC become a reality and it’s exciting to see more councils lining up to be next.”

RDC plans to use Neighbourly to engage with local communities: providing information on council-led events and meetings, keeping people informed about service interruptions and seeking feedback on issues. Since the announcement of the partnership the number of Neighbourly users has grown to almost 1000 households in the Rotorua district.

“We think this represents a really exciting level of growth based on the official partnership kicking off only three weeks ago. But we are also committed to growing this over the next few months and have a heaps of stuff planned in conjunction with the RDC,” Eden.

RDC’s Facebook page has 413 likes at the time of publishing, and the Twitter page 398 followers (Rotorua has a population of 65,280 according to 2013 census data).

Neighbourly may be able to increase the social reach of RDC, but online coordinator Margaret Cunningham says for now it has a completely different agenda for Neighbourly than it does for Twitter and Facebook. “We’ll be using it to reach out to the community with regards to Rotorua’s 2013 goals, but currently we do only use Neighbourly every three days or so.”

She says Twitter and Facebook are still RDC’s core social media platforms.

While Eden says at this stage he doesn’t see any councils dropping Facebook in favour of Neighbourly (rather he sees Neighbourly complementing the communication strategy RDC already has), he says there are advantages for RDC when using Neighbourly over Facebook, even in these early days.

These advantages include the ability to target individual suburbs, having access to all members (not like Facebook where you have to go and secure Likes and then pay for sponsored posts to get out to your users), and access to members that may not be Facebook members.

“Facebook is amazing obviously but not everyone on Facebook in Rotorua will be following the RDC,” says Eden. “But the ultimate goal is that each Rotorua neighbourhood uses Neighbourly for their own reasons and RDC eventually just becomes another organisation using the website to engage with the community.”

Neighbourly launched across New Zealand in May after a successful two month pilot in Auckland. The site enables “interaction and conversation between neighbours and community organisations by creating an easy way for them to talk and share online through free and private websites for their suburbs”.

Conversations can be anything from spare fruit to crime watch:

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