Hearst-Argyle's goal is to allow local residents to discuss news topics important to their community and to upload their own photos and videos. The first u local area was launched in Dec '08 by WMUR in Manchester, New Hampshire and according to Hearst-Argyle generated tens of thousands of submissions in the first week alone. The other stations in Hearst-Argyle's portfolio will roll out u local in the coming months. For KickApps, the deal follows one with WorldNow, announced last year to drive social media into WorldNow-powered sites.
The question begs: can a local TV station become a social media hub for its local residents? In the Facebook-MySpace-Twitter-YouTube age, we seem to be on the cusp of social media saturation. Yet despite all these engagement opportunities, focused local social media initiatives could well find a place. People are extremely passionate about their local communities and the social bonds are very tight. Sharing common experiences, concerns and passions online with local neighbors seems like an updated version of what's been happening over backyard fences since the beginning of time.
The key is execution, not just in the user experience, but in the positioning of what the local broadcaster's brand will stand for. Striving to be a social media hub is a new positioning, and to incent viewer behavior, Hearst-Argyle will need to embrace the capability, heavily promote it and then manage it so it's a safe, well-lit area of its sites.
It's no surprise that local broadcasters have been slammed by the economic downturn. They were already hit hard by free classified services like Craigslist, fragmenting audience behavior, the shift of network programs to online and more recently the decline of the auto industry which is a key advertiser category. Now there are numerous entrants trying to grab their traditional local video advertisers. Not a day goes by without multiple stations announcing cutbacks. In short, local broadcasters need a total reinvention of their business models if they're to survive. u local is not the complete answer, but it is certainly a move in the right direction.
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