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:
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:
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.
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!