Shakeups at AOL’s Patch Alter Hyperlocal News Landscape

Media Deserts Project Map
The Media Desert Project identifies communities that lack access to fresh news and information. Users can search by zip code and analyze community demographics.

The layoffs at AOL’s Patch sites across the country are altering the hyperlocal news landscape, and Ohio University’s Dr. Michelle Ferrier is tracking those changes using an open wiki at http://aolpatch.wikispaces.com. Ferrier is associate dean for innovation in the Scripps College of Communication and a researcher/entrepreneur in the hyperlocal arena.

Using crowdsourcing through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus, news reports, and even emails from former editors, Ferrier is compiling the changes on a wiki that anyone can edit. The work is part of a larger research project called “The Media Deserts Project” that is mapping the national media ecosystem to find places that lack access to fresh news and information.

“AOL’s Patch strategy has been an important part of the experimentation in hyperlocal online news,” Ferrier said. “We need to understand what makes a community site sustainable and how we can structure these operations differently.”

The Media Deserts Project uses geographic information systems to map changes in daily newspaper circulation. Additional layers in the map will use the AOL Patch data along with other research on independent hyperlocal online news sites to provide additional intelligence on news coverage. The research team from Ohio University and Ithaca College is working on a public version of the map that can be used by regional leaders and residents to create local solutions.

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Shakeups at AOL’s Patch Alter Hyperlocal News Landscape

Demystifying Advertising in Hyperlocal News Communities

Two hyperlocal efforts described their advertising strategies in a recent conversation sponsored by the Journalism That Matters collaborative. Tracy Record of WestSeattleBlog.com and Barry Parr of Coastsider.com discussed the advantages of ad servers, pricing, and some do’s and don’ts of ad sales in the hyperlocal space.

Do
•    Publish awhile before selling ads. WestSeattleBlog.com ran for two years before it took ads. Coastsider.com didn’t start selling ads for four years. Having another revenue stream (like a job) helps during the startup phase.

•    Develop a page design/platform that accommodates ads…even if you don’t have any yet. That means building in multiple positions – leaderboards, banners, buttons, text ads. The challenge is a design that has enough ad positions…a challenge if ads are your only revenue. A sidebar of ads is workable in a hyperlocal market (see westseattleblog.com), but the ads should rotate so that everyone gets positioned with the daily content…not somewhere south of Antartica.

•    Develop a presence in the community and let the community buzz and retail demand drive the decisions about adding advertising to the site.

•    Create a strong and easy-to-communicate ad strategy. Complex pricing and rotation schemes will end up confusing the advertiser and the bookkeeping.

•    Barter ad space. Use restaurant coupons, theatre tickets, free coffee, haircuts and other trades as giveaways on the site for new visitors, registration, participation or food for your own table.

•    Ad servers help manage ad space. Rather than hard-coding ads, ad servers help manage the rotation of ads, control traffic, and provide great reporting on how many times an ad was delivered on the pages and how many clicks the ad received.

•    Develop ad sizes based on standards from the Interactive Advertising Bureau. A square button size for rail ads is 125 x 125 IMU (interactive marketing units). A leaderboard is 728 x 90 IMU. Standard ad sizes mean your advertisers don’t need odd-size creatives for your site. If you plan to partner with other sites in ad networks/exchanges, standard sizes make you more attractive.

Don’ts
•    Don’t sell pay per click advertising. You have to sell based on branding and awareness, not on click rates because advertisers will be disappointed versus what they typically expect from other media.

•    Don’t be afraid of a high CPM (cost per thousand – cost to have an ad delivered to 1,000 people/eyeballs). Price the ads to get a fair cost for the audience you are delivering.

•    Don’t cultivate a lot of advertisers for a few good ones. It takes time to service advertisers and keep track of the accounts.

•    Don’t deliver specific reports to advertisers. Do share how many visits per month.

•    Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. If you can’t change out ads for daily specials – and do it consistently – then don’t sell it as an option.

A key point to remember: When you are the editorial and advertising person (or in the same household) there’s no separation of church and state. If your editorial opinions are not favorable to a particular advertising community, don’t be surprised if they don’t come to your party.

CHAT BACK: Have you played with ad packaging strategies? Do you have categories of advertisers that are working well on your site? Tips for pitching in a tough economy? Post your comments here.

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Demystifying Advertising in Hyperlocal News Communities