The durability of news outlets that are tightly linked to their neighborhoods provides opportunity for PR practitioners willing to understand and invest in what these hyperlocal outlets and hyperlocal communities value.
The number of these so-called "hyperlocal" sites is growing, as traditional media and leading search engines partner with existing hyperlocal operations and non-media entities, such as universities, to create hyperlocal news products.
"Hyperlocal is difficult, expensive and not for the faint of heart," says Barb Palser, director of digital media for McGraw-Hill Broadcasting Co., in this American Journalism Review article. Nonetheless, she notes, "news organizations and startups across the country are betting heavily that hyperlocal news sites will solve the needs of both consumers and advertisers."
How, then, as communications practitioners looking for more-targeted ways to reach our audiences, can we better guarantee the success of our hyperlocal initiatives?
Tips for Working with Hyperlocal Outlets
1. Move beyond buzzwords. Hyperlocal, micro-local, or community journalism all refer to essentially the same thing: news created for a specific geographical area or common interest. In other words, hyperlocal could refer to news for a town, a neighborhood or even a group and is tailored to that particular audience’s needs and interests. No matter how you dice it, though, it all comes back to understanding your key audiences (regardless of how broad or narrow) and determining whether hyperlocal fits in with your communications goals. Meet the needs of these targeted media and you meet the needs of your company or clients.
2. Understand the editorial process. Many who work for hyperlocal media find themselves juggling multiple hats, including that of journalist, manager, and business person. (For example, Colleen Curry, a writer for The Asbury Park Press , is also tasked with creating hyperlocal websites for Gannett, the paper's parent company.) As a result, many hyperlocal journalists find their deadlines tend to be tighter or have a fast turnaround time. They also worry that their added responsibilities cause them to be less objective when writing a story. The lesson? Pitch only relevant stories so as not to create additional work or distractions for the already stretched editor or newsroom. Doing more with less, shouldn't mean searching through more pitches.
3. Localize your message. There needs to be some organic component to your message in order for it to truly resonate with a local community. PR and marketing practitioners need to understand the target market in such a way that their local messages will not only get picked up, but resonate with the audience. In the case where messages don't seem to have a tie to local initiatives, at first glance, the skilled PR pro needs to evaluate the opportunity and efficacy of the message — not all messages are meant for hyperlocal.
4. Provide value. As with any other media-relations channel, you need to offer quality content and provide value in order to engage your audience. While thirty percent of individuals read community newspapers , it still takes effort to build and sustain hyperlocal campaigns. This is true whether you're creating a campaign around a hyperlocal blog and/or website, or trying to capitalize on an existing hyperlocal newsroom. However, research does suggest that "readers will pay more for specialized online content."
5. Optimize for search. One of the big benefits of hyperlocal content is that it provides an opportunity to enhance local search engine optimization (SEO). That's because there's generally less clutter associated with niche-specific content, which means less competition for top search spots. Content of a targeted nature typically ranks higher in SEO than more "run of the mill" content and, thus, appears higher in the search results. The result: greater exposure for your company, client, or brand. "Those [press releases] should be optimized for relevant geographically specific keywords," explains Lee Odden, TopRank Online Marketing, in this local search interview with Michael Gray. "The same goes for blog posts and content used to promote via social networks and bookmarking services."
6. Expand your contacts. Though some major outlets have launched community or hyperlocal sites, the majority seem to be run by independent outlets or journalists, who used to write for mainstream media, and bloggers. Consequently, it can be a little tricky to identify those sites that are relevant to your initiatives. But valuable assistance in reaching the relevant media is available from a service like BurrellesLuce ContactsPlus, which helps you to more-precisely target journalists and bloggers by custom matching your media outreach results to the subject of your content.
While there are numerous hyperlocal sites, and many more undoubtedly in the offing, here are just a few of the blogs and websites to be aware of:
- Baristanet — Currently serving seven towns in New Jersey, Baristanet is touted as "a leader in hyperlocal blogging and online citizen journalism." The site, which is overseen by veteran journalists Debbie Galant, The New York Times, and Liz George, The New York Daily News, averages over 9,000 views a day.
- GoHyperLocal — GoHyperLocal is dedicated to "finding the great, local, independent local news sites being created by people who are active and involved in their community." It encourages users to submit their favorite hyperlocal websites for listing, and offers tips for effectively creating hyperlocal content. Its directory currently contains more than 80 sites — filtered by large-scale local, community news, hyperlocal and local niche sites — in the United States and United Kingdom.
- Patch.com — One of the largest hyperlocal sites, AOL's Patch projected, in this press release , that it would expand its reach to over 500 communities in 20 states by the end of 2010. It currently provides access to some 470 communities with roughly an additional 260 on the way. Users need only select their state on the map to view the hyperlocal sites currently offered in their area.
Hyperlocal media isn't just limited to print media or their online equivalent. In fact, major broadcast news providers are also expanding their local outreach. Both CBS and NBC offer options for individuals looking to connect with hyperlocal and community news. For example, KPHO.com (CBS-5 out of Arizona) gives local audiences the chance to "tell it like it is." NBC launched New York Non-Stop its 24/7 hyperlocal news channel and has expanded to nine other cities and states including, but not limited to, the Bay Area, Chicago, Connecticut, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.
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