As a kid, I dreamed of being a journalist at a print newspaper. Today, I run the digital department at a public affairs firm – a job that didn’t even exist when I was in 8th grade.
Oh, how the times have changed.
Just last week a colleague told me about the online phenomenon that – according to the New York Times – may replace dying newspapers: hyperlocal websites. Sites such as Everyblock.com and placeblogger.com are targeted down to the neighborhood block, and the news they report is expressly designed for small communities. Similar sites, such as fixmystreet.com, have existed in the UK for a few years and seem to be gaining popularity by directing local citizens’ concerns to the proper officials. Incorporating blogs, social media, and tips from neighbors, these sites stand to quickly become citizens’ primary source of local news.
The anticipated death of newspapers clearly affects the journalism industry, but it also forces public relations and communications professionals to rethink how they get their stories out. Instead of press releases and PSAs, they’re learning to use Twitter and viral video.
Now, they must also consider hyperlocal news sites.
For communicators, these sites provide not just another online outlet, but another new way to interact with consumers. That means it’s time to get creative. Instead of looking in a directory for a local reporter, you need to find the most-read state blog or use a tool like wefollow.com or Twitter Grader to identify influential Twitterers. Or you can publish the information yourself via Twitter and appeal directly to the readers. If you’re lucky, they may share it with their networks, too.
These changes seem daunting to public relations professionals. What drives me nuts is how slow some are to embrace these trends, despite seeing successes by firms like Dell, Zappos, and Comcast and mistakes by Amazon, Domino’s, and Motrin. To start, just sign up for a few accounts and use them for something you’re personally interested in – maybe it’s cooking or photography. That way, you’ll learn how they work and begin to understand how they can benefit your clients.
This new world also means your communications must become much more microtargeted – addressing people interested specifically in your product rather than just appealing to the masses. And the messages need to be sent through multiple channels – not solely a press release or a couple calls to reporters – to get attention.
Nobody really knows if hyperlocal sites will take off. But regardless, now is the time for communications professionals to get prepared – whether to participate with these sites or with the next new tool that comes our way.
Katie Harbath is the Director of Online Services at DCI Group. She has more than 5 years of experience in the online political sphere including work during the 2008 and 2004 Presidential Elections. Her personal blog is at www.katieharbath.com and she’s on Twitter @katieharbath. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of Katie Harbath.