Newspapers Join the Local/Social Network Scene

When I speak on local search, I always try to make sure my presentation has time for a few slides about “where local meets social.” In other words, I talk about the local aspects of social sites like Facebook and StumbleUpon, about local blog directories like Placeblogger and Outside.in, and about the fairly new trend of local newspapers trying to establish themselves as the social hub of their community. These are all venues where a local business can interact socially with potential customers, and I highly recommend small business owners start thinking about and acting on these opportunities.

There’s a new opportunity that recently launched in the San Diego area: SDBackyard.com, a site from the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper. Here’s what the home page looks like:

SDbackyard.com

It’s essentially a social network for the San Diego area. Sign-up is brain-dead simple, and once you’re in, you can create a blog, share photos and videos, upload other files, and do all the things you’d expect from a mini-social network. Have a look at the profile of mortgage broker Brian Brady (whose recent BloodhoundBlog post tipped me to SDbackyard.com) and you’ll get a good idea of all the information and content you could add to a profile.

SDbackyard.com Isn’t Alone

The Union-Tribune is hardly the first newspaper to move into social media. When I speak at conferences, the example I’ve been sharing is the Houston Chronicle Commons, which has a similar set of features like user blogs, photo sharing, friends/networking, and so forth.

Even my local paper, the Tri-City Herald has the Tri-City Forum, which doesn’t have nearly the same features as the bigger newspaper social networks — it’s mainly just a combination of a forum with individual user blogs. But, every Sunday, the Herald devotes an entire section of the print paper to content sourced from the online community.

That’s also part of the attraction of SDbackyard.com — community content will be included in print publications, offering further exposure for members.

Can You Market on SDbackyard.com?

You can. Of interest to small business owners are these features:

  • As you add friends and contacts, you’re creating a local network of potential customers.
  • You can join groups to find local residents that might be interested in your products/services.
  • You can advertise your business in the Classifieds section.

Business owners are invited to use the site in the ways I’m describing. The paper’s marketing director, George Bonaros, told Editor & Publisher earlier this year how helpful SDbackyard.com can be for small business owners:

“The unique geographic targeting allows small businesses, nonprofit organizations, clubs, and other community groups opportunities to promote themselves in print and online.”

Are There SEO Benefits for San Diego Businesses?

There’s no place to indicate your web site’s URL in your member profile, so this isn’t an opportunity to score a free link. Update: George Bonaros has corrected me on this point down below in the comments. If you create a business account, you do get to include a link to your web site. (Please read George’s comment for more.) You can link to your MySpace, Facebook, and/or LinkedIn profiles.

Google currently shows about 40,000 pages indexed, which is good for a site that’s only a couple months old. But, have a look and you’ll see they really need some SEO help:

Sdbackyard pages indexed

It’s good to see individual profiles being crawled — that means a small business has the opportunity to further control the SERPs for searches on its business name, and if the domain gains trust/authority, it could lead to other ranking opportunities, too, as you build out a content-filled profile. But they really need to fix those duplicate page titles and the other SEO basics.

Final Thoughts

When David Mihm interviewed me a couple months ago, I spoke about hyperlocal blogging and shared my feeling that traditional media would try to reach out to local bloggers:

And I think local newspaper and TV web sites will reach out and make connections with local bloggers for content and exposure.

That’s essentially what these sites are — an attempt to bring local thought leaders into the newspaper’s online tent to trade content for exposure.

Is it worth it for the small business owner?

If I’m a San Diego small business owner, I’d hop on this opportunity in a heartbeat. Sites like SDbackyard.com offer a solid opportunity to meet and network with potential customers in your local area. Ditto with the Houston Chronicle site. As more newspapers join the local/social network scene, I think small business owners should take a good look at the opportunity and decide if the time investment is worth it.

Your turn: If you know of any other newspapers getting into the local/social network scene, please tell me about it in the comments. General comments are also welcome, of course!

Comments (15)

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  1. Local Social Networks « AnneZozo's Blog | August 22, 2010
  1. Matt,
    Thanks for the props and suggestions. Your analysis is right on, and we hope that small businesses will jump in and take advantage of the hyperlocal marketing opportunity.
    One thing to note is that small businesses can add their URLs to their business listing in the business directory.
    By signing up as a business member, businesses can take advantage of the social networking / business development opportunities. They can also create or enhance their business listing on the site.
    Please keep the suggestions flowing.
    Thanks again,
    George

  2. Matt McGee says:

    George – thanks for leaving a comment and correcting me. When I created my test user, I must not have done a Business account — didn’t see the option to include a URL or anything like that.

    I’ll fix the post. Please keep in touch with future progress and updates.

  3. Excellent blog post. I’m constantly looking for new types of social sites in Boise, Idaho and these are some great examples. Over time more and more of the local media will understand the power of social websites.

    Thanks,

    BJ

  4. Larry Chadzynski says:

    This newspaper presents an execellent opportunity for business, large and small, to market their products locally. An evaluation, if conducted, by the newspaper will document the positive impact this approach provides for persons in the community served. Go SDBackyard. Your on track but don’t be derailed by corporate advisors.

  5. Brian Brady says:

    Thanks for the mention., Matt. I made the mistake of not signing up for a biz profile (I thought it might cost $$).

    I think SDBackyard can be a home run for both users and the paper. If local businesses generate FREE content, and see the results, they’ll be prone to advertise on the site (I think).

    I love what you’re doing here on Small Biz Search Marketing

  6. Fascinating development! One question, though. How do you find such sites in your location?

    I checked my local paper’s site and found that they had something that had social elements, but it focused strictly on the local entertainment scene – nothing more.

    It did a series of Google searches, but again found nothing broader in nature.

    SDBackyard sounds like a great development for growing relationships within your local community, but is it currently that far ahead of the curve that it doesn’t have counterparts in many other cities at this time?

  7. Brian Brady says:

    Hey Matt:

    I thought I’d give you an update on my activity on SDBackyard.com.

    I was at a BBQ on Independence Day. One of my friend’s daughters in interning as a Web2.0 marketing rep for a non-profit. She connected me to a REALTOR on SDBackyard who needed a “quick loan” for one of her customers,

    More importantly, it put a high school senior (a talented one, no doubt) in the center of a $400,000 transaction (as a connector). The opportunities for young people with Web 2.0 are simply astounding to me.

    The Moral? Forget the old rules. Add value to the network and you increase your personal value, regardless of age or experience. In this young lady’s case, she saw an opportunity and used HER network to solve the problem.

  8. Matt McGee says:

    Love that story, Brian. How did she know about the REALTOR who needed a quick loan? I think you’re spot on with the moral. And I wonder if maybe we’re all going to be working for the young kids before too long. :)

  9. Brian Brady says:

    “How did she know about the REALTOR who needed a quick loan?”

    Surfing on SDBackyard, looking for opportunities to connect people; a brilliant kid.

  10. Marnica says:

    Hi,This world is full of business opportunities, and you really don’t have to wait till the day a grand opportunity knocks at your door. If you aspire to make it big in the world of commerce, you can start off with any good idea.

  11. Paul Evans says:

    More major dailies should offer something like this since it provides small businesses who don’t have the resources or the know-how when it comes to stuff like marketing and advertising an alternative medium to promote their business. And most importantly, it helps them connect with the local market.

  12. John Barro says:

    Check out this site http://www.townsync.com I think this will be interesting. A local social network with some really cool/unique features.

  13. kelvin says:

    unfortunately, it looks like sdbackyard.com didn’t do too well. it’s now a sinkhole trap for people to click someone’s adsense words – making money off people’s clicks. might want to update the link so you don’t inadvertently contribute to that spam (“contentless”) site.

    thanks for keeping up an intriguing/useful blog!

    -Kelvin

  14. kelvin says:

    meetups (meetup.com) is another interesting way to market locally… not sure how effective it is, but i’m sure you can be creative to make it work for a particular business/niche/market…

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