It’s the best of times and the worst of times. The hyperlocal market is totally on fire. And no one is yet making real money on it. Hundreds of deal of the day startups launched this year. Dozens are now merging or shuttering. Hyperlocal news is red hot. Yet Patch and other players who aspire to dominance appear to be feeling their way for a viable revenue model. So here’s a quick list of what I’d like to see happen in the New Year to crystalize and clarify the hyperlocal market and make this a more viable place to play.
1) Make ad buying easier on mom-and-pop merchants or even SMBs.
Buying interactive ads remains a huge stumbling block for hyperlocal. In part, this is because a lot of mom-and-pops don’t even have websites. A number of companies have tried to address this in the past by making ad creation really simple and adding the sale into existing newspapers’ sales offerings. (PaperG’s Flyerboard being a prominent one in this realm). The creation side has been made better but payment and placement still needs to be made simpler. Of course, some company is going to call me out on this, but to truly drive adoption, mom-and-pops will need the equivalent of a person-to-person payment structure that lets them, say, pay for spots via email.
2) Make Facebook a more viable social publishing system.
Some local online pubs have already ditched their websites to publish only on FB. This is very cool and it’s powerful. FB is a totally social beast already and one logical place for local news is a place where people already congregate around geographical and social connections. What would be super cool (and I don’t think it yet exists) is an FB app to allow hyperlocals to build out truly robust offerings. Directories, collaborative content, editing, privileges – like a basic CMS but in the FB platform. Granted, those companies would initially depend on FB to grow but this is probably an easier route than trying to do a stand-alone site and drive people there. With the Washington Post and the Guardian (in the U.K.) seeing huge influxes of traffic from FB sharing, this is one tool that the little guys could really lever up as a great equalizer.
3) Lots of new formats for mom-and-pops’ ads to drive customer engagement.
I was talking to Michael Litt, founder of online video serving and advertising company Vidyard at the Under the Radar Conference in Silicon Valley and was surprised to learn that some smaller businesses were serving up geo-targeted video ads via his service. But video is just the beginning. We’re seeing the early glimmers of ways to build engagement and novel marketing strategies leveraging social technologies and social actions beyond hitting the “Like” button or the RT count.
It’s not all there yet and easy entry points for mom-and-pops remain elusive (see point 1 above) but the future is creeping up where applications that tap the power of local (NFC, check-ins, loyalty, and much more) and make it more fun to participate will become woven into the marketing arsenal of creative small businesses. This one is the longest shots because those types of campaigns actually take a lot of time and effort to create and making them truly widespread is a tall order. But the big trio of email, online display and CPC will soon have lots of company – or so I hope.