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May 22, 2024, 2:28 p.m.
Audience & Social

Welcome to the neighborhood! How Documented brings NYC immigration news to Nextdoor’s Caribbean communities

“We are bringing onto this platform — where people usually talk about their lost cat or that they’re looking for an apartment — serious news content sparking a new kind of conversation.”

Early last year, Ralph Thomassaint Joseph, Documented’s Caribbean Communities correspondent, posted a story he wrote about migrants in New York City advocating for better shelter conditions to Nextdoor.

The post got two reactions (“wow” and “sad”) and 42 comments — some of which were roughly what you might expect from Nextdoor, the neighborhood-focused social media platform that has struggled to curb racism and harassment in the past.

“People were very sour regarding immigrants,” Joseph said. “We have those type of reactions, [but] one of our goals is to spark conversation.”

Documented, which launched in 2018 as a news outlet covering immigration in New York City, has been experimenting with news on Nextdoor over the last year and a half as a way to reach New York’s non-Spanish speaking Caribbean immigrant communities. Joseph and Caribbean Communities editor Melissa Noel use the platform to share information, crowdsource stories, and communicate directly with Caribbean users.

Why Nextdoor? In a 2022 study Documented conducted to better serve Caribbean1 and Chinese immigrants’ information needs, the research found that 70% of Caribbean respondents were using Nextdoor or Citizen to find out what was happening in their communities. The majority (74%) mainly consume news in English, followed by French (19%), Creole (10%), and Spanish (10%).

“What we found is that, although there are a lot of racist comments, there are a lot of other people that are still finding it useful,” said Nicolás Ríos, chief product, education, and research officer. “This is why we do the research before developing any new product.”

Being on Nextdoor is just one example of how Documented builds in roads with new audiences in a meaningful, helpful way. Following the same research study, the newsroom also launched a WeChat account in Chinese to serve Chinese immigrants who rely on the app for daily communication, and it uses WhatsApp to communicate with Spanish speakers in New York.

On Nextdoor, Joseph posts in English and Creole. He’s found that four types of posts especially resonate with users: Photo slide explainers with the most important information about an issue, news about neighborhood events and ongoing news related to immigration, Documented news guides, and call-outs for tips. He posts videos of himself explaining how to access city resources and sends well wishes on holidays. He creates native posts for Nextdoor, usually with photos or illustrations, and almost never posts a Documented link or a full story.

In April, Joseph posted four slides explaining New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ plan to issue prepaid debit cards to families seeking asylum in the city. The slides outlined the facts of the plan and generated 29 comments with discussion and more questions about the policy.

Nextdoor does offer tools for businesses to publish on the platform, but Joseph uses a personal account so that users can get to know Documented’s work through him, instead of feeling as if a business is filling their feed. Typically, the platform only allows a user to join one neighborhood (by ZIP code) at a time. That allows Joseph to directly reach people in a particular neighborhood, compared to neighborhood Facebook groups, which anyone around the world can join. (When Documented contacted Nextdoor to explain its experiment, the platform granted Joseph’s account access to the 10 New York City ZIP codes with the highest Caribbean populations. Nextdoor did not respond to my requests for interviews for this story.)

Engagement on Joseph’s Nextdoor posts fluctuates; some posts get few to no reactions, while others take off in the comments. Nextdoor also allows little visibility into post analytics; Documented can only see post impressions for the first 48 hours after something is published. Joseph’s posts have garnered 25,000 views in the first quarter of the year and more than 100 comments. Documented doesn’t use paid advertising on the platform.

But racking up numbers and driving website traffic aren’t Documented’s goals for the platform. Just building a presence — and in turn, trust — on Nextdoor is the point. Every time a new neighbor joins the neighborhood, Joseph sends them “cookies” or “flowers” as a way to welcome them to the community and create visibility for his account. He said that has led people to DM him with tips and compliment the work he’s doing.

“If you go on Nextdoor [in the ZIP codes where Documented has a presence] and search ‘immigration’ or ‘migrants,’ you will see that most of the content is from Documented,” Joseph said. “Documented is really the first platform to bring the migration conversation to Nextdoor and this is something I’m at humbly proud of, because we are bringing onto this platform — where people usually talk about their lost cat or that they’re looking for an apartment — serious news content sparking a new kind of conversation.”

Joseph keeps tabs on specific keywords to stay tuned into what people are talking about related to immigrants and immigration. When one poster asked where they could donate clothes to migrants and asylum seekers in the city, Joseph was able to share Documented’s guide on how to do just that.

“Part of my routine is being on the platform every day, not just [checking] in the morning,” Joseph said. “Since we cover immigration in New York, if there is a conversation about immigrants and asylum seekers, I must be the person with huge interest in that and direct people to the resources they’re looking for.”

  1. Non-Spanish speaking Caribbean immigrants include people from countries like the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British West Indies, the Dutch West Indies, the West Indies, and Guyana. The Dominican Republic and Cuba were excluded from the study because immigrants from those countries are already served by Documented’s Spanish-language products and coverage. Given those parameters, there are nearly 477,000 Caribbean New Yorkers. The majority are from Haiti and Jamaica and live in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens. []
Hanaa' Tameez is a staff writer at Nieman Lab. You can reach her via email (hanaa@niemanlab.org) or Twitter DM (@HanaaTameez).
POSTED     May 22, 2024, 2:28 p.m.
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