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3 common challenges of local blogging

3 common challenges of local blogging Drew Hubbard

If you are involved with your community, and you have some free time, a hyper-local blog can provide a much-needed, dynamic source of information for your fellow residents. In short, hyper-local blogging is awesome. The concept can be appealing to potential bloggers trying to find a niche. If you don't know much about it, check out Matt McGee's great site about hyper-local blogging at http://www.hyperlocalblogger.com/.

Another excellent venue for reading up on hyper-local blogging is the Outside.In Blog which covers all things hyper-local. My favorite feature of the site is called Blogiology, in which the staff examines cities and their best hyper-local resources. So far, they have covered Miami, Richmond, Dallas, Phoenix, Durham, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Portland, Philadelphia, Buffalo, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Boston.

But even more important than individual bloggers, brands (yes, even big ones) can and should be exploring the benefits of hyper-local blogging. Being able to connect with existing and potential clients and consumers on the neighborhood level can build a trust-based relationship that is virtually unattainable elsewhere in traditional and even digital advertising.

Over the past year, brands and businesses have started to understand the impact that social media can have on their brand awareness and sentiment. Those who "get it" realize that making connections and championing (or rewarding) brand advocates have the potential to be far more efficient forms of advertising (for certain metrics) than traditional PR and search marketing.

In many cases, blogging and outreach shouldn't be considered advertising at all. On the contrary, this type of brand-building is little more than steering the conversation in the right direction. People out there are talking about you whether you know it or like it. Getting involved in those conversations is essential. Why not start at the grassroots level with hyper-local blogging?

A common complaint among would-be bloggers is that it's all been done. So rather than try to create a blog that is different enough or better than what is already out there, help your neighborhood (or town, or city, or whatever) by creating a resource for everyone in the community to share.

It's only fair to admit right off the bat that I'm not a hyper-local blogger myself. When I'm not wearing my SEO and social media marketing hat, I blog as LA Foodie, the primary writer for my Los Angeles food blog. In many ways, LA Foodie is similar to a hyper-local blog, and I frequently consult with smaller community-based sites for more information about the sandwich shops, burger joints, and burrito stands that I -- (burp) -- research. But I'm fascinated with the concept of hyper-local blogging, and I keep close tabs on how this newish blogging movement is developing. (Things are coming along nicely, in case you were wondering.)

Since the idea behind hyper-local blogging is to do more with less, the problems that face every blogger can become magnified for hyper-local bloggers. In the list that follows, I'll present three common problems, why they tend to be troublesome, and offer some potential suggestions for resolutions. But more than anything, I hope this article sparks a larger conversation about hyper-local blogging. So please, if you have additional suggestions or problems with resolutions that you have discovered, please post them in the comments section below.

I was originally inspired by a guest blogger, Mike Ramsey, on hyperlocalblogger.com with a post that he wrote about problems that hyper-local bloggers face. I didn't feel like the article went into nearly as much detail as I would have liked. Therefore, I'm hoping to continue the conversation here.

Additionally, hyper-local blogging is still a relatively untapped market. I hope this article inspires would-be bloggers to take the plunge, and I hope to see brands take advantage of this unique opportunity to connect with consumers.

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The problem:
What CMS should I use?

Why it's a problem:
There are tens, if not hundreds, of potential options from which to choose. New ones crop up every week. Popular solutions include WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, Moveable Type, and Blogger. It's a big decision since you'll be interacting directly with the software you choose every time you make changes of any kind, including adding new posts. Anybody who has migrated a blog from one platform to another can tell you what a pain it can be.

Potential solutions:
This one is pretty simple. Use WordPress. I wish all of life's problems had solutions this easy.

WordPress has been around for years, it's free, and it has a huge community of developers who are constantly making it better. Additionally, WordPress has thousands of excellent plug-ins to make your life easier and increase your productivity.

Perhaps most importantly, WordPress is SEO-friendly right out of the box. A bit of tweaking, including the addition of the All In One SEO Pack plug-in, can turn your blog into a streamlined SEO machine. More information about SEO for WordPress can be found here.

Keep in mind that many tweaks to WordPress can be done to the template files themselves instead of installing plug-ins. Therefore, if you have the knowhow, it's often preferable to make template file changes because this will mitigate slow page-load times. Excess plug-ins can slow down your WordPress-powered site. A zippy site is a good thing, especially now that we know that Google is taking page-load times into consideration for its ranking algorithm.

The problem:
Who will write for the blog?

Why it's a problem:
Blogging is a major time commitment. It's at least a part-time job, but if you are dedicated, it can easily become a full time (or more) endeavor.

Potential solutions:
The obvious solution is to enlist other writers as contributors. Here are a few ideas.

  • Journalism or English students. Students will often write for free if you offer them an established venue on which to showcase their work. Contact the appropriate department at the target school and offer your site as a place where students can publish their writing samples. Or if you already have a contact at the school, find out if there is a jobs message board that you can post to. Many schools and departments are starting to have Facebook fan pages, so if wall posts from fans are allowed, consider spreading the word via social media. The same goes for Twitter. Finally, most schools have career centers that will allow you to post a job opening for your publication.

  • Guest bloggers. Hopefully you have already made at least a handful of blogger contacts in similar subject matter areas to your own. In exchange for content on your site, offer a back link (or several) from your site to theirs. Obviously, this becomes more appealing to your colleagues if your site has some decent link juice to share.

  • Press releases. Traditional media has been using this method forever. Online news wire services like PR Web have RSS feeds broken down by category. Subscribe to your favorites via an RSS news reader like Google Reader, and repurpose the content to suit your own needs. Be certain to give credit to the source of any information that you use. It's usually best to customize the content to fit the style of your blog -- that is, add some unique content of your own that will appeal to your readers.

The problem:
What am I going to write about?

Why it's a problem:
Anybody who has ever maintained a blog can tell you that after a few months, it becomes a challenge to come up with new ideas. I often have to sit down and make myself write new posts, and some of them end up being not-all-that-great. But when it comes to blogging, fresh content is always better than no content. So what if I think that most of my readers are probably not interested in Dwayne Johnson's favorite junk foods (pizza and donuts, by the way). At least I have created a new post for the day. But where can one find inspiration on a regular basis?

Potential solution:
Twitter. It works for me. Of course, you'll first need to spend some time building a following. But in my opinion, Twitter should be an integral part of any hyper-local blogger's arsenal. It can be as simple as asking, "What should I write about today?" but you'll probably get more mileage out of specific questions like, "What is your favorite food at The Los Angeles Farmer's Market?" Give your followers something to discuss, and the content of your next post will probably happen organically.

Obviously, every blog is different. Therefore, the preceding suggestions might not work as well for one person as they might for another. I am interested to see feedback about challenges that both individuals and brands have encountered as they have built hyper-local blogs. Finally, I would love to see good examples of other community blogs that I missed while researching this article, so I encourage you to respond below.

Drew Hubbard is a search and social media consultant.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

Drew is mainly a dad, but he's also a social media and content marketing guy. Originally from Kansas City and a graduate of The University of Missouri, Drew will gladly discuss the vast, natural beauty of the Show Me State. Drew and his wife,...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: roosteri atfyi

2010, March 25

Great post think Local act Global you can deffinatly expand your local business. With the WWW being so large I definatly recomend starting local with sepecific niche.

Commenter: Drew Hubbard

2010, March 12

@Riel: Thanks for all of your feedback. It's great to see a live and working version of the concepts that are covered at a high level in this piece.

Commenter: Riel Roussopoulos

2010, March 12

To Warren's comment:

"brand ambassadors" are exactly what we promote in each of the 14 communities we currently serve.

We're actually moving to calling them "BUZZ AGENTS" as they buzz about local businesses, real estate and news.

Commenter: Riel Roussopoulos

2010, March 12

We've been developing hyper local blogs here in Vancouver focused on local real estate and community news.

We showcase local merchants and artists and encourage others in the community to become local experts.

We've built our own multi domain platform to manage it, I'd love for you to check it out.

We're currently only in Vancouver, although would love to start expanding to other communities.

Here is a profile piece I just did on a local artists.

A really fun video series of all the neighbours watching the Olympic Hockey Game on the streets (yay canada)

I've been a "hyper-local-social" expert for several years now, talking about the benefits of local marketing to anyone that would listen.

Nice to see someone else shares my confidence in 'local'.

Commenter: Drew Hubbard

2010, March 12

@Warren: Yours is an excellent point, and I understand the challenges that larger brands face with scalability. But it's not necessary that the brand actually run those blogs. Perhaps the brand could sponsor the creation of 20-30 local blogs in different regions by arranging deals with local universities. Building ambassadorships for the brand could be a way to bring the scalability problem under control. I would be interested to hear how other brands have tackled this challenge.

Commenter: Warren Kay

2010, March 12

Considering 80% of consumer purchases are made within 15 miles of a persons home, it makes sense that marketers (of all sizes) should take advantage of every opportunity possible to connect with consumers at the (hyper)local level.

The challenge, is that its hard for marketers to connect at this level with any scale. The default is zip targeting on larger sites which doesn't give a marketer the same kind of connection.

I agree that providing compelling content is the first step, and i hope the ad industry continues to develop capabilities to enable marketers to reach these users when they are in the right frame of mind.