Those people formerly known as advertisers

A web application for realtors that’s been around awhile challenges the traditional media company role (and anybody else’s, for that matter) in the creation of hyperlocal information sites. Those media companies trying to execute a hyperlocal strategy will likely find Connecting Neighbors websites already in place in at least some of the communities they’re trying to reach. Connecting Neighbors targets neighborhoods and operates 14,000 websites across the country.

sign advertising hyperlocal website in Huntsville, ALIn a remarkable example of how anybody can be a media company today, the sites are managed and sponsored by realtors, who use them to mine for potential clients. While declining to provide site statistics, Connecting Neighbors Marketing Manager Lisa Knight told me that the sites do very well, especially with a sponsor who dedicates time and resources to marketing it within the neighborhood. Simple yard signs (like the one pictured on the right in Huntsville, Alabama), postcards and word-of-mouth are all it takes.

Connecting Neighbors offers you the opportunity to become the exclusive Neighborhood Expert in your targeted market, while locking out your competitors. Begin building relationships in your market today!

The sites are simple and spartan, but packed with useful information and opportunities for user-generated content. There are publisher disclaimers throughout the site where users interact, just like you’d find with any other media company. Classifieds are free, local news comes via Topix.net (note: your local news is likely being presented on these sites via Topix), a directory, recipes, lots of referrals and links, and the general “feel” of a community site. The difference is that it’s run by a realtor who’s using it to mine for clients. How terribly smart!

A few sites serve communities beyond just a neighborhood, and the company has experimented with aggregating neighborhoods. Some of the content is provided by feeds, but the quality of the sponsor’s marketing is what makes the difference in generating content from residents of the neighborhood.

The price to the sponsor varies and is based on the number (and in some cases, the prices) of homes in the neighborhood being served and the services the sponsor chooses to offer. “On average, our one time setup fee is $1.65 per home,” added Ms. Knight, “and on average our monthly hosting fee is $0.09 per home.” The Connecting Neighbors website lists the following options:

  • A Neighborhood Website that allows residents to connect with one another, read community news, post free classified ads, share pictures, and more.
  • A Neighborhood Newsletter that features information specific to the neighborhood and is emailed to residents each month.
  • A personal Neighborhood Marketing Coach assigned to help announce and promote the program to neighborhood residents.
  • Quickshow multimedia presentations to engage and welcome residents to their Neighborhood Website.
  • MLS data integration (where available) to constantly provide up-to-date real estate information.
  • Relationship Manager feature (where available) for Members to manage all of their communications with their new prospects!

This provides two important lessons for media companies. One, anybody can be a media company today. Any. Body. I have been harping on this for years, but those of us in “professional” media feel we can take our time in exploring niches, when we really can’t. The discovery of a company such as Connecting Neighbors, to me, is like getting to the end of a voyage to plant a flag on some distant land only to discover there’s at least one other flag already there. Two, the people formerly known as the advertisers are spending money that used to go to us in order to bypass (expensive) filters and speak directly to potential customers, something about which I have also written in the past.

We may look at these sites and feel a sense of well being, because they’re not “up to our standards” or they don’t carry “a trusted brand,” but in the end it’s all about meeting information needs. Connecting Neighbors does that well, and the users (a.k.a. the people formerly known as the audience) could give a hoot if it’s sponsored by a realtor or not. Moreover, if a media company did this, they’d likely look to realtors, among others, to sponsor them the moment they were launched.

The message here is loud and clear: certain well-funded advertisers don’t need us anymore.

(NOTE: Originally published in AR&D’s Media 2.0 Intel client newsletter)

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