This is a tricky area and I don’t claim to have all the answers but I have seen a variety of different approaches on dealing with ‘competing’ local services. Even the idea of ‘competition’ in the hyperlocal space can be problematic as many publishers don’t feel they are competing with other existing services but instead come from a starting point of providing something new, missing or complimentary to what was previously on offer.
In the case of the fledgling hyperlocal I’m initiating, that’s certainly my standpoint and I hadn’t expected to be considering this issue so early in the process however, the reaction from a local commercially run website pointed up something different so it’s become something that needed to be addressed.
In fact that’s possibly the first thing to note, even if you’re not running the hyperlocal as a commercial enterprise, it may be considered as competition by those who do seek to make money from local publishing, one of the reasons why there’s sometimes friction between local newspapers and community websites and blogs. Established operators may feel they ‘own’ the local space.
The thinking which underlies that approach often doesn’t take into account the very different way people consume news and information online and via mobile but it is a view still present in some quarters and so may reveal itself as an issue quite early in the life of your hyperlocal.
So what’s the best strategy? Here’s five different approaches to consider:
1. Publish a manifesto
Lay out your stall online. What the site is doing, what it stands for, why you’re doing it etc. This can be around the editorial tone and content but also be extended to any commercial dealings. Greater transparency with everything from traffic figures to ad revenues can help explain the role you see the site fulfilling.This one from the US site The Rapidian is an effective and concise example.
2. Contact possible competitors
Basically the same as the above but on a one-to-one basis.
Introduce yourself and explain what you’re doing, why you’re doing it etc. I’d love to be able to relay experience of this in action but sadly, so far at least, this approach has been without success for several projects I’ve initiated. If you’ve different experience, please do feel free to add to this post via the comments below.
3. Find areas to collaborate
Maybe you have great photography but the other site has the resources to do in-depth reporting – together you could create great slideshows. Or maybe you could provide a feed of information which, properly attributed, could be used in the local community sections?
Taking some time to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each proposition could lead to a fruitful collaboration whether on an ongoing basis or a one-off project.
A good example of this in action can be seen in the work Trinity Mirror has done in Birmingham which laid the groundwork for hyperlocal content sharing. (Disclosure: I am connected with, Talk About Local, the company involved in the initiative).
4. Give link love
If you genuinely don’t compete, then this will be a simple but effective step you can take that gives your users the benefit of all the content available locally while taking some of the sting out of any fraught relationships. Linking to stories being carried elsewhere builds your repository of information and can help users understand the difference between your offering and that of your competitor. If the content isn’t suitable on a day-to-day basis, consider a fixed link in the blog roll, ad space or similar to point up the existence of other provision.
5. Go it alone
Not much of a strategy but this maybe what you end up with so be prepared. It maybe you discover there’s no appetite for collaboration and your ‘competitors’ would rather behave as if you didn’t exist. If that happens then – keep calm and carry on as the much overused expression goes – your users are actually unlikely to care one way or the other and you’ve undoubtedly enough to be getting on with.
* Do you have experience in this area which could help people starting out? Please feel free to add to this post via the comments below.