The rise of the hyper-local blog ad (and what I'm doing to contribute) - April 25, 2004—
Are hyper-local news blogs the wave of the future? I'd like to think so, and it seems that OregonLive is ahead of the crowd. This article from CBS MarketWatch (requires registration) reports that, in a American Society of Newspaper Editors panel session on blogging this week, only five of the 200 participants said that their papers published blogs, and only a handful more were even thinking about it. Jeff Jarvis of Buzzmachine.com, one of the panelists, spoke of his vision of a network of volunteer "hyperlocal news blogs," and how these could attract smaller neighborhood businesses to online advertisements.
The concept of highly targeted local advertising is certainly not new: just ask anyone in the direct mail industry, or those waiters and waitresses handing out restaurant menus around the neighborhood. Craigslist has been there for a while, in a general way, with classified ads of all sorts that can be targeted to a city. Online yellow pages, especially Verizon's, have been aggressively targeting local businesses to purchase higher rankings in their city - these are still targeted by city, not by neighborhood, but are a lot cheaper than ordinary yellow pages advertising.
Only in the past week or two has Google developed a program meant to target keyword ads to localities, presumably costing much less than national or global ad campaigns. Newspapers would be ideal to jump on that bandwagon - after all, newspapers are the obvious first place for any local business to advertise; so much better if you could select a hyperlocal blog written by one of your best consumers.
Let's assume that blog readers who are interested in hyperlocal news are hyperlocated. This is probably about 30% true, and another 40% might be located near the neighborhood in question. Are these local blogs a natural place to advertise for the hair salon or pizzeria around the corner?
I would say yes, with some reservations. Hyperlocal blogs are absolutely ideal for local politicians - cheap, clearly relevant, and probably read by the individuals most likely to vote. A hyperlocal blog like mine would be a no-brainer for a local coffee shop or hair salon. The major negative is that bloggers, unpaid, unedited, and often a little rough around the edges, could just as easily trash their local coffee shop as compliment it. Imagine having your political ad appear on a post in which the blogger makes spurious accusations against your campaign. Egg is on your face, and on the newspaper's, but the blogger gets street cred.
A more perfect world would be a situation in which the advertising could be targeted without being so obviously linked to the specific content. It's one of my goals with Jyte, the news reader my company is developing: collect very basic locality data on our users so that advertising could be targeted, by locality and by date. How about a scrolling political ad on the three days before the primary? Now THAT would be targeted, cheap, and very effective.
Will these hyperlocal blogs catch on, anyway? It's hard to know for sure but one thing I DO know: mine is garnering lots of attention and it seems to fill that niche that was really hoping for a filler. It's a tough call, though, because many "volunteers" will be lower on the writing quality scale, which could be a turn-off to those readers who really don't know what blogs are. Ideally, the writers will be those undiscovered gems that were just waiting for their break and will volunteer for the free promotion. Hmmm, that rings a bell with me ;).