A major challenge in microbial ecology is to understand the stability of interspecies interactions when progressing from pairs of interacting species to multispecies interaction networks. A lack of direct evidence, and a conceptual framework to explore how direct and indirect effects shape cellular responses in species-rich networks has hindered progress in our understanding of these combined effects. Here we aimed to investigate whether higher-order interactions shape community dynamics and transcriptional profiles of all interacting partners in a simplified microbial community that includes a primary producer (Nannochloropsis oceanica CCAP849/10) and two heterotrophic bacteria (Marinobacter sp. FDB33 and Alteromonas sp. FDB36). By combining co-cultivation assays, quantification of absolute abundances, nutrient analysis, and simultaneous RNA-sequencing, we reveal genome-wide transcriptional responses in all binary co-cultivation partners and show that the third partner can profoundly alter binary interactions at the phenotypic and transcription level. Our study demonstrates the context-dependency of binary interactions, whereby environmental conditions and the presence of specific organisms can affect the cellular physiology of the interacting partners and ultimately the stability of the community. Furthermore, our approach provides a powerful tool for probing the molecular basis of emergent properties in more complex systems.