This is the fourth extract from Where are we now? UK hyperlocal media and community journalism in 2015 a new report commissioned by the Centre for Community Journalism and supported by Cardiff University and Nesta.
|● There is an active audience for online hyperlocal media; although different studies report very different consumption figures.
● The growth of mobile devices is a key driver in increased frequency of consumption.
● Different topic genres appeal to different age groups, but functional information about events, services, local weather and traffic, tends to have the broadest appeal.
Audience research consistently demonstrates the regular consumption of hyperlocal media and that readership is increasing. Because “hyperlocal” is a vague label[i] disliked by many content producers[ii]– and not necessarily understood by audiences – consumption levels may well be underestimated.
Ofcom audience data
The regulator found in 2012 that “use of hyperlocal websites is growing” and that “around 1 in 7 (14 per cent) of people state that they use a local community website on at least a monthly basis.”[iii]
In 2014, this time using a weekly metric, Ofcom recorded[iv] one in ten saying they use local community websites or apps every week. A separate 2014 study disclosed “almost half (48%) of those who say they use local media say they use the internet for local news information now more than they did two years ago.”[v]
Nesta / Kantar hyperlocal reach
Research published in 2013 by Nesta echoes Ofcom’s earlier view that capturing audience attention is a challenge for the sector.[vii] Despite this, Kantar’s fieldwork provided a number of positives, including:
- Forty–five per cent of all UK adults (53 per cent of those with Internet access) had accessed some form of hyperlocal media.
- Mobile devices are increasing consumption levels; including frequency of usage. Among those who said that they consumed more hyperlocal content than two years ago, fifty-five per cent claimed this was due to them getting a smartphone and/or a tablet.
- “Twenty–nine per cent of hyperlocal media users who use a smartphone say they use it to access hyperlocal content every day (equivalent to 7 per cent of UK adults).”
Given the continued growth in take-up of mobile devices – Ofcom notes that 66 per cent of UK adults now own a smartphone[viii] – these figures may well have increased in the last two years.
Understanding the size of hyperlocal audiences is complicated by the fact that a quarter of online publishers are unaware of their website analytics.[ix] The reasons for this may include lack of skills or a lack of interest in traffic data. Nesta’s efforts to explore “a more strategic use of website and social media analytics” may yield some valuable outputs for the sector.[x]
Among publishers who are aware of their audience size, there is considerable variance.
- Two producers claimed a monthly average of more than 100,000 unique users
- 33 reported claim between 10,000 and 100,000
- The remaining 55 were below 10,000.
The average number of unique visitors to UK hyperlocals is 17,270, although, as the researchers note, “this is skewed by a small number of sites with large audiences.” The median number of page impressions in this cohort was 5,039.[xi]
What audiences want
Ofcom has attributed key benefits of local media[xii]as being “things I need to know to help me live in my local area” and “things I want to know to feel like I belong in my local area.”[xiii] Nesta’s work with Kantar reinforces this view. Survey respondents identified, weather, news and entertainment as the most popular types of content they accessed.[xiv]
Not surprisingly, Nesta found that different topic genres appeal to different age groups. Their analysis found that “life–stage factors influence consumption of hyperlocal media.” For example:
“Younger respondents (16–34) place a greater importance on information about restaurants, clubs and bars and sports than those aged 35–54, while those aged 55 and over place more emphasis on local arts and cultural events than the youngest age group (16–34).”
The importance of social
Social media is increasingly important as a tool for sharing and finding content.[xv] Subsequently, it is no surprise that hyperlocal publishers are active on these mediums. 91 per cent of UK producers featured in 2014’s publisher survey reported that they use Twitter and 79 per cent use Facebook.
Despite being a smaller social network across the general population, Twitter is a more popular social channel for UK hyperlocal publishers than Facebook.
- Nine per cent of respondents have more than 10,001 Twitter followers;
- Thirteen per cent between 5,001 and 10,000;
- 37 per cent between 1,001 and 5,000 followers;
- The remaining 40 per cent have attracted fewer than 1,000.
On Facebook, six per cent of the practitioner survey respondents have more than 10,000 likes, 32 per cent have between 1,001 and 10,000; and the majority (62 per cent) have fewer than 1,000.
Given the greater popularity of Facebook with the overall internet population, this may be an area where hyperlocals should focus more attention. Internet users in an area may be active on Facebook, yet unaware of the hyperlocal content produced on their doorstep.[xvi]
Blog Preston’s Ed Walker found, in early 2013, that a greater focus on Facebook – including more consistent posting, tone and quality of updates – grew their “likes” from 550 to 693. “Considering the Facebook page has been running for about three and a half years, to put on 143 fans in 30 days is a good achievement,” he observed.[xvii]
The rise of video
The advent of smartphones and tablets, cheaper data packages and 3G/4G mobile connectivity have all contributed to changes in online content consumption. Alongside greater social media usage, video is increasingly popular, particularly in bite-sized chunks on sites using responsive design.
Given these trends, hyperlocal publishers need to ensure that they are not left behind; and that they provide content in the formats that reflect consumer habits and preferences. Cisco predicts by 2018, globally, video will account for 80 per cent of all IP traffic. They also note that “last year’s mobile data traffic was nearly 30 times the size of the entire global Internet in 2000.”[xviii]
Although there are exceptions such as Your Thurrock,[xix] the majority of hyperlocal websites are still very text heavy, with little video or multimedia content; partly because of the time and skill required to produce this material. However, there is a risk that audiences will see sites as old fashioned and irrelevant if they do not accommodate these wider trends.
3.1 Publishers may benefit from focusing more of their social media activity on Facebook.
3.2 Further, on-going, research into hyperlocal media consumption will be welcome, using consistent metrics, which will allow for more longitudinal analysis. This should include analysis of the total size of the UK hyperlocal market (no of publishers, income + audience). 500+ websites will, collectively, enjoy substantial reach.
3.3 Tailored tools and training to enable publishers to benefit from consumer trends in mobile, social and video consumption could help to ensure their on-going relevance to local audiences.
[xv] Newman, Nic. The rise of social media and its impact on mainstream journalism: A study of how newspapers and broadcasters in the UK and US are responding to a wave of participatory social media, and a historic shift in control towards individual consumers. University of Oxford, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, 2009. Available at: http://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/publication/rise-social-media-and-its-impact-mainstream-journalism also see: http://qz.com/388418/the-unstoppable-rise-of-social-media-as-a-source-for-news/
[xvi] The Carnegie UK Trust notes this is the biggest challenge for MyTurriff, for example, in their forthcoming report on hyperlocal case studies.