While the landscape for targeting the much-coveted Millennial (and Gen Z) audience with digital content is becoming increasingly crowded, an opportunity may exist for enterprising media companies, brands, and publishers to differentiate themselves by utilizing the underserved hyperlocal news format with a purposeful twist.
What is the hyperlocal format, exactly? And what will it take to build a successful content strategy around it? Let’s take a deep dive!
A Hyperlocal Overview
As traditional news publishers continue to shift towards new mobile and digital distribution models to remain relevant with younger audiences, one domain that has not been able to pivot to a lucrative online model is the hyperlocal news market.
Hyperlocal—defined by Wikipedia as online news targeting a smaller, geographically defined community—gained traction during the early stages of the social web as traditional local news sources began to fade due to struggles with monetizing web-based content. A notable example of an early (and successful) hyperlocal network is Patch.com.
Big media brands attempted to acquire and leverage these emerging news platforms with the promise of implementing new distribution and revenue models. Despite initial enthusiasm and interest, however, many of these initiatives turned out to be ill-fated.
AOL infamously lost 200 million dollars from their investment in Patch.com. NBC eventually shut down operations on the local news aggregator Everyblock.com, which struggled with a profitable business model even despite receiving critical praise.
Despite these initial setbacks, the technology and startup sectors have acknowledged that there is still a need for local news and information, especially among younger audiences.
Recently, digital-based media and technology companies have renewed their interest in the local news format within the social space, such as Googles’ Bulletin, Hoodline, and Facebook’s recent algorithm/newsfeed tweaks for local news. Even the resilient Patch network recently launched a new mobile app complete with push notifications. Big media has also jumped into the fray such as ABC Networks’ Localish, and CBS Televisions’ CBSN New York.
The pivotal question is whether these new local platforms will appeal to the audience most likely to engage with them: Millennials. The largest and most diverse generational cohort in the U.S. also happen to be the largest consumers of online news, according to a recent report published by the Pew Journalism Project.
Can these new hyperlocal efforts effectively gratify a fluctuating young audience, while also validating new publishing revenue models that allow local media brands to scale where previous attempts have failed?
The recent shut-down of Millennial news publisher Mic.com illustrates that it can be a challenging space, but it also demonstrates an opportunity for creative and adaptive brands to seize.
Millennials Affinity with Local Content
A study of Millennial news consumption from the Media Insight Project—an initiative of the American Press Institute—showed Millennials were more likely to follow news about their local community more than celebrity and entertainment news.
Also, a recent unprecedented study published in The Journal of Media Business Studies examined young adults’ multi-platform local news consumption patterns on an audience level, identifying a distinct set of habitual behaviors for the format. The study goes as far as to identify distinct types of young local news consumers, including heavy local news seekers and determined, location-independent news seekers.
Research from the newly hyperlocal publisher ABC Owned Networks suggests that Millennials feel better about their local communities than the world at large, and are eager for content that focuses on personal connection.
As for the behavioral patterns of Millennial news consumers, studies show a steady diet of media and information on various social platforms, including networks like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube, and Reddit, along with “dark” social channels such as private messaging apps and group texts.
Overall, Millennials tend to be multi-dimensional when it comes to news-seeking and will use any platform available to them, even though some platforms skew higher especially for younger users such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Reddit. Their information-seeking is intermixed with other attributes including social connection, community discussion, problem-solving, and social action, all of which makes them mindful news consumers.
From a behavioral perspective, one possible explanation for the Millennial drive for local news may be a need to reduce stress and anxiety from polarizing and divisive “hard news” topics typical in national news cycles. Local news topics can contain more prosocial and interpersonal themes that are more community-centered, which is an essential characteristic of the “Connected Generation.”
A recent study from the American Psychological Association—Stress in America Survey: Generation Z Stressed About Issues in the News—revealed that younger, up and coming audiences are becoming increasingly emotionally fatigued with hard news topics including immigration, sexual assault, and mass shootings.
This strategy aligns with a rising trend of news storytelling known as “constructive journalism.”
Purposeful Storytelling for Positive Engagement
Constructive journalism is an emerging branch of content creation with the purposeful intent of eliciting positive emotions through solution-based storytelling, taking some of its cues from the discipline of positive psychology.
Not be confused with the innocuous “soft piece,” constructive news stories can address and tackle hard and difficult topics while re-framing the story structure to eliminate sensationalism and negativity bias in current events.
Useful and solution-based journalism is experiencing a surging interest from a handful of savvy publishers—like the Guardians’ The Upside series—as fake-news-littered social-feed algorithms and partisan news outlets continue to lose trust and investment with the public.
The juxtaposition of constructive journalism’s prosocial concepts with the relevancy and demand for more purposeful news content for Millennials can potentially be a winning formula for generating engaging and share-worthy content.
Purposeful Hyperlocal Good for Business?
There is some potentially good news for companies and brands looking to go down this strategic content path. For starters, several studies have indicated that there is an increased engagement with certain types of solution-based news stories, which can gain up to 30 seconds more attention than traditional news stories with text-based formats. Imagine the possibilities of leveraging this insight with the already engaging digital story-based format?
Another benefit is that hyperlocal news efforts are more advertiser-friendly. A recent survey from Digiyday shows that 43% of media buyers report that they avoid news content altogether. This risk-averse mindset towards news advertising could potentially be an opportunity to reach nearly half the population of media buyers with content that is not radioactive to ad-buying budgets.
Only time will tell if this resurgence of hyperlocal news will ultimately prove more successful than previous efforts, but now is an excellent time to explore before the market becomes crowded like other formats.
One thing is for sure: customized market research is needed to ensure a productive run with the hyperlocal format. Primary customized insights and analysis can address key research areas including relevant local topics/interest (particularly for the diverse Millennial audience), best formats (e.g., video length long or short form), best channels of distribution (e.g., Facebook, proprietary platform), and scalable, validated revenue models beyond just subscriptions for gated content
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