As a group of 3000 social media minded women descend upon San Diego this week for the BlogHer conference, a widely regarded event for women in this space each year, another group of equally inspiring and intelligent women have gathered virtually to share some high-quality, conference-level learning with each other and our readers called BlogHop Conference at Home. I feel so lucky to be sharing my little nugget of wisdom with you among the other amazing posts that my friends/peers have put together. A big thank you to Angela at Blog Conference Newbie for putting this together for us. You can see the complete agenda of posts and topics covered there. Please take some time to read through those posts. I can guarantee you that you will not only learn from them but also find new blogs and writers to fall in love with.
As you know, this post will be a bit of a departure from our “regularly scheduled programming” since we don’t normally blog about blogging here. However, I am hoping that even those who are not interested in blogging/social media WILL, however, be interested in reading this post if for no other reason than to see why Sarah and I continue pouring our blood, sweat and tears into these hyperlocal blogs of ours. We love them (and our community) like children, after all 😉
So, with that introduction, let’s talk about Hyperlocal Blogging and how you can really maximize being “social” in this social media niche. Here’s a definition of hyperlocal from Wikipedia:
The term hyperlocal can be used as a noun in isolation or as a modifier of some other term (e.g. news). It connotes having the character of being oriented around a well defined, community scale area with primary focus being directed towards the concerns of its residents. When used in isolation it refers to the emergent ecology of data (including textual content), aggregators, publication mechanism and user interactions and behaviours which centre on a resident of a location and the business of being a resident. Use of the term originated in 1991, in reference to local television news content.
Given this definition, our Philly Burb Moms sites (Chester County Moms, Montgomery County Moms, and Delaware County Moms) are definitely considered part of the emerging and increasingly popular niche of blogs called hyperlocal. Since Chester County Moms’ launch in 2008, we’ve used these blogs as a platform to connect our parenting communities in each of the areas we cover with each other, with local businesses, and with national brands and businesses.
Our goal with these sites is to obviously provide our readers with high-quality content that they will want to keep coming back for. We certainly focus on geographically-targeted information via our calendar of events and blog posts, but it is also important for us to provide a large breadth of content that is not geographically specific such as our regular series’ including Tasty Tuesdays, Trendy Thursdays, Gardening with Carrie, Ask Shelby, Cooking with Z and several others.
Is the content important? Yes, it is CRITICAL. However, beyond the content, an equally important goal of ours is the connection. The connection to the community is invaluable in this niche. We connect in special and unique ways both with our readers and with our business community by virtue of being geographically linked, and also by being able to have the added benefit of connecting physically at local events, meetings, and school parking lots! And, not only is it invaluable to having a successful hyperlocal blog(s) but it also provides a level of personal interaction, commitment and satisfaction that I’ve never experienced in any other profession.
How can Hyperlocal Blogs connect with their Reader Community
As with all blogs, written posts always provide various levels of connection with your readers. On our sites, like many others in this niche, we do not get alot of comments directly on our blog. This can be attributed to alot of different factors, but our connection and feedback isn’t coming in the form of blog comments as it may for maybe lifestyle or memoir style blogs.
Our best tool for interaction with our readers has been Facebook. Without a doubt, Facebook has provided a forum for us to have two-way communication and yes, connection, with our readers that other platforms haven’t.
On Facebook, we can post links to our blog posts and we will get comments to the post topic as well as reactions to what other Facebook commenters have said. For us, Facebook is the barometer that tells us what our readers are really thinking or reacting to.
We also have alot of readers email us asking for recommendations for kids products, services, restaurants, etc. in the area. We often post these questions on FB for the readers (or they do it directly on our page) and the amount of support and information that people in the community share with each other overwhelms me sometimes. I’ll never forget the time that we had a brand new reader move to the area and she wanted to hear some recommendations from Moms in the area for an OB/GYN instead of picking one on her own. We posted her question on FB and within a few hours, she had 53 women respond to her question about OB/GYN’s in the area. People gave honest feedback, both positive and negative, that was truly useful for this woman to use as she tried to make an informed decision about picking a doctor in a new town. I LOVE THIS JOB if you couldn’t tell 🙂
Facebook also allows us to get the pulse on what our readers are thinking. We can ask about how local road construction is effecting them, or what they think about the local school boards decision about the bus schedule , or even if they’ve tried a new local restaurant, and again, we get such great feedback and CONNECTION.
Do we use other tools like Twitter, etc? You bet. And do our readers? You bet. But, we’ve found that with our readers, nothing beats Facebook. In fact, we use Twitter mostly as a way to network with businesses, brands, and other industry people, not really our audience.
Another way that we connect with our readers in a meaningful way is to host several community events per year. We host events both large and small, charitable events, launch parties, and everything in between. No matter the size or the purpose, I love getting to meet our readers or get to see readers that we’ve already gotten to know at these events.
Let’s take for example two of our super-fans, sisters Mimi and Naomi. I had not known these women at all before the blogs. They are just two really kind women who connected with us and appreciated our sites and had fun at our events. At a launch event we held last year, Mimi was not able to attend, but Naomi was able to and she brought their AWESOME mother along with her as well. It was so fun to meet Mimi and Naomi’s mom, so Sarah and I got a picture with her and Naomi snapped a picture and emailed it to Mimi. THAT’s the kind of connection I am talking about…. a real, true these-are-my-people kind of connection.
Shannon, Mimi and Naomi’s Mom, Sarah
Let’s also not forget the accidental bump-in connections. Although unplanned, they are actually a very important part of the connection and social aspect of hyperlocal blogging. I often bump into readers at the grocery store, the post office, and other spots around town. I’m not always put together, in fact, quite often I’ve got my hair in a pony tail with yoga pants and athletic shoes on, but you know what? This is me at this stage in my life. And, for the most part, I am ok with that. So, when a reader says hi to me at Target, I try to forget about how ridiculous I may look or how poorly my kids may be behaving and focus on listening and learning. It’s in these moments that I get fantastic feedback about the site (both positive and negative) as well as some touching stories about how we’ve impacted someone’s day.
I remember someone recognizing me at a restaurant about 18 months ago, but she couldn’t quite place me and I couldn’t quite place her. Almost simultaneously, we realize how we knew each other and she approached me and said “Hi Shannon! You know, I just wanted to let you and Sarah know how much I love your site. When I was a new stay at home mom, and none of my friends were around, it got very lonely. But, I found your site and your calendar of events and it saved me.” I recognize that Sarah and I aren’t making major medical discoveries or changing the world, but if we can make a small difference in someone’s day… yeah, I’ll take that!
How can Hyperlocal Blogs connect with their Business Community
As a resource blog, part of our job is to connect the businesses in the community with our readers as well. We often hear from businesses that we didn’t even know existed in various parts of the community, or didn’t really know what their mission is. It’s important to have a platform to where businesses can properly showcase their products and services to their primary customers.
We are able to introduce local (and national) businesses to our readers in a variety of ways. We do traditional banner advertising on our blogs as well as sponsored posts, social media blasts, and a variety of other consulting and advertising services based on the client’s needs.
Sarah and I are among a minority in the blogging world who do not participate in an ad network on our sites. This means that the advertising that you see on our sites was coordinated directly through our efforts alone, and we approved it. It did not appear as part of a larger collective of ads populated on our site by a programmed generator that we were paid for based on click through rates. And, lest I be misunderstood, I think ad networks are fantastic. I just don’t think that they work well for our application, and I would much rather use the ad real estate that we have for connecting local businesses that our readers in the community care about. This takes alot of effort to engage and maintain on our part, though.
A reward for working with the local business community to sell ad space comes a connection and often a collaborative relationship that repays itself tenfold. It may be ‘easier’ to participate in an ad network, however, the benefits of individually working with local businesses are many.
While we do work just as effectively with major brands and PR and media firms, there is something to be said for hopping in my car and taking a meeting with business owners. Face to face meetings help open the doors to soul. These business owners know that I am legit. They can see in my face that I am trustworthy, determined, honest, and above all, I take their business very seriously.
There are so many ways to be social in national and local blog settings. I just think that it happens to be easier to get MORE social in a hyperlocal niche and that you can maximize that social connection for both personal and business satisfaction!
Wow, I feel like I’ve already said SO MUCH in this post, yet I have so much more I’d love to say. Maybe I should do a Part 2? What do you think?
Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this. And, again, please be sure to visit all of the other fantastic posts in the BlogHop Conference at Home series. You won’t want to miss them!