Take Digital Advantage of Your Local Events

Do you think it’s a coincidence that both of the winning initiatives in the Innovator of The Year category in SNA’s 2010 Community Website Contest have to do with engaging audience via local events and happenings? Both the winner, Lois Tuffin from Metroland, and the runner-up, Scott Rosenburgh and team from Shaw Suburban Media, took honors for their events-oriented sites that primarily feature things to do and places to go for their respective regions.

Perhaps this is the space that is winning raves because judges recognize the sensibility in local newspapers parlaying their reputation as a source for this type of community information, as well as their pre-existing data collection resources. Combine these elements with the fundamentals of brand, technology and ability to promote, and local media companies definitely have a leg up for disseminating and marketing this useful and sought after information. And, as we learned in the SNA Foundation’s recent webinar entitled Engage and Grow Online Audience with Innovative Tools for Local Happenings featuring Tuffin & Rosenburgh, these types of initiatives can take on very different forms & styles.

Two Different Approaches
Tuffin, who ran her high school paper and went on to study journalism in college, is Editor in Chief of Kawartha Media Group, a division of Metroland Media Group Ltd based in Toronto. She delighted the webinar audience with her interactive calendar called Personal Online Planner, POP for short.

Rosenburgh, who came up through the ranks on the advertising side of the business, is Vice President of Digital Initiatives for Shaw Suburban Media in the greater Chicago area. He walked the webinar audience through their very dynamic, stand-alone website called PlanItNorthwest.

Webinar participants got an in-depth look at these initiatives which revealed, among other things, that both audience and local organizers are responding to these sites with eagerness and increasing usage. Shaw’s PlanItNorthwest traffic reached 28,000 uniques in July and drove 94,000+ page views. Tuffin reports regular monthly users of over 30,000 in a town with just 75,000 population.

Personal Online Planner (‘POP’)
A self-described Newspaper Next follower, Lois Tuffin was part of a group in her company who bandied about ideas on how they could take the plethora of calendar listings to the next level. Their solution was to establish an online calendar, with a ton of Google tags, via a 3rd party vendor.

c-SEVEN, a Danish company, was selected in 2007 and with very specific criteria from Metroland, they set about creating a software platform that enables organizers to enter their own data and users to search and easily find results. Tuffin’s parent company Metroland made a sizable investment, about $50,000 Canadian, to fund c-SEVEN’s custom work, and the result is a stunningly easy to use and navigate interactive calendar. Tuffin commented that the price tag is considerably lower these days as the development work is already done, and interested parties can reach c-SEVEN’s Simon McCaffrey at simon@c7.ca, 416-800-0682.

How It Works
Once registered and approved, event planners and local organizers complete simple forms that specify things like name of event, location, cost, intended audience, duration and so on. This data then feeds automatically into the calendar and is presented to users.

Tuffin is a one-woman approval committee who scans new listings daily to ensure appropriate content. To date, no problems have arisen; Tuffin approves all organizers before they are given free access to upload data and crowns those who are reliable with a special trusted status that essentially gives them carte blanche access. “Generally, people tend to mimic other users,” said Tuffin. “If something looks out of place, I go in and retype it, otherwise I leave it alone. I just glance through it every morning and make sure there is nothing particularly painful to read.”

To attract organizers in the first place, Tuffin and team used traditional house ads, with a popcorn theme (given the POP acronym). They sent tins of popcorn to prominent local event organizations, set up demos to show the calendar and its functionality, and provided support to help organizers become accustomed to entering their own data. Currently, Tuffin has approved 2,983 trusted users for MyKawartha.com. She’s proud of that, reminding the audience “that’s nearly 3,000 relationships that we’ve developed and are sustaining.”

An important aspect of the POP platform is keywords. The entry form encourages event organizers to select descriptive keywords that trigger results in Google searches and this element definitely helps to drive traffic. Tuffin reports that of the 30,000 hits to the calendar in June, almost 21,000 of them came through Google.

Tuffin’s goal is keep every calendar day and category populated with useful information and she pays a minimum wage part-timer to enter events that are not otherwise submitted. She commented that most local organizers are eager to upload their own data but it’s less common for bigger events, like concerts and regional entertainment. She also reminds her newsroom colleagues to keep an eye out for content that would be good for the calendar.

MyKawartha does not charge organizers to be listed. However, a sister group within the Toronto division experimented with charging a $20 fee for business related and for-profit events and found that organizers were happy to pay it. So, the calendar does offer a revenue opportunity for those that choose to take advantage.

Other revenue can be derived from banner advertising, although Tuffin’s division does not currently opt to sell them. Instead, they populate the calendar banner space with pictures of local people participating in local events, giving their calendar an even more hometown feel.

A reverse publishing tool is part of the c-SEVEN software package. Using a file transfer process compatible with InDesign, data flows in with correct paragraph styles so calendar items also can appear in print with minimal additional formatting work.

Lois is agreeable to talking with others who are interested in learning more about their POP initiative, and can be reached at 705-749-3383, ext. 238; ltuffin@mykawartha.com

Next Up
Stay tuned for part two of this story about the amazing success that Shaw Suburban Media is having with their exceedingly dynamic PlanItNorthwest website. In that next segment, we’ll cover Scott Rosenburgh’s presentation which included details about collaboration with Local Thunder, a vendor that provides the platform for advertiser showcases in a shopping portal that is part of their site.

Meanwhile, you can access an archived recording of the webinar to hear from Lois and Scott first-hand.

E-courses & gratitude to the Knight Foundation
Many thanks to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for a grant which enables the SNA Foundation to make webinars such as Engage and Grow Online Audience with Innovative Tools for Local Happenings available at no cost to participants.

The Knight grant also covers all costs associated with the following SNA Foundation-sponsored e-courses on The Poynter Institute’s www.NewsU.org. They are offered at no charge and are self-paced. More than 3,500 participants have already undergone these top-notch e-learning modules. Use them for personal as well as staff development.

Build & Engage Local Audiences Online
Get to know your local online audience and see what the power of local content can mean for you.

Leading an Online Newsroom: What You Need To Know
Learn how to manage your newsroom for timely multimedia publishing.

Innovation at Work: Making New Ideas Succeed
Learn how to tilt your natural tendencies into innovation territory and put the ingredients and processes of innovation to work for you and your company.

Producing & Managing User Generated Content
Due for release in fall 2010, this new e-course will help local editors encourage community interaction and engagement, while improving the quality of citizen contributions. The e-course is designed in two tracks – one for editors to learn how better manage user submissions, and one for citizen contributors to learn how to submit better content to local media. Through tools and resources, both editors and contributors will learn how local newspapers can more effectively incorporate user-generated content into their digital offerings.

Charitable Campaign Underway
Do you appreciate the free programs of the SNA Foundation and want to help it continue its good work on behalf of the industry? The 2010 SNAF Personal Giving Campaign is now underway. Please consider a donation, no matter how small or large. You can choose to make a tax-deductible donation conveniently and securely via credit card online at www.snafoundation.org, mail a check to the SNA Foundation, 116 Cass St., Traverse City, MI 49684, or call us at 888-486-2466.