Tuesday, November 10, 2009

sharpening our sense of local news

I don't know about you, but the only print newspaper I read is fat with advertisements, circulars and classifieds--and it covers Northwest Washington, DC (and only that section of the city) like a blanket. Junior high sports scores, peeks at available real estate, minutes from the smallest local civic meeting and arguments over the heights of new curbs being installed on a single block all vie for space in this paper.

In that sense, this little local paper (which by the way, is delivered to my door for free) proves that everything old is new again, as it's now part of a larger trend toward what's called "hyperlocal" coverage today. It at once responds to technology advances, reflects audiences' desire to whittle the web down to a manageable focus, and redirects attention to the everyday news that's often most useful to audiences--or to news no longer covered by the diminishing number of news organizations. The savvy communications strategist will take all three of those trends into account when she's plotting--literally--a strategy for taking advantage of the local for communications. Here's what to keep in mind:
  • The new local news outlet may not cover everything you're used to: Check out this article about the new Texas Tribune, one of the nonprofit hyperlocal news outlets springing up around the U.S. It chose to ignore the recent Fort Hood shootings, despite the incident's proximity, in favor of its strict focus on state government issues, a topic less covered by available news media. Don't make assumptions about what a hyperlocal news group wants from your organization before you pitch. Ask. Listen. Learn as they go forward.
  • Watch with care as social goes even deeper into local: Twitter's hinting it will add "geolocation" to your posts, using GPS technology available on most cellphones to tag the sender's location. The feature might allow your followers to sort news by the sender's location--for example, during an emergency or major event, preferring more local posts to those from far-flung observers. And it will help users manage the flood of posts they see. (Facebook's introduced a similar feature that winnows your friends' updates into a lighter "news feed" as well as the more complete "live feed," and offering a "lite" version of the entire platform.) As platforms put more localizing tools in the audience's hands, it pushes you away (I hope) from merely counting fans and friends as your metric, since there's no guarantee they won't sort you out of their primary stream. You'll need to engage them--and using local tags is a smart strategy to target and engage audiences.
  • Where are you? expands status reports: Services like Foursquare are expanding users' ability to tell their social networks where they are, and offer incentives for exploring. It capitalizes on another old phenomenon: Our fascination with the reporter in the field, our guy-on-the-ground, or reports from faraway meetings and travels. Think about how you can exploit this mashup between user mobility, GPS and social networking to engage your audience, whether it's a contest to see how many sites on a campus students have visited, a crowdsourced map of all the locations where employees have represented your company to a key audience, or a visitors' scavenger hunt to find all the special, secret or historic corners of your public venue or museum. How far into your location can you draw an audience?
You may think of your organization as a multinational corporation, a world-class philanthropy, a major player in national affairs or a widely recognized authority on your subject. But if you miss pinpointing what's under your nose in your location, you'll miss one of the hottest strategies in communications. How will you integrate local focus in your communications strategy for 2010?

Related posts: Reboot communications with a locavore on your team

3 location-savvy ways with social media

Where audiences are turning for local news: Not the paper

Using Twitter to drive foot (and car) traffic

How to reframe your view of local reporters

Why local is the new news

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