Archive for the ‘Community Content’ Category

Here is the one-page summary of C3 that I gave colleagues at the Poynter/McCormick Big Ideas Conference today.

The central point of my Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection is that media companies need to change our relationships. We need new relationships with our communities and with businesses. Here’s how I explain it in the blueprint:

For consumers, we will be their essential connection to community life — news, information, commerce, social life. Like many Internet users turn first to Google, whatever their need, we want Eastern Iowans to turn first to Gazette Communications, whatever their need. For businesses, we will be their essential connection to customers, often making the sale and collecting the money. We will become the Complete Community Connection. (more…)

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This is the fourth part of the community content section of the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection.

The unified calendar we launched this year at Iowa.com, serving all our company products, has barely begun to tap the possibilities of an interactive calendar. It’s providing content on events effectively, but the Complete Community Connection needs to pursue revenue possibilities.

An effective calendar will provide some strong paid search opportunities, but also some direct sales opportunities, to sell tickets, make reservations and register participants directly online. When users sign up for email reminders of events or email notices to friends, those emails need to include targeted advertising. We use mapping to show the venues of events, but the map also needs to locate restaurants and bars nearby (a targeted advertising opportunity that would help you plan where to eat before the event or where to meet for a drink afterward). Our calendar entries also need to grow, aggregating videos and news reports relevant to events.

Continue reading the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection with Community-content opportunities: Local knowledge.

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This is the second part of the community content section of the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection.

The experience of MonroeTalks.com, detailed in Newspaper Next 2.0, shows the potential for community conversation platforms. The Iowa.com iTalk section has barely begun to explore the possibilities that the Complete Community Connection must pursue.

A community conversation platform needs to be engaging, with opportunities to post photos and videos, with easy-to-follow directories and easy-to-use search windows to help users find the niches and discussion threads that most interest them. We should offer blogs to people in the community, organizing them by type — community affairs, club news, family blogs, politics, sports, neighborhoods, congregations, etc.

We should integrate our conversation content with BlockTalk, so people are able to quickly find the conversation and news happening closest to them. While the content will be user-generated, an editor (and/or software) should monitor to highlight new content and interesting content, so the conversation constantly has a fresh look and keeps people coming back to see what’s new. Monitoring software should highlight the most popular discussions. Just as the small-town paper for years paid stringers to supply chicken-dinner sorts of news, we might pay some local discussion leaders to spur the conversation by frequently posing questions or posting some of that chicken-dinner news online. The conversation site should present a host of targeting, search and direct sales opportunities.

We should seek ways to encourage full, accurate identification of people in the community conversation. We can do this multiple ways:

  • Bloggers will need to use their real names, subject to verification, and to complete accurate user profiles.
  • We should News Mixer with its Facebook Connect interface, which will encourage identification (of people who use real names on Facebook).
  • We will encourage users to register by name, giving more prominent placement to all comments and other contributions from people who submit to a verification process.
  • We might seek some commercial sponsors for our efforts to encourage more identification in public contributions. They would provide some sort of gift certificates or other incentives for people who register and submit to verification of their identities.
  • We can develop two levels of user profiles: One completed by the user voluntarily (again, we might use incentives) and whether the user completes a profile or not, we would hyperlink every user’s name to a collection of all his/her past comments, so you can view each comment or other contribution in the context of all contributions from that user.

Continue reading the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection with Community-content opportunities: Calendar.

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This is the second part of the community content section of the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection.

Real estate advertising is a long-time staple for newspapers that is collapsing under pressure from multiple directions. Real estate agents increasingly are reaching customers directly. Other digital advertising sites are attracting some of the dwindling real estate advertising dollars. And the turmoil in the housing and banking markets has slowed home sales.

Newspapers historically have provided more useful content about homes to support the print section housing real estate ads, at least on Sundays. But we haven’t approached the possibilities for providing day-in-day-out valuable information for homeowners.    

As with cars, the principle here is to broaden the homes-related jobs that we already do for homeowners and renters across the community as well as helping the businesses that want to help people do those jobs. Most real-estate verticals do just two jobs: Help me find a home to buy (or rent) or help me sell a home (or find a renter).

We must consider using answerbases, community engagement and other tools to expand our real-estate vertical and do more jobs relating to people’s homes. If people turn to us frequently for the jobs that come with being a home owner, this will be the first place they look (and thus the first place real estate agents will want to be seen) when they are ready to move to a larger or smaller home. (Admittedly, many home buyers are just moving to the community, but an effective site that people are using regularly will generate referrals from new co-workers. And if these resources are part of a community answer center for newcomers, we will connect with new people before they arrive, identifying us right away as the all-purpose answer source.)

As with driving, some of the best existing answerbases for home owners are typically found in a news site’s data center rather than in the real-estate vertical. We need to develop and present answerbases that answer questions about such home-related issues as property taxes, property records, property sales, property assessments, mortgage foreclosures, tax delinquencies, contractor violations and annexation.

We need to develop a multipurpose answerbase like EveryBlock, The Washington Post‘s Local Explorer and The Cincinnati Enquirer‘s CinciNavigator show how you can use one tool to search multiple databases, answering a wide range of questions at the neighborhood or block level about crime, schools, home sales, events, new businesses, recent news, restaurants and other nearby businesses and attractions. Under the terms of the Knight Foundation grant that funded his project, Adrian Holovaty will soon release the code for EveryBlock. Zack Kucharski and I have already discussed the importance of bringing the EveryBlock approach to Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and possibly across Eastern Iowa or statewide. When Holovaty releases the code, we need to make this a top priority for Zack and our data team as well as for our IT staff.

 Again, we need to follow the approach suggested for the driving vertical by engaging homeowners in community forums where they can tell stories, swap advice and share pictures of first homes, dream homes, remodeling projects, flood-recovery projects, landscaping projects and so on. Using BlockTalk (our hyperlocal mapping tool using Newsgarden from Serra Media), we can engage leaders of neighborhood associations, inviting them to engage with each other and their members in blogs.

As with the driving vertical, real estate ads are not the only revenue source. We must enhance our homes vertical by cross-referencing appropriate categories from iGuide. This helps both products, providing another avenue into the iGuide and giving continuing value to the homes vertical. As with driving, we could develop an emergency-services database, where contractors available on short notice that day might register their availability. Or we could make this email-driven: Instead of calling around for a plumber in an emergency, the home-owner enters an address and we send out emails to plumbers (or whoever; it would be easy to send out notices by category) who have asked to be notified of jobs in that part of town. Those who are available and interested respond by an email that goes through our site. Businesses could pay either for the leads or the actual jobs or, in a two-tiered fee structure, they might pay a small fee for the email contact and a larger fee if they land the job.

Continue reading the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection with Community-content opportunities: Conversation.

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This is the first part of the community content section of the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection.

Newspaper companies have gone about trying to protect the automotive vertical all wrong. We have tried to compete head-on with the other sites focused on the rare job of buying a car (I did that job last summer for the first time in more than five years and don’t expect to do it again for several more years). If your value in the cars vertical is something the consumer rarely sees, your competition is not based on a steady relationship but on ability to attract attention. You are just clamoring for attention along with Autotrader, Cars.com, craigslist, eBay and all the other places selling cars. And let’s be honest: Lots of young people buy cars and they aren’t buying newspapers and we aren’t winning the battle to become the online destination for car buyers.

Instead, the Complete Community Connection should focus on the daily and weekly jobs that can help drivers and car owners regularly over time. We need to develop a place where drivers in our community want to check in before (or during) their daily commute, each time they drive to a Hawkeye game, during inclement weather and every time they fill up their gas tank.

We already have a valuable map of gas prices and offer text alerts on traffic but we need to do more. When the city installs red-light cameras, we need to aggregate those feeds, so people can check traffic and road conditions at any time throughout the city. Other driving-related answerbases establishing us as a one-stop place for all jobs related to owning or driving a car: gas pump inspections, bridge inspections, parking offenders, vanity license plates, parking meter citations.

We’re not a huge, congested metro area where traffic is a nightmare, but I heard Gazette Publisher Dave Storey complaining about the traffic on his daily commute just in the past week. Washingtonpost.com, Eastvalleytribune.com, MercuryNews.com, PalmBeachPost.com and Boston.com provide their communities with real-time traffic maps, showing locations of accidents and construction projects. You can turn on state traffic cameras and see what the traffic looks like right now.

We need to help drivers connect at our driving vertical with discussion forums, sharing photos of souped-up cars, contests and advice. We need to invite drivers to swap stories on topics such as winter driving, first cars, teaching teens to drive and so on. Like the Bakersfield Californian, we can develop a map where users enter locations of bad potholes, both warning the public and automatically emailing the city. During a big snowstorm, we can ask users to enter the time when plows reach their streets (this could provide a strong front-page story for The Gazette and a lead story on KCRG’s newscast).

Driving is an area where we can call on the community to provide much of our content. We can develop a map where drivers vote on the slowest or most dangerous intersections (we could start by mapping where accidents occur) or call attention to the roads most in need of repair and invite motorists to vent their complaints about them.  

Once you start identifying the jobs and questions and providing solutions and answers, you will provide the place for drivers to turn every day. (This site would be a great place for drivers to buy their insurance online after comparing rates from different companies.)

We need to present the auto-services portion of the iGuide here. We’ll provide a place where you can enter your need for urgent service (using your phone, because many times this need arises from the road) and quickly get email, text or telephone responses from repair services who can get you in that day. We’ll be the place that you compare and buy insurance and accessories. In some cases, we may have an opportunity to provide a service where none exists. In others, we will provide an essential place to do business for those who already provide such services.

Of course, services related to buying and selling cars will be part of this information channel as well, ranging from ads to reviews to financing to product information. This has always been the heart of our automotive vertical and it left us more vulnerable to disruption. Buying a car is a big enough purchase that it doesn’t have to be a local transaction and that local sellers have a huge incentive to work through national sales vehicles. But driving and owning a car are deeply based in the community and present an extraordinary opportunity for a creative, visionary C3 organization. If we create a place where Eastern Iowans come routinely as drivers and car owners, that will be the first place they come when looking to buy a new car (and the first place dealers and private sellers will turn to advertise when selling). We will not only protect and regain our business in auto classifieds, but we may have a chance to attract revenue (in particular from video, mobile and local search) from repair shops, insurance agencies and companies, tire stores and other businesses that may not advertise much in newspapers.

An effective content channel focused on driving would serve a variety of products. Of course, a driving site (and possibly a print product drawing from the content) could be niche products, providing the place to do all the jobs for drivers. But that content will feed several, if not all, of the company’s products. The content on traffic could be a staple of KCRG’s morning show. A weekly column in The Gazette might draw on a variety of information, reporting on progress of construction projects and fluctuation of gas prices and highlighting a pothole of the week chosen by the community. And, of course, the auto classifieds will remain important parts of The Gazette and GazetteOnline, serving the people who still look for cars there and gaining new momentum as sellers do more business with the vertical that serves drivers’ everyday needs. Iowa.com could have a whole driving section that would include all of this content, as well as aggregating driving-related content from other sources. A Hawkeye site might draw from the driving site for game-day traffic and parking information. (I won’t run through the product possibilities in each section of this blueprint, but product managers and product planners should think through the possibilities in this way for each content area.)

Continue reading the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection with Community-content opportunities: Home.

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This is the fifth section of the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection.

 The Complete Community Connection will always have its roots in news and we must maintain a strong commitment to news. But much of our future success will come from our ability to develop useful community content whose value is timeless, rather than timely.

C3 must develop community content in five different (though often overlapping) categories:

These content areas will require decisions and provide opportunities as we decide when and whether to focus on Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and our core market, or whether we have some valuable opportunities to pursue at the statewide level (or at the hyperlocal level).

Continue reading the Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection with Community-content opportunities: Driving.

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