How to Use Local Stories to Drive Engagement

Can brands and media outlets make local content work? At NPR Digital Services, writers Eric Athas and Teresa Gorman researched that exact question.

“We know the headline can make or break a story’s potential,” Athas and Gorman wrote. “But we want to know specifically about local content. What is it about certain local stories that make them more social than others?

Their Facebook experiment revealed clear winners in eight types of stories:

  1. Crowd Pleasers – high energy stories that celebrate big wins and great weather.
  2. Curiosity Simulators – the quirky stories that audiences can’t help but read.
  3. News Explainers – major events related to big cities.
  4. Breaking News – rare events with massive impacts.
  5. Feel-Good Smilers – “think ‘awww,’ think ‘awesome,’ think, ‘hilarious.'”
  6. Topical Buzzers – what everybody’s talking about.
  7. Provocative Controversies – what gets people “ticked off and highly opinionated.”
  8. Awe-Inspiring Visuals – imagery with major ‘wow’ factor.

Unlike magazines and news outlets, brands and community organizations are publishers with two major objectives – sales and customer engagement. In addition to the eight categories above, here are key lessons that they need to consider:

1. Be Efficient: Lessons from Local Government

Ryder Smith, President of Tripepi Smith & Associates provides a mix of marketing, technology, and public affairs solutions to private, nonprofit, and local government agencies. Content, branding, and video are essential to his clients’ goals.

“Most of our clients are focused on either just the State of California or even a specific city in California,” Smith said. “They have a good knowledge of who their target market is and want to apply their marketing efforts to that geographic niche. For city government clients, the ability to target marketing dollars at certain geographic audiences is really important because it ensures an efficient use of their marketing dollars.”

Large and small businesses can learn a valuable lesson from these government agencies.

“Companies need to look at their marketing objectives and targets to determine how local really plays into their strategy,” Smith said. “Frankly, it would be good to have a local tie in with the product or service or create a tie in that appeals to that local audience.”

2.  Trust Your Gut: Lessons from Community Influencers

Local marketing is a tough formula to crack, according to Smith.

“Local marketing initiatives fail when the marketing message is not a real fit for the community or it misses the culture mix of a community,” Smith said. “The nuances of local markets are not easily discovered in a focus group like what major brands use for rolling out national campaigns. When you have the scale of a national campaign, you can invest in market research to a degree that small scale local marketing does not allow.”

It’s up to business owners to truly understand the values of their communities.

“The local marketing that I see excel has typically been driving by a local franchise owner who lives in the community or by using a crowdsourcing approach that encourages local residents to generate content,” Smith said.

As an example, consider the case of Nectar Clothing, a small fashion boutique in Claremont, Calif. The company hosts community-based calls for models. The key driver of engagement? Content  — the shop’s customer base of young women submit and share photos of themselves wearing Nectar’s products. Through content, local customers are able to help influence, participate in, and define the business.

3. Be a Networker: Rely on Syndication and Integration

To succeed, local branded content must match the needs of the target community. Consider the California City Management Foundation (CCMF) as an example.

“City managers play an important but often unknown role in communities across the United States,” Smith said. “CCMF wanted to put a face to city managers and give them a voice. The foundation produced a city manager video interview series…They had local appeal, and we helped share the news about these videos through local channels.”

Tap into local institutions, recommends Smith.

“Tying into local institutions within a community can be a catalyst for the marketing effort: if it’s a small town where high school football is king, then figure out how to market around the team. If it’s a mid-sized city in Southern California with a large Latino population, make sure your marketing message is focused on the local Spanish newspaper,” Smith said.

Final Thoughts: Be Conversion Driven

Always start with concrete objectives. Does a local strategy make sense in helping reach these goals?

“In the end, content is intended to get you traffic and leads,” said Jesse Bouman, CEO of Demeter Interactive, a full service digital marketing agency. “Are your efforts generating either? If it’s only generating traffic, why isn’t it converting into leads? How many leads do you need for your initiatives to be worthwhile?”

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