Five Elements of a Successful Hyperlocal Site | Street Fight

Five Elements of a Successful Hyperlocal Site

Five Elements of a Successful Hyperlocal Site

There are numerous places where local content producers can get advice about how to find the right groove with readers. Some have created guides to those businesses who have executed well, or “7 Habits” lists for successful hyperlocal sites. The folks at J-Lab did their own in-depth investigation into “what works” in hyperlocal journalism and came up with this, while a journalist across the pond takes a diplomatic view when considering hyperlocal content/news sites.

All of this is no accident — people love lists. They love reading and debating them. I’m no different there, which is why I’ve collected five elements which, based on my experience, are key to successful hyperlocal endeavors.

1. Not news, response to news
It scarcely matters any longer who actually breaks a story. It’s the actions of the fast followers that matter. Successful hyperlocal sites that grab the story after it has been reported by more traditional media and generate responses to it from those close to the event win.

Take a string of burglaries in a neighborhood. Reactions from Bob, who lives next to a house that was hit, and John, one of the victims, are more compelling and often more relevant than the actual headlines.

The narrative that follows a local story carries unimpeded communication among neighbors around a unifying topic, sometimes causing change to happen (fixing streetlights) or  fierce disagreements (it was those kids from the housing unit next door). Point is successful hyperlocal practices must included the ability to exploit an event that already occurred with a platform for neighbors to scrum it out or join forces for change.

I once characterized it as the “11 0’clock news dilemma.” Wasn’t long ago people would watch the 11 p.m. local TV news only to get wound up and frustrated over local issues with nowhere to vent before bed — makes for light sleeping. There simply were few contextual outlets for frustration until early local online sites and message boards began providing neighbors a place to express frustrations. Today, of course, this is commonplace among thriving hyperlocals.

2. Zip the ZIP … keep an eye on the cul-de-sac
Reduce the radius. Leave it to others to focus on the region, the county, the township. Instead focus on the neighborhood, the subdivision, the cul-de-sac. Attacking hyperlocal requires getting deeper, closer, more intimate and sometimes down to where it’s less comfortable: Maybe it’s not the neighborhood scuttlebutt exactly, but what’s on the minds of neighbors — almost regardless of subject — is certainly worthy of reporting or gathering and posting for discussion. Work from the inside out; start at the dining room level and build the radius out.

3. Social is an ingredient not a garnish
Too many attempts at creating successful hyperlocal destination sites have concluded with a thud — at least in part because the site owners made the critical mistake of pushing social activity below the surface (or at least not proactively buoying it to the top). Even in the age of Facebook and Twitter, where everyone is “publishing” all the time, there is still a great crowd of holdouts who simply like to watch. These are the neighbors astride the sidelines silently chastising or pulling for one household over another in the latest dust-up over trash collection or cracked sidewalks. Love these people. While they don’t contribute visibly, they feed off social content generated by others and create vital offline word-of-mouth. Any hyperlocal site expecting to succeed needs to begin with a strategy to gather, infuse and highlight neighbor input even before determining how to create the context.

4. Focus on fears
This is different from “fear mongering.” At the hyperlocal level, concerns over various environmental factors move from abstract to the concrete, from the beyond-control something that can be dealt with. National crime statistics, for example, are alarming — but don’t often move people to change their behavior. But experience a robbery on your block and people are buzzing, scrambling for alarm systems providers. Message? Focus on dangers people can understand viscerally and can act upon.

5. Stir the pot of competition among neighborhoods
This neighborhood pwns the one a street away. Its got mature trees, proper drainage, larger lots. But it’s also got the ding of having a sex offender formerly on the block. Time to get to work, voicing up the good sides of the the ‘hood and downplaying significance of the other. Hyperlocal sites that allow a platform for residents to, in effect, change their figurative “community Google rank” will gain the trust and ultimately the contribution of their neighbors. But to get that going, a site needs to surface the issues in such a way that illustrates where one neighborhood is excelling and where another isn’t. Inevitably, discussion will ensue.

24 thoughts on “Five Elements of a Successful Hyperlocal Site

    1. Reader engagement is critical to vibrancy and the veracity of a service, but engagement is not always necessarily “visible”. For instance I consider the lurkers a part of the community that makes it all go. 

  1. As someone who run a local site, breaks news all the time, and gets 85K unique visitors per month, I can tell you that this list is garbage.

    1. sounds like the guy was not saying breaking news is not good but that not all local sites can do it and that there are alternatives. some of the other ideas have seemed to work now that i think about sites from past. 

      not in line with your opinion or the successes you have seen, ok. but garbage? not really.

      1. Okay I’ve calmed down and can now offer more thoughtful criticism. It absolutely DOES matter who breaks a story. If you can get the reputation of being the first place to go when something’s happening, it does wonders for your site’s brand and for reader loyalty.

        Per #2, successful sites need to be a mix of big picture and granular. And if you’re being granular, you need to make sure it’s interesting to a wider audience. Writing about the cul-de-sac or the 5th grade science club is just spinning your wheels if the only people who find it interesting are the people on the block or the kids’ parents.

        Per #5, intentionally pitting neighbor against neighbor does not seem like a great way to endear yourself to the community. In fact, it’s a cheap strategy that will have similarly cheap results — short term boost, long term brand damage. If you’re properly covering the community, those neighborhood tussles will come out organically.

        1. Thanks dcnewser. 

          Thoughtful points.  

          For #2 I should have mentioned this was not to the exclusion of general local coverage but in advance or more focused than local coverage. It’s not something anyone has really done well beyond the listservs created by neighbors themselves and i do feel like it’s the next logical step. When I was creating local sites it was what we most often got dinged for not having or more yearned for.

          For #5 I get it. But I’m not suggesting tricking people into a neighbor-on-neighbor virtual brawl. I wrote:

          “Hyperlocal sites that allow a platform for residents to, in effect, change their figurative ‘community Google rank’ will gain the trust and ultimately the contribution of their neighbors”

          Oh BTW, please give your site a shout-out here

  2.  On the bottom four points, I might phrase things differently, but mostly agree.

    On point one, I couldn’t possibly disagree more vehemently.  Breaking news is a huge part of what we do.  It accounts for at least 60 percent of our popularity in the community, if I could put a number on it.  The constant feedback I get when I’m out and about is that people LOVE that we often have stories up before our competition, especially on things like accidents and fires.

    We’ve long lived in a microwave world.  People want their stuff and they want it now.  Instant gratification.  The site that does the best job of giving it to them wins.

    1. Howard, thanks for commenting 

      Perhaps I should be more specific … When I used to break stories (or at least get them out ahead of the local competition) it surely gave a brief traffic boost, built some trust and expectation among visitors and made us feel, well, pretty good. However when we quickly followed stories (ones we did not have a staff to even think about breaking) and swarmed them with context that really sucked people in and did not-let-them-go before contributing a comment or anecdote … when we did this the piece had legs that sprouted more legs, and with care and feeding hung around with relevancy long past the initial hoo-ha.Breaking and owning is great, if you can do that. But I suspect many small hyperlocals probably cannot. My #1 was for them.

  3. Agree absolutely with Howard. Overwhelmingly our biggest reader draws are the stories where we break the news. Of course, we then need to do the right follow up (duh), but it’s a lot easier to own a story when you break it. And it helps build the site’s credibility with readers and sources. 

    1. Thanks Lance. 

      Naturally breaking stories are gonna draw. No argument there. But how often can you break vs follow / create? And does the average (not avid) visitor know when they are reading / experiencing something you had first vs. something you quickly followed on hours later with, say, better engagement? 

      I’ll give this one some more thought.

  4.  I like your “Five Elements of a Successful Hyperlocal Site” — except I would qualify your “2. Zip the ZIP … keep an eye on the cul-de-sac.”  That’s the mistake some sites are making — drilling down to the block so deeply and inflexibly that you can’t see the forest for the trees.  In most cases, every cul-de-sac is materially affected by what happens in concentric circles extending beyond it: by the block, the neighborhood, the entire community, the region, the state, the country.  If housing value is down only at 11444 Links Drive in Reston — where I lived some time ago — the problem may be that the place hasn’t been painted recently or that the quad of townhouses that includes 11444 is all deteriorating.  But a look at all of Reston housing sales (Zillow) will show that values are down not only at 11444 Links Drive and its quad but throughout the community (all its ZIPs).  A wider look will show they’re down throughout the county and the region, indeed  the entire U.S.  The differences in decline begin not at the cul-de-sac level –but at the community level and extend outward from there.  It’s true that at one moment in time there may be a string of burglaries in one cul-de-sac — and that merits momentary attention.  But for most indicators of livability, I believe the focus should be on the entire community — for example, Reston — and then you could  drill down to selectively meaningful data points, like schools — for example, the SLHS neighborhood south of the Dulles Toll Road vs. Herndon HS neighborhood north of the Toll Road.   Cul-de-sacs are dead ends — in more ways than one.

  5. Thanks for this list. We’re set to launch a hyper-local neighbor networking site called Hey, Neighbor! http://heyneighbor.com.

    Though we aren’t a local news site, many of the items on your list we’ve incorporated. We would love to partner with news sources who are generating those breaking stories and great original content. 

    Our “news” will be neighbor generated announcements and events. But at the heart of what we’re doing is to provide a useful and easy way for neighbor to connect and help each other.

    #1 – we saw this in our pilot tests. someone would post an announcement, but it was often the replies and discussion that ensued that really made it take off.
    #2 – we allow people to define the size of their own neighborhood area since it’s a matter of personal preference. Want to see more, make your radius larger. Want to only see your cul-de-sac, make your radius smaller. And they can adjust it easily at any time.
    #3 – absolutely! social = engagement 
    #4 – we’re not focusing on fears, per se, but it’s an element that is a big topic for neighbors. neighborhood watch groups have been around for years for this very reason. sometimes, it’s just the emergency situation (blackout, storms, floods, etc) that brings ppl together. we’re focusing on community-building and awareness. a discussion of the best alarm systems will happen, but the best part is that community discussion (if hyper-local and not anonymous) and getting to know your neighbors is a great safety net in and of itself.
    #5 – i understand this and the caution shared by dcnewser. I think it’s possible to have healthy competition. think of positive neighborhood challenges: Bake offs to raise money for charity, block by block challenges to clean up, etc.. If done as a community,  like you describe, as opposed to 1 neighbor vs. 1 neighbor, there can be some fun and engaging elements where everyone benefits.

    Thanks again for your post. I’m glad I came across your site!

  6. Breaking news has been the subject of a lot of discussion at our company over the last few months. There is no doubt that breaking a story quickly and first can lead to a substantial boost in traffic. For our less active sites this can result in a tripling of traffic from the daily average and in busier sites it can lead to boosts of up to 20%. All our daily records for sites have been made on days when there has been a live local news stories breaking.

    The biggest impact are from stories which have a big impact on traffic so that people are alerted to the fact that something is going on and check the site to see what it is.

    The impact of breaking news has become much greater over the last couple of years. Not all of our sites are on Google News but Google’s general search is updating live news stories much more quickly and obviously Twitter has had a huge impact in both sourcing and broadcasting news of this nature.

    The benefit to the site of breaking news is arguable. There doesn’t seem to be much sustained impact from stories like this – site traffic will revert to trend very quickly and engagement (i.e. forum interaction or registrations doesn’t measurably pick up). There is a big downside to covering breaking news which is the extra stress that it gives to editors. You can be out to dinner and see that there is a major police presence on the high road. Theoretically one of your colleagues should be covering it but you have an anxious 15 minutes checking this – basically if you want to do breaking news properly editors are on call 24/7.

    Despite the stress and the dubious benefits of doing it the important point to bear in mind is the disbenefit of not doing it. If you don’t people are coming to your site looking for information that they don’t get and they may not try again next time. 

  7. Breaking news has been the subject of a lot of discussion at our company over the last few months. There is no doubt that breaking a story quickly and first can lead to a substantial boost in traffic. For our less active sites this can result in a tripling of traffic from the daily average and in busier sites it can lead to boosts of up to 20%. All our daily records for sites have been made on days when there has been a live local news stories breaking.

    The biggest impact are from stories which have a big impact on traffic so that people are alerted to the fact that something is going on and check the site to see what it is.

    The impact of breaking news has become much greater over the last couple of years. Not all of our sites are on Google News but Google’s general search is updating live news stories much more quickly and obviously Twitter has had a huge impact in both sourcing and broadcasting news of this nature.

    The benefit to the site of breaking news is arguable. There doesn’t seem to be much sustained impact from stories like this – site traffic will revert to trend very quickly and engagement (i.e. forum interaction or registrations doesn’t measurably pick up). There is a big downside to covering breaking news which is the extra stress that it gives to editors. You can be out to dinner and see that there is a major police presence on the high road. Theoretically one of your colleagues should be covering it but you have an anxious 15 minutes checking this – basically if you want to do breaking news properly editors are on call 24/7.

    Despite the stress and the dubious benefits of doing it the important point to bear in mind is the disbenefit of not doing it. If you don’t people are coming to your site looking for information that they don’t get and they may not try again next time. 

    1. Agree with your thoughts here. Essentially my experience has been:

      – Miss breaking just one or two stories and your credibility (through lack of predictability on behalf of visitors) is shot.
      – Breaking news alone brings a bump that frequently does not last – retention for the site overall based on a particular story is hard.
      – Being a fast follower, and one who knows how to steer discussion around the context of a broken story, drives more return traffic over time.

      1. That seems sensible. Measuring engagement from breaking news is a tricky one. Usually the stories that generate the most traffic are about a crime or a road fatality and for reasons of appropriateness or sub judice people generally are wise enough not to comment and we don’t actively encourage them to do so in this instance.  By the yardstick of user registration, engagement from breaking news appears low but that is probably because the surge in traffic comes from people who are already registered.

        Just one point on my previous post – it was confusing in terms of the use of the word ‘traffic’.  One of the points that I was trying to make was that major traffic chaos on the road that is the result of a breaking news story will lead to lots of  internet traffic on the site.

      2. Of course the spike in traffic from breaking news does not last, but it sure as hell does boost traffic in the long run. It helps to drive word of mouth about your site, since everybody will be talking about the story — I’ve gained dozens of Twitter followers after one recent breaking story alone. And as stated before, it drives repeat business. I’m not sure how you’re drawing your conclusion that breaking news does not help boost traffic in the long run, but I’m repeatedly told, in person, that people love checking my site and feeling in the know since we’re the first to report everything.

        Also: if you don’t want your dinner interrupted due to breaking news, you probably shouldn’t be in the news business to start with. As someone with a TV background, I’ve never once in my career had the luxury of not being on call should sh-t go down or a colleague call in sick.

  8. I agree with quite a bit here but three things jump to mind.
    1. The follow up is important but breaking the breaking stories (or at least getting them up quickly) is critical to getting your residents addicted to your site. You want to be the site they rely on and turn to automatically for news about the big storm or information on why the police helicopter is flying over their neighborhood.
    2. A HUGE key you are missing is to say YES as often as possible to ever little community group that wants to send you a press release or have you come out to take a grip and grin check passing. Saying YES as often as possible sets you apart from print, which doesnt have the room for hometown, neighborhood news.
    3. I cannot find the words to say how strongly i disagree with No. 5 on this list. Pitting one neighborhood against another in the same town? Are you serious? Oh sure, you might generate readers and comments, but you are contributing to tearing apart a town. Hyperlocal news is not about ripping apart a town to make a dollar. It’s about building a community up and telling the true stories of a community. To concoct some rivalry for the sake of UVs is simply unethical and flies in the face of decency. If a rivalry emerges naturally over some big issue in town then fine. But to do comparing and contrasting to “stir the pot” and tru to generate controversy and debate is everything that is wrong with traditional media.

  9. I agree with quite a bit here but three things jump to mind.
    1. The follow up is important but breaking the breaking stories (or at least getting them up quickly) is critical to getting your residents addicted to your site. You want to be the site they rely on and turn to automatically for news about the big storm or information on why the police helicopter is flying over their neighborhood.
    2. A HUGE key you are missing is to say YES as often as possible to ever little community group that wants to send you a press release or have you come out to take a grip and grin check passing. Saying YES as often as possible sets you apart from print, which doesnt have the room for hometown, neighborhood news.
    3. I cannot find the words to say how strongly i disagree with No. 5 on this list. Pitting one neighborhood against another in the same town? Are you serious? Oh sure, you might generate readers and comments, but you are contributing to tearing apart a town. Hyperlocal news is not about ripping apart a town to make a dollar. It’s about building a community up and telling the true stories of a community. To concoct some rivalry for the sake of UVs is simply unethical and flies in the face of decency. If a rivalry emerges naturally over some big issue in town then fine. But to do comparing and contrasting to “stir the pot” and tru to generate controversy and debate is everything that is wrong with traditional media.

    1. i like your #2 point … so many smaller groups, and what is important to them, often go unnoticed. hyperlocals should shrink the world so those overlooked retirement announcements or road closing notices are significant.

      as for your #3, i possibly could have phrased it better that hyperlocals should give the context and the platform, seeded if need be, to get residents to speak their minds and “rivalry emerges naturally” (as you note).

      starting with the goal or intention of collecting uvs or pageviews often leads to failure. you can’t fake authenticity in these circumstances, i’ve found, and beginning only with the aim to make pageviews and not healthy debate perhaps leading to controversy ends up at a dead end.

      appreciate your passion on this.

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24 thoughts on “Five Elements of a Successful Hyperlocal Site

    1. Reader engagement is critical to vibrancy and the veracity of a service, but engagement is not always necessarily “visible”. For instance I consider the lurkers a part of the community that makes it all go. 

  1. As someone who run a local site, breaks news all the time, and gets 85K unique visitors per month, I can tell you that this list is garbage.

    1. sounds like the guy was not saying breaking news is not good but that not all local sites can do it and that there are alternatives. some of the other ideas have seemed to work now that i think about sites from past. 

      not in line with your opinion or the successes you have seen, ok. but garbage? not really.

      1. Okay I’ve calmed down and can now offer more thoughtful criticism. It absolutely DOES matter who breaks a story. If you can get the reputation of being the first place to go when something’s happening, it does wonders for your site’s brand and for reader loyalty.

        Per #2, successful sites need to be a mix of big picture and granular. And if you’re being granular, you need to make sure it’s interesting to a wider audience. Writing about the cul-de-sac or the 5th grade science club is just spinning your wheels if the only people who find it interesting are the people on the block or the kids’ parents.

        Per #5, intentionally pitting neighbor against neighbor does not seem like a great way to endear yourself to the community. In fact, it’s a cheap strategy that will have similarly cheap results — short term boost, long term brand damage. If you’re properly covering the community, those neighborhood tussles will come out organically.

        1. Thanks dcnewser. 

          Thoughtful points.  

          For #2 I should have mentioned this was not to the exclusion of general local coverage but in advance or more focused than local coverage. It’s not something anyone has really done well beyond the listservs created by neighbors themselves and i do feel like it’s the next logical step. When I was creating local sites it was what we most often got dinged for not having or more yearned for.

          For #5 I get it. But I’m not suggesting tricking people into a neighbor-on-neighbor virtual brawl. I wrote:

          “Hyperlocal sites that allow a platform for residents to, in effect, change their figurative ‘community Google rank’ will gain the trust and ultimately the contribution of their neighbors”

          Oh BTW, please give your site a shout-out here

  2.  On the bottom four points, I might phrase things differently, but mostly agree.

    On point one, I couldn’t possibly disagree more vehemently.  Breaking news is a huge part of what we do.  It accounts for at least 60 percent of our popularity in the community, if I could put a number on it.  The constant feedback I get when I’m out and about is that people LOVE that we often have stories up before our competition, especially on things like accidents and fires.

    We’ve long lived in a microwave world.  People want their stuff and they want it now.  Instant gratification.  The site that does the best job of giving it to them wins.

    1. Howard, thanks for commenting 

      Perhaps I should be more specific … When I used to break stories (or at least get them out ahead of the local competition) it surely gave a brief traffic boost, built some trust and expectation among visitors and made us feel, well, pretty good. However when we quickly followed stories (ones we did not have a staff to even think about breaking) and swarmed them with context that really sucked people in and did not-let-them-go before contributing a comment or anecdote … when we did this the piece had legs that sprouted more legs, and with care and feeding hung around with relevancy long past the initial hoo-ha.Breaking and owning is great, if you can do that. But I suspect many small hyperlocals probably cannot. My #1 was for them.

  3. Agree absolutely with Howard. Overwhelmingly our biggest reader draws are the stories where we break the news. Of course, we then need to do the right follow up (duh), but it’s a lot easier to own a story when you break it. And it helps build the site’s credibility with readers and sources. 

    1. Thanks Lance. 

      Naturally breaking stories are gonna draw. No argument there. But how often can you break vs follow / create? And does the average (not avid) visitor know when they are reading / experiencing something you had first vs. something you quickly followed on hours later with, say, better engagement? 

      I’ll give this one some more thought.

  4.  I like your “Five Elements of a Successful Hyperlocal Site” — except I would qualify your “2. Zip the ZIP … keep an eye on the cul-de-sac.”  That’s the mistake some sites are making — drilling down to the block so deeply and inflexibly that you can’t see the forest for the trees.  In most cases, every cul-de-sac is materially affected by what happens in concentric circles extending beyond it: by the block, the neighborhood, the entire community, the region, the state, the country.  If housing value is down only at 11444 Links Drive in Reston — where I lived some time ago — the problem may be that the place hasn’t been painted recently or that the quad of townhouses that includes 11444 is all deteriorating.  But a look at all of Reston housing sales (Zillow) will show that values are down not only at 11444 Links Drive and its quad but throughout the community (all its ZIPs).  A wider look will show they’re down throughout the county and the region, indeed  the entire U.S.  The differences in decline begin not at the cul-de-sac level –but at the community level and extend outward from there.  It’s true that at one moment in time there may be a string of burglaries in one cul-de-sac — and that merits momentary attention.  But for most indicators of livability, I believe the focus should be on the entire community — for example, Reston — and then you could  drill down to selectively meaningful data points, like schools — for example, the SLHS neighborhood south of the Dulles Toll Road vs. Herndon HS neighborhood north of the Toll Road.   Cul-de-sacs are dead ends — in more ways than one.

  5. Thanks for this list. We’re set to launch a hyper-local neighbor networking site called Hey, Neighbor! http://heyneighbor.com.

    Though we aren’t a local news site, many of the items on your list we’ve incorporated. We would love to partner with news sources who are generating those breaking stories and great original content. 

    Our “news” will be neighbor generated announcements and events. But at the heart of what we’re doing is to provide a useful and easy way for neighbor to connect and help each other.

    #1 – we saw this in our pilot tests. someone would post an announcement, but it was often the replies and discussion that ensued that really made it take off.
    #2 – we allow people to define the size of their own neighborhood area since it’s a matter of personal preference. Want to see more, make your radius larger. Want to only see your cul-de-sac, make your radius smaller. And they can adjust it easily at any time.
    #3 – absolutely! social = engagement 
    #4 – we’re not focusing on fears, per se, but it’s an element that is a big topic for neighbors. neighborhood watch groups have been around for years for this very reason. sometimes, it’s just the emergency situation (blackout, storms, floods, etc) that brings ppl together. we’re focusing on community-building and awareness. a discussion of the best alarm systems will happen, but the best part is that community discussion (if hyper-local and not anonymous) and getting to know your neighbors is a great safety net in and of itself.
    #5 – i understand this and the caution shared by dcnewser. I think it’s possible to have healthy competition. think of positive neighborhood challenges: Bake offs to raise money for charity, block by block challenges to clean up, etc.. If done as a community,  like you describe, as opposed to 1 neighbor vs. 1 neighbor, there can be some fun and engaging elements where everyone benefits.

    Thanks again for your post. I’m glad I came across your site!

  6. Breaking news has been the subject of a lot of discussion at our company over the last few months. There is no doubt that breaking a story quickly and first can lead to a substantial boost in traffic. For our less active sites this can result in a tripling of traffic from the daily average and in busier sites it can lead to boosts of up to 20%. All our daily records for sites have been made on days when there has been a live local news stories breaking.

    The biggest impact are from stories which have a big impact on traffic so that people are alerted to the fact that something is going on and check the site to see what it is.

    The impact of breaking news has become much greater over the last couple of years. Not all of our sites are on Google News but Google’s general search is updating live news stories much more quickly and obviously Twitter has had a huge impact in both sourcing and broadcasting news of this nature.

    The benefit to the site of breaking news is arguable. There doesn’t seem to be much sustained impact from stories like this – site traffic will revert to trend very quickly and engagement (i.e. forum interaction or registrations doesn’t measurably pick up). There is a big downside to covering breaking news which is the extra stress that it gives to editors. You can be out to dinner and see that there is a major police presence on the high road. Theoretically one of your colleagues should be covering it but you have an anxious 15 minutes checking this – basically if you want to do breaking news properly editors are on call 24/7.

    Despite the stress and the dubious benefits of doing it the important point to bear in mind is the disbenefit of not doing it. If you don’t people are coming to your site looking for information that they don’t get and they may not try again next time. 

  7. Breaking news has been the subject of a lot of discussion at our company over the last few months. There is no doubt that breaking a story quickly and first can lead to a substantial boost in traffic. For our less active sites this can result in a tripling of traffic from the daily average and in busier sites it can lead to boosts of up to 20%. All our daily records for sites have been made on days when there has been a live local news stories breaking.

    The biggest impact are from stories which have a big impact on traffic so that people are alerted to the fact that something is going on and check the site to see what it is.

    The impact of breaking news has become much greater over the last couple of years. Not all of our sites are on Google News but Google’s general search is updating live news stories much more quickly and obviously Twitter has had a huge impact in both sourcing and broadcasting news of this nature.

    The benefit to the site of breaking news is arguable. There doesn’t seem to be much sustained impact from stories like this – site traffic will revert to trend very quickly and engagement (i.e. forum interaction or registrations doesn’t measurably pick up). There is a big downside to covering breaking news which is the extra stress that it gives to editors. You can be out to dinner and see that there is a major police presence on the high road. Theoretically one of your colleagues should be covering it but you have an anxious 15 minutes checking this – basically if you want to do breaking news properly editors are on call 24/7.

    Despite the stress and the dubious benefits of doing it the important point to bear in mind is the disbenefit of not doing it. If you don’t people are coming to your site looking for information that they don’t get and they may not try again next time. 

    1. Agree with your thoughts here. Essentially my experience has been:

      – Miss breaking just one or two stories and your credibility (through lack of predictability on behalf of visitors) is shot.
      – Breaking news alone brings a bump that frequently does not last – retention for the site overall based on a particular story is hard.
      – Being a fast follower, and one who knows how to steer discussion around the context of a broken story, drives more return traffic over time.

      1. That seems sensible. Measuring engagement from breaking news is a tricky one. Usually the stories that generate the most traffic are about a crime or a road fatality and for reasons of appropriateness or sub judice people generally are wise enough not to comment and we don’t actively encourage them to do so in this instance.  By the yardstick of user registration, engagement from breaking news appears low but that is probably because the surge in traffic comes from people who are already registered.

        Just one point on my previous post – it was confusing in terms of the use of the word ‘traffic’.  One of the points that I was trying to make was that major traffic chaos on the road that is the result of a breaking news story will lead to lots of  internet traffic on the site.

      2. Of course the spike in traffic from breaking news does not last, but it sure as hell does boost traffic in the long run. It helps to drive word of mouth about your site, since everybody will be talking about the story — I’ve gained dozens of Twitter followers after one recent breaking story alone. And as stated before, it drives repeat business. I’m not sure how you’re drawing your conclusion that breaking news does not help boost traffic in the long run, but I’m repeatedly told, in person, that people love checking my site and feeling in the know since we’re the first to report everything.

        Also: if you don’t want your dinner interrupted due to breaking news, you probably shouldn’t be in the news business to start with. As someone with a TV background, I’ve never once in my career had the luxury of not being on call should sh-t go down or a colleague call in sick.

  8. I agree with quite a bit here but three things jump to mind.
    1. The follow up is important but breaking the breaking stories (or at least getting them up quickly) is critical to getting your residents addicted to your site. You want to be the site they rely on and turn to automatically for news about the big storm or information on why the police helicopter is flying over their neighborhood.
    2. A HUGE key you are missing is to say YES as often as possible to ever little community group that wants to send you a press release or have you come out to take a grip and grin check passing. Saying YES as often as possible sets you apart from print, which doesnt have the room for hometown, neighborhood news.
    3. I cannot find the words to say how strongly i disagree with No. 5 on this list. Pitting one neighborhood against another in the same town? Are you serious? Oh sure, you might generate readers and comments, but you are contributing to tearing apart a town. Hyperlocal news is not about ripping apart a town to make a dollar. It’s about building a community up and telling the true stories of a community. To concoct some rivalry for the sake of UVs is simply unethical and flies in the face of decency. If a rivalry emerges naturally over some big issue in town then fine. But to do comparing and contrasting to “stir the pot” and tru to generate controversy and debate is everything that is wrong with traditional media.

  9. I agree with quite a bit here but three things jump to mind.
    1. The follow up is important but breaking the breaking stories (or at least getting them up quickly) is critical to getting your residents addicted to your site. You want to be the site they rely on and turn to automatically for news about the big storm or information on why the police helicopter is flying over their neighborhood.
    2. A HUGE key you are missing is to say YES as often as possible to ever little community group that wants to send you a press release or have you come out to take a grip and grin check passing. Saying YES as often as possible sets you apart from print, which doesnt have the room for hometown, neighborhood news.
    3. I cannot find the words to say how strongly i disagree with No. 5 on this list. Pitting one neighborhood against another in the same town? Are you serious? Oh sure, you might generate readers and comments, but you are contributing to tearing apart a town. Hyperlocal news is not about ripping apart a town to make a dollar. It’s about building a community up and telling the true stories of a community. To concoct some rivalry for the sake of UVs is simply unethical and flies in the face of decency. If a rivalry emerges naturally over some big issue in town then fine. But to do comparing and contrasting to “stir the pot” and tru to generate controversy and debate is everything that is wrong with traditional media.

    1. i like your #2 point … so many smaller groups, and what is important to them, often go unnoticed. hyperlocals should shrink the world so those overlooked retirement announcements or road closing notices are significant.

      as for your #3, i possibly could have phrased it better that hyperlocals should give the context and the platform, seeded if need be, to get residents to speak their minds and “rivalry emerges naturally” (as you note).

      starting with the goal or intention of collecting uvs or pageviews often leads to failure. you can’t fake authenticity in these circumstances, i’ve found, and beginning only with the aim to make pageviews and not healthy debate perhaps leading to controversy ends up at a dead end.

      appreciate your passion on this.

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