Should Hyperlocals Incorporate Content From Local Merchants?

Patrick Kitano is a guest author. If you’d like to submit a guest post, click here.

In Ted Mann’s recent, excellent post-mortem on the lessons learned from, the main reason he listed for the closing 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, and 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 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., 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.

  1. July 20, 2011

    Not only is this article spot-on, Patrick, but it IS the answer for media companies of every ilk. The only content that is seriously funded today is that which is coming from the advertisers, who are shifting money they used to spend on advertising to become, well, media companies. Not only is there REALLY good money in creating this content for businesses, there is more in aggregating it. My friend, automotive marketing guru Ben Boles, used to work in the TV news industry. “I still make stories,” he told me, “but now they’re about cars.” My constant refrain for media companies is that we’ve got to pry ourselves from the notion that the only business model we can have is one that attaches advertising to journalism. Your article points that they are other paths. Thanks.

  2. July 20, 2011

    I couldn’t agree more.  Local businesses are a huge part of the local community and they have interesting and useful stories to tell.  My only quibble is the first part of this quote:  “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. ” Perhaps in your community or perhaps some few local merchants but more often the small business owner either still needs to learn this and/or they need assistance because they have so much on their plate that one more task particularly one that  involves the investment in time that social media engagement requires remains a barrier.

    1. July 20, 2011

      Hi Jim,

      I’ll be writing a follow-on article on the new social media marketing agencies being developed for educating local merchants. I’ll describe how they plan to leverage their own hyperlocal media presence to 1) provide turnkey social marketing solutions, 2) demonstrate proof of concept, and 3) simply have a local marketing system in place for their clients. The services they provide would cost less than a monthly banner ad and be far more interactive / engaging with their consumer base. The key to almost everything tech with local merchants is to make it simple and turnkey.

      Again, the idea of local marketing agencies developing hyperlocal media falls in line with the concepts I’m discussing here.


  3. July 21, 2011

    That maxim about location, location underscores your point.  How could Mom and Pop afford advertising in high-priced publications such as, where I live, the New York Times?  And why wouldn’t they choose to adopt the most narrow focus?  Moreoever, you’re right in pointing out that the engagement of consumer, business and site publisher via hyperlocal social media must result in myriad benefits to all concerned, including the presumably grateful consumer.

    July 22, 2011

    I agree with both side of
    conversations here. Most of the online media companies are following
    same pattern to publish news and reports like that but there are also
    some good source still available providing good quality of information
    and news.

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