How new hyperlocal apps are connecting communities

There has been a surge in hyperlocal apps and services that bring people closer together as the popularity of the sharing economy continues to rise.

eatwith app
EatWith allows users to share a meal with local hosts for an authentic take on a city’s cuisine

Hyperlocal apps and services with environmental and social movements at their heart are gaining pace, galvanising communities and putting the emphasis for change on people as well as brands.

From borrowing your neighbour’s ladder or hedge cutters to eating with strangers and giving away your unwanted possessions, these apps are encouraging people to share skills and tools with those living closest to them.

“The challenges that face society and humanity are too big for any one brand to tackle,” says Nick Davies, founder of Neighbourly – a social network that connects local projects and community needs with companies looking to help with funds and volunteering programmes.

The network started out as a matchmaking service connecting brands to communities, who would use the site to explain their local needs, allowing companies to see if there was a strategic fit in fulfilling the request. Brands can offer employees’ time, funds or surplus goods and services.

“We would love to see sharing become as big as shopping.”

Sam Stephens, founder and managing director, Streetbank

The site evolved to allow individuals to volunteer and make donations. Users can see what projects are happening in various neighbourhoods, get involved or replicate it in their local area.

“The dynamic that creates is one of collaboration – it really means that business can start to think about how they can unlock potential in society,” says Davies. “Many companies have great capacity to empower their staff to volunteer and they have money they can give, but if they think about activating their customers the impact they can make is exponential.”

Sharing, not shopping

Streetbank allows people to give items they no longer need to their neighbours, share home improvement items such as ladders and drills and help people in the community with gardening, DIY or languages.

“We would love to see sharing become as big as shopping,” says founder and managing director Sam Stephens.

There is no cost to join but users have to offer something in return, which Stephens describes as “a real resourcefulness” within communities that use the website. He says: “The thing that drives us and excites people is that sharing can make a difference to your community. There is a real desire to go back to the good old days, community spirit and [to] see things used well.”

Stephens hopes that people looking to do DIY “wouldn’t start by heading off to their local B&Q or Homebase but would see what is in their neighbourhood”.

READ MORE: How startups can use marketing to attract investors and fight off competition

However, there is an underlying reason that users may be attracted to sharing with neighbours, as it allows them to move away from the online world of social networks and connect with people in real situations.

One example is a user that was struggling with depression and agoraphobia, who went on to build a community around himself by spreading word of mouth about the app and by growing his neighbourhood’s user base from seven to a few hundred people. Stephens says the business can help tackle “some of the big challenges of today – it’s good for the environment, building community and tackling loneliness”.

Shpok boot sales app
Boot sale app Shpock enables users to interact with their neighbourhood

Armin Strbac, co-founder of boot sale app Shpock, agrees that “although technology like smartphones often has the reputation of isolating people from interacting with each other”, it is apps like this that “enable the users to interact with their neighbourhood”.

Shpock, which recently surpassed 30 million downloads, shows users second-hand items for sale based on location. The further down you scroll, the longer the distance to the items.

“Using Shpock is like taking a digital stroll in your second-hand neighbourhood, which seems to be [exactly] what people like to do,” says Strbac. “The vicinity and simplicity of posting items makes it easy for people to sell stuff that otherwise might just stay in their garage, which also has a positive effect on our environmental footprint.”

Neighbourhood trust

Tapping into local knowledge is another strand to community sites and neighbourhood social network Nextdoor, which launched in the UK in September, includes an added extra of security.

In addition to local recommendations of tradespeople, the buying and selling of goods, and organising events such as books or fitness clubs, Nextdoor is also a virtual neighbourhood watch.

In a study of more than 2,000 people across the UK, conducted by One Poll, 83% of respondents say it is important for communities to pull together to fight crime.

A perceived lack of police presence forced by spending cuts is seen as a reason for feeling less safe for almost a third of people, while 30% say that getting involved if they spot criminal activity is just too risky.

The app is tapping into these community concerns and allows people to post a video or CCTV shots of people to help catch criminals or warn neighbours on a particular street, according to Max Chambers, director of communications for Nextdoor in the UK, who is also responsible for developing partnerships with government agencies.

“The sharing economy provides alternative experiences that allow the world to be more open and connected.”

Annie Lee, head of marketing, EatWith

He says that from a policing standpoint there is a separate platform for public services where “they can communicate with individual communities”, which can be useful “in the aftermath of a serious crime”.

The network is therefore private and secure. All members use their real name and verify their address and conversations stay between the user and the neighbour they are communicating with.

Fostering growth depends on the users in those neighbourhoods, so Nextdoor is focusing on “building a strong foundation by finding motivated quality founding members”, says Chambers.

He adds: “It’s gamified so the people that put themselves forward have to find 10 other people in the first 21 days. If they don’t do that, someone else gets a go. It’s about finding those early adopters because once they get going they really go.”

Eating like a local

People have opened up their homes with Airbnb and are happy to ride in a car with strangers through UberPool but EatWith wants to expand this to how consumers eat.

The company, founded in 2012, is moving away from big business by providing an alternative to dining out at mass-market chain restaurants. Users can share a meal with more than 650 local hosts across 200 countries alongside other strangers that are hungry for a more authentic take on a city’s cuisine.

READ MORE: EatFirst is creating the first ‘online-only’ restaurant to disrupt the food delivery sector

Head of marketing Annie Lee says this sharing economy is “democratising work in every industry” and is a trend the business aligns with because “it allows suppliers to have more freedom and avoid monopolies from big companies”.

On the consumer side, she says, “the sharing economy provides options and, more importantly, alternative experiences that allow the world to be more open and connected”.

As the online world grows these apps are using technology, which can often result in interactions only taking place in the virtual world, and bringing people together in reality based on real local needs.

Brands looking at ways of gaining local insight and galvanising communities towards a strategic cause can also benefit from how and what people are doing to interact in their neighbourhoods.

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