Using Twitter as a Hyperlocal Media Utility

Communities need bulletin boards.

Hyperlocal “shared economy” startups like NextDoor and Taskrabbit have proliferated recently with the mission of bringing online neighbors together to share community commentary and services. The problem is simply overload, only a select few like Airbnb (and there are literally hundreds of them) have reached critical mass to be practical for users. The old-world analogy is all these startups are running their own bulletin boards all over town, and neighbors in need must trek to each one to search for what they want. What’s required is a local utility, an online bulletin board that allows somebody to ask “I need to borrow a chainsaw this weekend,” and get a reply because all their neighbors happen to be listening, and want to help or expedite a transaction.

Twitter has built the foundation for this media utility. Although often associated with breaking news distribution, Twitter is more than a broadcast channel; it can facilitate the local B2B, B2C and C2C communication required for a truly active online bulletin board. The shared economy will work most efficiently with a communal media infrastructure that facilitates the messaging required to match transactional participants. What makes Twitter a media utility?

1) Twitter is a content syndication layer. Shared economy and hyperlocal startups, just like media companies, use Twitter to get their message out to the community as if it were a bulletin board. More critically, these businesses depend upon Twitter as a valued marketing channel that is currently free to use, with the freemium option of their Promoted Tweets product.

2) Twitter compiles content into a massive searchable real time news and information database. No other media company can capture more than a tiny sliver of the universe of voices Twitter has amassed. Curation across big data expedites transactions. Startups like Local Response and Needium monitor need based requests (“I need a hotel room in #Berkeley tonight”) and fulfills them for commission or subscription fees by their SMB clients. Twitter is a key medium for these consumer demand services because needs are expressed openly without the barriers of walled gardens (i.e. Facebook) or logins into a specific service.

Twitter is now setting strategy to own this new media distribution layer. They’re touting strong revenue growth in mobile ads that will reinforce their position to sell into hyperlocal markets. And they’re flexing their muscles too. Last week, Twitter halted a cross posting partnership with LinkedIn in an apparent bid to contain monetizable tweet content within the Twitter ecosystem so it’s not distributed free via third party services. Moreover, Twitter’s API developers may be restricted from building apps that encroach on Twitter’s revenue opportunities in the syndication layer. It’s simply taking the old media business model of charging for information distribution, or more pointedly advertising, across a new medium, just as TV, cable TV and other media utilities did earlier.

The concern about Twitter is that major media utilities (like TV) generally aren’t owned by a single company. Matthew Ingram over at GigaOM has been writing prolifically about the future of Twitter as a media company stealthily trying to control the bulletin board — and postulates whether a company or community might wrest control of the Twitter utility by building an open source platform.

In sum, every hyperlocal service will focus on leveraging Twitter to build community engagement with their product simply due to Twitter’s massive reach.

Patrick Kitano is founding Principal of Brand into Media, a strategy group for social brand management 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. He is reachable via Twitter @pkitano and email

  1. Nicholas Herold
    July 9, 2012

    This is a really great piece, very informative by a knowledgeable writer. I learned a lot–didn’t know about airbnb, for example. I’m looking forward to learning more about how Twitter can be used for hyperlocal services.

  2. July 9, 2012

    You bet. Go Locally.

    We created Locally on the iPhone, a social network for neighbors, locals and local business to socialize, mobilize using a location-based neighborhood pin board where you are. 

    Locally has a Twitter social plugin if you wish to also share the post to your larger Twitter audience.

    From asking questions, private replies, just saying hello or congrats all packed into Locally which is a free app. 

    Local businesses can even pin an offer or a deal and connect with locals around their shop located in a strip mall.

  3. July 10, 2012

    After 5 years on Twitter, evangelizing it cross-channel via Facebook and web etc. as well, I would have to say that 1 percent of our community is using it. Maybe. I suspect that is a generous estimate. That doesn’t affect the fact we’re still using it, and realizing that those who are on it are serious about news – but it is a reality check. They also need to work to get back those who tried it and left. I have a list of about 250 local businesses that opened Twitter accounts. I look at it often. Maybe a dozen of them are active Tweeters. And if that’s the case here in techy Seattle, how about the rest of the country? Just a data point … 

  4. Yaniv
    July 2, 2013

  5. Yaniv
    July 2, 2013

    We created PostAround.Me just for that. to enable people engage with their negihbors in a way that fits today’s life style.

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