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In Ted Mann’s recent, excellent post-mortem on the lessons learned from InJersey.com, the main reason he listed for the closing InJersey.com was not having “enough revenue to pay for a full-time reporting (or sales) staff” to support continued operations. One challenge of hyperlocal media has been getting locals to contribute content and engage in community conversation. CNN’s iReport, Patch.com and Examiner.com all recruit local reporters to make real time news more engaging to their readers. But it’s hard to build a volunteer reporter corps just for the sake of reporting; there inevitably needs to be a tangible financial incentive for a reporter to “work” consistently for free. Local media have always ignored the most pragmatic segment of the community, the merchants who do have the incentive to provide localized content contextual to their business.
Traditional media walls off local business from the journalistic process because they are collectively the “advertisers,” a cash cow to be milked. They are unwilling to open the Pandora’s box allowing specific advertisers to contribute content due to the perceived risks of compromised journalistic integrity or suggestions of favoritism that would alienate their client base. Social media begins to dissolve the tug-of-war separating advertising and journalism.
Today’s local merchant is learning to build a more contextual, social relationship with their customer base through social media, and it’s making the simple banner ad less effective. Simply put: business is integral to engaging the community because they have the commercial incentive to create content that builds their brand equity, directly or indirectly. In the world of social media, the local foodie reporters own restaurants, and the real estate bloggers are Realtors; their voices are part of the local media landscape but generally segregated from local news media.
One example of the convergence of hyperlocal media and blogging with a commercial purpose is the 365 Things to Do in Austin Facebook page created by Realtor Kristy Owen. The success of 365 Things Austin spurred literally hundreds of Realtors to do the same thing for their community (search for “365 Things to Do and Real Estate“). Why? Realtors’ relationship with the Internet has historically been mercenary; the principal reason for developing a local online presence is to build local brand equity that keeps them top of mind in their community. This marketing concept of creating a hyperlocal media presence is extensible to other local merchants, it just hasn’t dawned on them to do so.
Local business, including Realtors, now have the tools to create hyperlocal media presence quickly and cheaply using curation and feed aggregation tools like Twitter and dlvr.it. Moreover, they introduce a disruptive force to traditional local media because their mission is not to generate advertising revenue, but to build local brand equity. For example, locals can leverage hyperlocal media as a community service by providing free promotion as a good will gesture to their business community.
BreakingBergenNews.com, focusing on social-media-sourced news for Bergen County, NJ, embeds the actual websites of restaurants free, a potentially far more engaging marketing vehicle than a small (and costly) banner ad. By doing so, Brian Morgenweck, the real estate broker behind Breaking Bergen News, offers tangible marketing value to his community that he can leverage into building the quid pro quo relationships he needs for his business development.
Getting the business community involved in hyperlocal media is a new concept. It relies on entrepreneurial locals who understand there is now a window of opportunity to create their own media presence.
Patrick Kitano is founding Principal of Domus Consulting Group, an advisory for social commerce and social engagement solutions, and administrator of the Breaking News Network, a national hyperlocal network devoted to community service. He is the author of Media Transparent, and contributor to Social Media Today, Daily Deal Media, and The Customer Collective.