I was really fortunate this week to have the opportunity to meet with some of the hyperlocal websites that there are around Greater Manchester. The purpose of the meeting was to start discussing ways that we could work together to help each other.
These local independent news and lifestyle websites are developed by a whole variety of people from the seasoned journalist to students or people who just care about the area where they live. During the discussion I was interested to learn about how much support there is locally for the websites. They attract significant numbers of followers who check in to find out the latest details for their area.
This is something I can understand. While I am interested to know about the big stories for the Greater Manchester area, I am more concerned with whether there has been crime in my area, if there are new planning applications, and the events that are taking place at local pubs. They have a great window into local communities and what matters to people.
Public relations and communication professionals haven’t yet really grasped the opportunities that these websites provide in getting information to groups. One of the challenges is that there are many, many local websites and being able to maximise the relationships will require an investment of time, and the best way of dealing with this is to allow local staff to make and develop the connections. If there is a useful discussion from central communication staff then it will pave the way for the local staff to continue discussions. Are communication staff or public relations agencies making the most of these sites. For example, have the local supermarkets found a way to work with the sites that operate in their area? Does the local GP use the hyperlocal websites to share key information? Have other businesses in the area recognised that they can target their local customers?
These sites don’t have to make money, don’t have to adhere to some news agenda and can take a fresh new look at issues. Locally, there are some fabulous examples of people who have made hyperlocal or independent local news websites work well. Inside the M60, Salford Online and Saddleworth News have now become as recognised as many of the local newspapers. They have built a strong local following and have at the heart of some of the biggest stories that have happened. There are also more recent additions from lone individuals including Atherton Online and Fetch Didsbury.
What I love about this new development in communication is that anyone can do it – whether it is a site for general local information, or a site related to a singular local issue. Some basic computer skills together with a passion for the local area are all that is needed.
So let all communication professionals start to value the hyperlocal websites and find ways to work with them. For me the meeting this week was the start of a conversation and working relationship that I want to see develop in the same way that relationships are built with the local media. Let’s hope that we see them continue to grow and develop to support local communities.