Hyperlocal media as a free community service could disrupt advertising models

The classic, and perhaps only business model supporting hyperlocal journalistic efforts like Patch.com and other local media is local advertising. On StreetFightMag.com last week, Ted Mann, Digital Development Director for Gannett NJ, discusses why Gannett’s hyperlocal experiment InJersey.com failed. The main and obvious reason is simply local advertising cannot adequately cover expenses. So…

What if local media were positioned as a community service without the advertising model?

Can hyperlocal media thrive and engage the community as a good will service?

1. The value of hyperlocal is in the information

I paraphrase from Alex Salkever’s June 24 article Hyperlocal’s Automated Future. The website platform and curation tools now exist for any individual or business to develop local media cheaply. A WordPress blog is an easily customized platform for anchoring the news system. Curation and aggregation tools, plus hyperlocal social applications like See Click Fix can provide a panoply of local interest content.

Although still an immature technology, an automated news aggregation and publication service like paper.li or Twylah can be embedded to display in newsprint “Flipboard” format.

2. It’s not just the website… hyperlocal spans across social and mobile media

A community media service must now span across all social media for hyperlocal engagement. Twitter, a perfect media for broadcasting real time local news, can be used to curate the best local Twitter feeds into lists.

Facebook is becoming the arena where the locals will gather to discuss local news, events, even the Daily Deals around town. (Ted Mann’s point #9 – use Facebook as the local watering hole). The social “metrics” for engagement are high for local news:

3. Partner with everyone

Ted Mann’s #4 recommendation for developing hyperlocal content. Companies developing applications serving hyperlocal audiences, like SeeClickFix above, want to partner with local publishers to gain traction. Local publishers want to partner with new application developers to deliver unique local content to their audience. It’s mutually beneficial to overlay new social content, even social commerce applications across national hyperlocal networks. Even better if there is a business model associated with the application for revenue share opportunities between publisher and application provider. One long term mission of a national community service network is to create exposure for a variety of social hyperlocal applications that would not normally get exposure from traditional media.

4. Support the business community

Local businesses are integral to engaging the community because they have the commercial incentive to create content that helps to publicize their business, directly or indirectly. Local food critics own restaurants, real estate columnists are Realtors. Yet, the classic advertising model forces them on the sidelines because that kind of publicity has tangible dollar value that traditional publishers need to extract. So why not support the business community by embedding the most compelling websites and blogs of local merchants into hyperlocal media as content free of charge?

A full website presence has far greater utility for the featured businesses and for the reader than a tiny banner ad selling at $500-1,000 per month. Engage the business community, and they will make the effort to engage locals because 1) it’s free to them, and 2) it’s their marketing vehicle.

5. What is the business model anyway?

Hyperlocal media systems like Breaking News are easy and cheap (often less than the cost of a one-month banner ad) to develop for individuals and groups wanting to create a community media presence in their city. The business model for the owner is not to make money, but to serve the community and be positioned as a local media star in order to enhance the business development prospects of their “day job”.  It’s the same rationale for serving as a Chamber of Commerce president, or even 50 years ago, starting your own local newspaper; it just helps your career. The owner of the community media service pays it forward.

6. What is the impact of hyperlocal media as community service?

The greater impact of the community media service model may be disruptive. The perpetual discussions revolving around how to monetize local journalism have yet to point to a cashflow positive solution. An automated media model that requires few resources and supports the local business community can put pressure on traditional local publishing models. Yes, the content is curated, aggregated and automated, but it’s real time local information that readers want. In time, the new social local applications now being developed can be easily added to supplement the information stream and generate the local engagement needed to survive, even prosper within the hyperlocal media landscape.


About Pat Kitano

Patrick Kitano works with brands in developing hyperlocal engagement solutions and is administrator of the Breaking News Network, a national hyperlocal network devoted to community service. He is the author of The Local Network on Street Fight, and is reachable via Twitter @pkitano and email pkitano@gmail.com.

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