(This is a guest post from Adam Shapiro, who first got the hyperlocal bug working for Neighborhood News 12 in 1999, and is now heading up hyperlocal efforts for Zebek. Adam is a “recovering” television newscast producer who also consults for Spyderlynk and Ripfone, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
It all seems so obvious now…
… Friendster? “Like someone can do social networking better than us.”
… WebCrawler? “What’s a Google, anyway?”
… CompuServe. “We can auction off Sony Walkmans online. Who’s gonna top that?”
As crazy at it sounds, there was a time when those brands owned digital verticals that are now billion dollar categories. Then, as you’d expect, competitors followed and the territory that was once theirs… was gone.
The New Competition
Now there’s a new threat out there specifically targeting the neighborhoods our hyperlocal bloggers own: The Big Boys.
You know who I mean: AOL, Google, etc., there’s even a rumor Yahoo! is entering the fray. They’re all coming after your neighborhoods aggressively and from different angles. We’ve seen big corporations try to build “community” before and fail, and personally I think the odds are against them again here.
But you can never sit back and rely on that. Instead, now’s the time to retrench and take ownership of your neighborhoods as much as you can. In this sense, competition is good – it forces you to innovate and maybe even make money in the process. But the goal is to avoid saying one day: “Wow, we had it… and we lost it.”
Yes, it’s easier said than done. Few hyperlocal publishers have multi-million dollar marketing budgets and hundreds of employees at their fingertips (if you do, you’re probably on the wrong site). But I would argue that you have something more valuable – you know your communities better than they do and because of that you have more valuable content.
How Do You Leverage Being Small?
You find ways to take advantage of today’s innovation to further engage and entrench your communities. In the process you will no doubt find way to increase your revenue, a portion of which you can reinvest in your business.
However, theory is one thing… practicality another. So how do you specifically do it?
First off, every hour you spend creating content should be complemented by another hour working on your strategy and business plan. It sounds like a lot, and many of you have other jobs to think about too, but a focus on building the business (community and revenue) is more of a priority now than ever before.
Second, investigate the new digital technologies that come across your desk. It’s often as simple as plugging in a URL or picking up the phone. Every time Matt writes about a tool like Rusty Budget, Fwix or Woo Themes, see if the tools are right for you.
One thing to always keep in mind is that where there is an audience, there are many ways to drive revenue without sacrificing the quality of the experience you provide. The value is in the superior targeting you deliver every day. For example, often a business that’s in your coverage area will pay to sponsor your content, e.g. perhaps a local car insurer would own your Radio Reference feed. It’s targeting for them… and delivering content your advertisers want to put their name on.
What About Mobile?
Many believe that it’s the Holy Grail of hyperlocal, so consider investigating things like the SeattleCrime iPhone app. Could you do the same?
Perhaps the new video capabilities of the iPhone can help you create a video news element to your blog, as an easy way to improve CPM rates.
Here’s the good news: this research won’t take as long as you think. I know that because I’m living it. In interest of full disclosure, I work with a company that’s in the process of rolling out free iPhone, Blackberry and Android apps for more than 20 local blogs in early July (including notables like Baristanet, Maplewood Online, MyRye.com, Brooklynian, and BococaLand). We’re partnering to together figure out innovative and engaging tools for their content, while developing new revenue streams. We’re now in midst of finding our next wave of partners.
We’re excited to see how our collective efforts pan out – all of our partners agree that there’s a larger community to be had and, importantly, money to be made out there. Crazy at it sounds, our success might help them take that long-overdue vacation, but perhaps more importantly, allow them to reinvest in their brand.
The reality is… if not now, then when? The clock is ticking for all of us, before those Big Boys come knocking.
Readers, I’m curious to know how well you’re doing in attracting comments and discussions on your hyperlocal blogs/sites? And not only how well you’re attracting them, but how’s the quality of the conversation?
This is prompted by an interesting article written a few weeks back by Steve Buttry – an article that offers an examination of Civil Beat, the hyperlocal site started in Honolulu by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.
Civil Beat has a content paywall, but it also has a discussion paywall. Readers can pay just 99 cents/month to access article summaries and full discussions about the articles. By forcing people to pay, anonymity goes away — and when people have to reveal themselves by name, the conversation improves:
As a result, Mark Potts noted to me a few weeks ago and on his blog, discussions on Civil Beat are amazingly (come on, you could see this coming) civil. Mark noted a discussion about same-sex civil-union legislation that was robust, with strong opinions on both sides, each with a full real name attached, but none of the ugliness on both sides that often characterizes anonymous discussion of the same issue in other forums.
So I’m curious … how’s the conversation on your local blogs/sites? Do things ever get ugly/uncivil? Comments are open.
We talked a few months ago about WordPress themes for hyperlocal blogs, and since that post/discussion, the folks at WooThemes have launched a hyperlocal theme of their own. It’s called City Guide.
(you can click for a larger version of that image)
This theme is a combo Blog & Business Directory, which I suspect might be exactly what some local bloggers have been looking for. This is NOT a free theme; the standard purchase price is $70, and you get two free themes when you buy this one (or any other from WooThemes). Here are two links to learn more:
- City Guide by WooThemes (my affiliate link if you’re in the mood to support HLB)
- City Guide by WooThemes (direct, non-affiliate link)
Cari and I use different themes from WooThemes on three of our four local blogs, and I love their work. Highly recommend checking them out, even if this theme isn’t what you’re looking for.
I’ve seen some rumblings on various hyperlocal blogs, and in the Twitter accounts of various hyperlocal bloggers, about their local newspaper or TV station reporting news that was originally reported on the hyperlocal blog … but without giving the blog credit.
Does that sound familiar to any readers? If so, you may want to read this piece from Danny Sullivan last week:
Danny is the founder/editor of Search Engine Land (where I’m the Assignment Editor), and he details how traditional media all over the world used a story he broke on SEL without giving any credit — and how he managed to get some of them to cite SEL after the fact.
And yes, hyperlocal bloggers/journalists should certainly credit traditional media sources, too. It’s a two-way street.
Has anything like this happened to you? How did you handle it? Comments are open, so tell your story so we can all learn for if/when it happens to us, too.
(This is a guest post from Ed Walker, a journalist with Media Wales in Cardiff, Wales, UK who setup and still runs the community news site, Blog Preston, for Preston, Lancashire, UK.)
Hyperlocal blogs are all about location and are generally run by people who live in the area they seek to serve. But what happens when you’ve built up a local blog and move away from the area?
I don’t think many of us would stay in an area just to keep up a local blog. We have relationships, job opportunities or other reasons for moving to pastures new. Building up a hyperlocal site takes time and dedication; you build a community around your content and, to a certain extent, yourself, but what if you’re not there?
I started up Blog Preston to act as a hub of community news, views and information in January 2009 for Preston, Lancashire, UK. I’d had the idea for a while but finally sat down one cold Sunday afternoon and got it started.
In November of 2009 I was offered a job in a different part of the country, and being 23, ambitious and wanting to further my career, I had to take it. But what about the hyperlocal site I’d created and had decent traffic coming to? It seemed such a shame to let it become tumbleweed in a Google search.
Throughout the time of Blog Preston I’d always been keen on getting guest contributors and giving them the chance to air their views about local issues. So, I turned to the community I’d built up to find someone who could take on the day-to-day running of the site.
Step forward the lovely Lisa who took on the task of filling the blog with content. She brought a whole new perspective to the role as I moved to Cardiff, but I still kept in touch and kept a watchful eye behind the scenes on how the site was doing.
I found myself impressed by the content Lisa was producing and the different angle and direction she was taking. As a parent and living in a different part of Preston she had a different take on things. And this was good. It brought a new direction and energy to the site, not to mention a new audience.
However, after five great months she had a change in circumstances and couldn’t commit the time to continue with the site. I spent a few weeks wondering what to do with Blog Preston. I’d tried with someone else and found myself back again without anyone to manage the site. Should I just give up and accept it wouldn’t be kept going?
Enter Andy Halls and Joseph Stashko, two budding student journalists at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston. I studied there myself and had come into contact with Andy and Jo after they wanted to setup a hyperlocal site called MyPreston. I gambled: I offered them the chance to join forces – using the established name of Blog Preston – and in return they would take over editorial of the site.
It’s been a hit. With more people on board we’re able to produce more content, and their fantastic live blogging of the general and local election results in Preston brought us national praise. Having them running the show frees me up to focus on long-term opportunities and the potential to monetise the site. I’ve always been able to spend time working with my web designer friend to improve the look of the site.
But, I come back to that winter’s day in January 2009 when I set up that site. Often hyperlocal sites are a one-person band, but keep an eye on what you’re going to do in the future. Who would run your site while you went on holiday? What if you had to move away? Once you have a successful site, people start to expect content and you will feel like you have a duty to keep going. Make sure you’ve got a plan for your hyperlocal sites in the future – even if you’re not around.
That’s the same thing as what the rest of us call a topic page — a single URL where all information about an ongoing story/event/etc. lives permanently. But here’s the thing: skip Google’s plugins. Ignore it. Pretend it doesn’t exist.
Because it’s too freaking complicated. Seriously, just look at the documentation. It’s a guaranteed winner for Most Complicated and Convoluted WordPress Extension Ever.
It’s not just one plugin; it’s four plugins. And you have to install and activate them in a certain order.
It doesn’t work unless you also install the Living Stories WordPress theme. Yep, good luck with that. Can’t imagine there’s gonna be a lot of adoption with that requirement.
That says it all….