Mention the word “hyperlocal” to somebody on the street and you can get a multitude of reactions, from a shrug to a shiver. For some people, it’s a dirty word, and for others it is the holy grail of business opportunity. One thing is clear – hyperlocal is confusing!
There are many different ways that the hyperlocal term gets used. Wikipedia defines hyperlocal as:
Hyperlocal connotes information oriented around a well-defined community with its primary focus directed toward the concerns of the population in that community.
Hyperlocal is generally used to describe the publishing segment (e.g. hyperlocal news sites) as well as Marketing (remember Groupon and LivingSocial?). But if you do a search on hyperlocal, you’ll find a dozen definitions just on the first page of the search results. Most people will agree that hyperlocal has well-defined geographic boundaries, but beyond that there’s little that is consistent. Are big-box retailers hyperlocal? Is the town I live in the only place where I am hyperlocal?
In addition, it seems like every day we read about a new product that serves the hyperlocal market that will change the way people operate locally. Some of them have gotten significant press and traction, but never fulfill their vision. What makes it so hard to add consistent value in the hyperlocal space?
I believe the challenge has to do with the inability to “complete the circle” of hyperlocal. I would define hyperlocal as follows:
Hyperlocal connotes communication oriented around a well-defined community that consists of (at least) consumers, businesses, and publishers, with its primary focus directed toward the concerns of the population in that community.
There are four things that are differentiated in this definition:
In order for hyperlocal to work, there needs to be consistency and synergy between the three main stakeholders in that community – the people who live and shop there, the people who own the businesses, and the people who create the infrastructure to talk about what’s going on. In addition, these stakeholders can’t just create information in a one directional manner – there needs to be a conversation that exists between all the parties.
This sounds simple but it’s not. Yelp is not a conversation, it’s generally a one-way discussion initiated by consumers. Further, the publisher in this case, Yelp, is not hyperlocal. They don’t know your community. Facebook isn’t hyperlocal either, and now they are charging businesses to have that conversation with their customers. Groupon, Living Social, Google My Business – these are all great possible individual pieces of a hyperlocal strategy, but the publishers in all these cases aren’t hyperlocal.
The only truly local publishers are hyperlocal news sites, some local bloggers/influencers, and possibly an active Chamber of Commerce or local town economic council. These are the publishers whose only motivation is talk about the things going on in their local community. However, these publishers lack the tools and services that consumers and small businesses need – the things that Yelp, Facebook, Groupon and others have been looking to fill. AOL’s Patch was the great experiment to put all these things together in a truly hyperlocal way, and sadly, their failure has convinced people that a true hyperlocal experience cannot be achieved.
I refuse to believe that this is the case. Hyperlocal has worked in the United States for well over 250 years. Communication was a lot easier when there weren’t so many online channels to reach the different demographics in a town, and there was generally only one local publication that everybody went to for their local insight and opinion. The challenge of online is figuring out how to effectively communicate online and do so with all three stakeholders having an equal share of the obligation and benefit. Once we do this, hyperlocal will truly take off.