Own Your Neighborhood, Keep the Big Boys Away
(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.