Digital Networks? Bring Local to Scale
By the locals, for the locals
As traditional media, media buying, broadcast and broadsheet news continue to both disrupt and be disrupted – communities, consumers and citizens find themselves in turbulent, uncharted territory. Compounded by brands, a proliferation of consumer facing corporate newsrooms, nonprofits and social media channels and platforms; a once somewhat predictable tradition of advertising fueling content is increasingly decentralized in a chaotic digital information ecology. And that’s without delving into the politicized tension points with today’s press unwittingly becoming the subject of news, unnerving many of us at a scale historically we have not seen or experienced before.
This post focuses on some of the upside, coming out of the chaos. A welcome breath of fresh air, for folks exhausted by the polarization rampant in the headlines, seeking ways to qualify the standards of information they consume. Or brands, scratching their heads on how to break through the noise with signal to illuminate social responsibility or sustainability as a means to guide a client or customer on their path to purchase as an extension of their product value. A number of larger brands see more clearly than most of us, advertising is not getting the job done that it once did. Consumers are over it, seeking a higher level of intelligent placement in response to the demand for value or ways to exercise frugality. There is a natural curiosity in the marketplace, shoppers seeking a good fit or right sized vacation on or off the grid experience. Its the way this information is served that reveals a sea change of consumer preference, where a rising tide poised to lift many boats. Discerning individuals have become ninja like in their sensitivity to what does or does not qualify as something they relate with or see need of.
Advertising in the traditional sense has lost its hold, the consumer driven marketplace has an increasing lack of tolerance for it. There is a huge new demand for reshaping an on-demand shopping experience that is driven by, and optimized for, foraging and findability.
Over the years several experiments from MSN to YAHOO have tried, and mostly failed, at scaling local. Most recently the Patch experiment. Which may likely be that for large corporations, scaling local comes off as inauthentic at best, and not in service of the local communities and the local information and business marketplace served.
The long time pairing of news and advertising has come to a fork in the road. A fork that pierces the wrapper, allowing us to proactively redefine or qualify the unique product inside what media and journalism deliver us. For many who have become discriminating, sussing out narrative as real news or tips useful or entertainment, and brands that want to be in that mix. The good news? A number of emerging news networks are coming forward out of the print gone digital news disruption evolving and increasingly growing more seasoned over the past decade (2008 – 2018). In the wake of the large metros downsizing, there’s been a significant bloom of local investigative or community publishers growing operations in a rising tide. We now find a respectable number of smaller shops, more nimble than the large regional papers and when tallied in aggregate – a press corp formidable. In a good way, a nascent localized press growing in sophistication, increasingly responsive, uniquely localized and engaged in understanding community – authentically cut from the cloth of that community. We’ll outline some of this phenomena here as part of the editorial beat, “real time” as its all unfolding with many cohorts actively shaping its past, present and future.
What’s exciting about this?
These information networks growth, in particular smaller localized press, with many structured as nonprofits reveal a new form of narrative emerging in a turbulent news market. As news and information outlets emerge in pretty much every state in the union – many readers, businesses, local retailers – realtors or tourism outlets – or community groups have yet to discover or leverage them. Traditionally, news and media has been many things. One of these, a conveyance for advertising or earned media placement for public good outfits – be that NGOs or public service oriented agencies – to inform readers, consumers and communities. As these networks evolve and develop shared infrastructure, their ability to nationalize or regionalize local stories becomes a powerful lever. The new elements of this business model integrating things like blockchain capabilities, huge inventory across journalism types and verticals for paid placement, earned placement, sponsored content and paid narrative represent new content product categories we will be seeing a lot more of.
Predictive Tea Leaves
As markets guided by content producers reverse engineer this, local publishers and information products in service of local communities continue to deepen their inventory with audience informed narrative. Alongside this business networks, nonprofits or civic agencies (etc.) will want to align their appeal, all parties having skin in the game in service of their customer across local towns, cities or regions. This authentic connection, the localized relationship network is what holds a market merchandising alchemy. Predictive tea leaves suggest as the “indigenous” information and news providers are able to serve up inventory across local markets in parallel while maintaining autonomy and local accountability there is also appeal to a larger national market (larger brands or nonprofits or universities) looking to invest and place their appeals to these regional, local or hyper local markets. In a transitioning sharing economy, there is HUGE potential for a viable business model and multiple service lines. These fledgling news and information networks – perfectly positioned to scale and thrive. The traditional forms of advertising are not going to be what fuels this. As larger and medium sized brands or national nonprofits of all stripes with a franchise model – or local chapters – become more savvy and intentional about their visibility to markets where their presence matters, a new placement with deep editorial inventory aligns with targeted appeals, transparently. An entirely new means of placing into existing localized “trusted press” inventory or expert narrative reporting on specific subjects (e.g. science, climate, business, health, economy, policy, culture). Scaling out of the relational currency in our new sharing economy of the information and event providers local customers already trust.
Information Markets Evolving
It’s a dynamic time for the traditional press, the entire industry of advertising and media buyers as part of this, largely up-ended. As new editorial models, verticals of content and a variety of information networks coming forward. And in the value these content networks represent, with unique benefit provided to local communities – the prospect of aligning marketplace elements becomes a purpose-driven utility. Stay tuned for specific examples and early models of success emerging. While chaos for many of us in the information stratosphere is exhausting, it also bodes well as these new networks mature in particular if community and market forces help them to succeed. The new story of news and information may be far better at many things, than what we could imagine in today’s turbulent and fragmented news economy.
The real genius is bringing this to market early. Lets build locally sourced community labs and news accelerators to bring this on tap, optimizing connections based on the existing and trusted sources already up and operating. While supporting economic drivers, that help sustain our local economies and small businesses, which have always been the backbone of our nation’s resilience and societal stability. Refreshing themes such as empathy, active listening, call-response feedback and community participation – is what brings these networks to life.