Hyperlocal news as a strategy for small businesses

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Photo courtesy of gailf548 via Flickr

Photo courtesy of gailf548 via Flickr

It’s been said that “all news is local”. The maxim is tossed around in newsrooms to remind reporters to look for the local angle to any story. It doesn’t mean that news consumers don’t care about what’s happening around the globe, but that we have an instinct to care about how they affect us personally. Yet, within the abundance of user-generated content available on the Web, large quantities of news and information are of a truly local flavor, in the old, geographic sense.

Bloggers and the users of social sites serve as correspondents for their neighborhoods, detailing anything from the opening of a coffee shop to the latest high school sports scores. In a way, the social Web has grown into a new platform for a phenomenon that has long presented communications professionals with great opportunities: the hyperlocal news movement.

“Hyperlocal” refers to news about a community so detailed and comprehensive that it goes beyond what would traditionally be provided by even a good, thorough community newspaper. Examples include block-by-block police reports (MSNBC made a bet on this with its purchase of EveryBlock this summer). In-person reports from parent-teacher association bake sales. Details about menu changes at a corner diner. The idea of providing people with deep coverage about a small area is not new; a newspaper I once worked for even published the addresses from the local fire department’s ambulance log (indeed, hyperlocalism occasionally runs up against privacy concerns). But on the Web, free of space restrictions, the reporting of passionately comprehensive local news, both by citizen journalists and professionals, has taken root.

One posterchild for hyperlocal news is Rob Curley, now an executive editor at the Las Vegas Sun, who helped pioneer hyperlocal online coverage by newspapers. My colleagues Heidi Sullivan and Valerie Lopez discussed hyperlocal coverage last week on their free Cision webinar, The New Media Mix. It got me thinking about some of the roadblocks that small businesses face when they attempt blogger outreach or engagement on social sites.

Many communications professionals responsible for promoting brands at a local level have questioned whether social sites are the best places to spend their time. How do you target people in a particular neighborhood on a big, messy site like Twitter? One strategy is to put that question aside and simply start a blog, Twitter feed or Facebook page that covers your community in as much depth as you can manage. Start by telling people you know. If you build it (and it’s valuable and interesting), they will come.

Jason Falls recently posted a great case study in this on his blog. It illustrates that when you begin to provide information about your brand in the context of a larger report on the community, you become an indispensable source of news for your customers, rather than just another voice demanding attention in a crowded marketplace.

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