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How charities can tap into the power of hyperlocal

  • Zoe Amar is Director of Zoe Amar Communications. She also writes for The Guardian Voluntary Sector Network about charities and digital marketing.

    Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are amongst the biggest social networks, and your charity may well have a presence on them, however nascent. Their one downside is that they are now very crowded marketplaces. To stand out on Facebook you will have to invest in ads, which many small, local charities may not have the budget for. Whilst it’s vital to maintain a presence on global networks, the answer to true engagement may lie closer to home in hyperlocal social media.

    Hyperlocal sites, which are focused on targeted geographic segments, such as Birmingham Updates or Sheffield Forum, are a perfect fit for small charities.

    According to a recent report by Cardiff University and Nesta, there are more than 400 active hyperlocal websites in the UK, compared with 1,045 local papers. 17 per cent of people online in the UK visit hyperlocal websites or apps every week for news about their local area or community, and Ofcom have noted that this trend is set to rise. Such sites are most likely to cover community activities e.g. festivals, clubs and societies, local councils and the services they provide, but some feature investigative journalism about local news. Those aged 35-44 are more likely to have used hyperlocal. With all that in mind, more charities should tap into the power of hyperlocal.

    Anecdotally, hyperlocal sites are often the first place people look when they want to find out what is going on in their community, and Nesta reports that community events, services, local weather and traffic are the most popular content types.

    So how can small, local charities use these sites to build relationships with their local communities?

    1. Understand your audience. Talk to people in your audience and find out where they get their information about what’s going on in your area. Is it the local paper? Or is there a blog for your area? Or a local mums’ group on Facebook? Establish where conversations are taking place and then join these forums to see what people are talking about.

    2. Get to know the people behind the sites. Find out who runs your favourite hyperlocal sites. Like you, they are likely to be passionate about the place you live in and want to bring people together. Build a relationship with them and they will be much more likely to publicise what you do.

    3. Look at how your charity could add value. As someone who’s advised many charities about how to use hyperlocal, I don’t recommend joining sites and broadcasting about your events or campaigns. Take time to understand how you can add value. For example, suppose you are organising a coffee morning. Give people a reason to come along as well as supporting a great cause, such as that it’s a nice rainy day activity for mums with children. This will help you establish a long term relationship.

    4. Have a clear ask. How can your community help you? Do you want them to donate, volunteer, or use your services? Make sure you have a strong call to action and a good reason for people to take it.

    If your charity wants to campaign, fundraise or build a community around your brand in your community then hyperlocal could help you go a long way.


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