Chicago traffic swallows lots of billable time, adding up to hours of dead windshield time. Curran McHenry knows this, and as such he wants to keep his service area tight, efficient and focused on his Schaumburg, Ill., neighborhood. A few years ago, McHenry, owner of ANTi Pest Schaumburg, found a social media app called NextDoor. It’s a private social network app that allows people of the same community to share recommendations, ask questions (and air grievances).
NextDoor is a young platform, launched in 2011 and recently gaining traction as the online place to hang out if you care about your home and neighborhood, are seeking contractors or simply want to keep an eye
on the neighborhood. The thing about NextDoor is, it’s hyper-local. You’re talking to people in a very tight geographical radius — and that works for McHenry because he doesn’t necessarily want to reach out to homeowners living across town. Again, the traffic time.
So, McHenry started a NextDoor profile. His identity was verified through a phone call (you also can choose a postcard), and he began responding to queries about home problems a pest control service could solve in a tip-oriented way. No salesy posts. “Within a day or two, I had responses,” McHenry says. He estimates signing on about 15 customers who are quarterly pest control clients.
Dustin Whitehead, president, White Line Pest Management, Roseville, Calif., agrees: “NextDoor is my best shot at staying local with my communications.”
Whitehead started his company in March 2018 and already has grown it to 200 customers. NextDoor is one of the social media marketing inroads he uses to tap into potential customers. And, he finds the leads from this micro-social network of neighbors are “more loyal to you as an expert.”
THE LOCAL EXPERT. What’s different about micro-social media networks that are community-driven and demand user transparency (you must use your real name)? These apps tend to attract a more concerned, home-conscious buyer. The posts aren’t about what Joe ate for breakfast and how Jane’s doing with her new workout program.
“The general tone is about home service,” says Corey Czyz, who runs a site called Home Pro Success where he shares marketing strategies. He’s an adviser to pest control company Terra Tech and is president of Gulf Coast Aluminum in the Naples-Fort Myers, Fla., area. “It seems the focus on Facebook is more socializing with friends and family,” Czyz says.
NextDoor is an opportunity for smaller service businesses because it’s free, fairly young and not as inhabited as other larger paid-advertising vehicles. “Now is the right time to start building your presence because it’s growing and it’s wide open in the sense that no one is really marketing on it,” Czyz says.
NextDoor offers a paid advertising component. Businesses can work through third-party marketers to secure space. “But it doesn’t seem to have any traffic,” Czyz observes, adding that he’s keeping an eye on it and will consider the investment.
In the meantime, being the local expert on NextDoor and encouraging sales associates to open profiles and respond to users’ questions is giving his service business plenty of leads that turn into sales. Czyz estimates about 10 people per week say they saw his business on NextDoor.
Whitehead agrees. “It’s letting people know you’re the local expert and can be of assistance,” he says. His strategy: Putting out local tips that are in the moment.
“Like now, it’s raining so we end up getting ants inside,” Whitehead says. “So, a tip I would put out there is to be sure you don’t have moisture collecting close to the house. Or, earlier in the winter it was rodent season, so I recommended trimming trees to reduce access for rodents. These posts keep a constant presence.”
People on NextDoor aren’t necessarily looking for a pest control company, Whitehead adds. “They’re looking for something that piques their interest, or they want to report a problem, so if you can somehow pique their interest with a tip, then they see you as the local expert who is trying to help out.”
Whitehead participates in a similar way in his community’s Facebook group, which is private and open only to those living in and around the Roseville, Calif., area. “The group is for local business, so we can post those same kind of tips and tricks there,” he says. Because it’s a private community group, there’s a similar neighborhood target audience vs. using his business Facebook page to push posts to his followers.
Jimmy Schneider, owner, A Pest Cemetery, Phoenix, Ariz., notices that people on Facebook are “kind of flighty” and seem less urgent about connecting with a service. “Or, they’ll do a one-time, and it’s not continuous service,” he says.
Schneider was introduced to NextDoor when a customer mentioned him on the app. That was a year and a half ago, and since then he has acquired 15 to 20 regular accounts because people saw his business there. “NextDoor has been very helpful — I’m getting a lot of referrals that way,” he says. “The advice I would give a service business is: Ask a customer to [mention] you on the app, if possible.”
POWER OF COMMUNITY. Brandon Doyle is a marketing manager at Blue Corona, a digital marketing company with offices in Gaithersburg, Md., and Charlotte, N.C. The company partnered with Next-Door to buy media on behalf of clients that don’t have the pocketbook to spend $15,000 for advertising — the minimum monthly investment, which is in line with fees for traditional media buys, Doyle says.
So, Blue Corona buys monthly ads with NextDoor and plugs its clients into those positions. “What makes NextDoor so effective is the locality aspect,” Doyle says, adding that verified users make the app legitimate. You won’t find fake accounts.
“You are engaging with a hyper- targeted, hyper-local set of users, and that’s where a service company like a pest control business can come in and engage with those users,” Doyle explains. Specifically, there are two ways to engage. You can start a free profile and make comments on users’ posts, or suggest tips and tricks. Also, you can buy advertising. In both cases, tying your comments and company to ratings is key. “We build up our online reviews there, and we incorporate NextDoor into our review-building systems by linking our profile,” Whitehead says.
What’s the difference in advertising on NextDoor vs. posting in the community? “When you invest on a monthly basis, you are getting ad impressions and you are mentioned in the daily email newsletter,” Doyle says. “You are showing up to people who may not be familiar with you.”
As for conversion rates, Doyle says, “We are seeing a direct correlation between when clients run NextDoor advertising and branded searches on Google. For example, we can collect data that shows X many people on average are searching for your company name or a variation of it, and X percent are looking while you are advertising on NextDoor.”
Companies that don’t advertise should still “claim their page,” Doyle says, just as you would for a Google My Business or Yelp page. But again, the locality is what makes NextDoor an effective tool for service companies, Doyle says. Citing Next-Door stats, he says more than 170,000 neighborhoods across the country are using it, with 90 percent of neighborhoods in all 50 states engaging on the platform. “It really is growing quickly, and in some major markets they have a 40 percent household penetration,” he says of the number of people in those communities that use NextDoor. That’s nearly half in some densely populated cities.
“And, it’s a highly qualified buying demographic,” Doyle adds. The breakdown goes like this: 77 percent are married with children; 60 percent are female; and the average household income is more than $100,000 with 74 percent of users owning vs. renting. “These users have the power to make purchasing decisions,” he says.
NextDoor isn’t the only neighborhood-focused app out there, but it might be one of the most business- and service-minded. Ioby is a platform that promotes and supports community leaders that are taking on local service projects. Freecycle is a swap site for reusing/repurposing. (Your “trash” could be a neighbor’s treasure.) Everyblock pulls tweets, Facebook posts and other online mentions to give you a roundup of what’s going on in your area. Most similar to NextDoor, Home- Advisor connects people with tools and resources for completing home improvement, maintenance and repair projects. (HomeAdvisor merged with Angie’s List in 2017 to form ANGI Homeservices.)
HomeAdvisor released stats from 2018 related to service requests, noting the app surpassed 100 million and has more than 206,000 prescreened and approved home service professionals in its network. It also has more than 5 million reviews submitted by homeowners.
McHenry says for service businesses that want to put their name on the map in their local community, NextDoor is the best place to start. And, with NextDoor, McHenry has “never paid a dime” to get exposure by being a helpful user.
“People on NextDoor are looking for a neighborly touch — someone who is in tune with the community,” he says. “I live in my community. They can see that I understand what’s going on in the area, and I’m right here, so it feels comfortable.”
The author is a frequent contributor to PCT.