If there is one recurring, consistent theme in the way I read and look at the web in the past ten years, it’s that I love reading blogs. It’s the best, most flexible method of creating content online — long-form or short-form, memoir or reporting, the now-familiar refreshing-content-in-a-linear-stream-filterable-by-category format of a fairly traditional blog is one of my favorite ways to read on a screen.
I’ve even made a career out of it: I am a content strategist at a web development company. One of my jobs is to help our clients figure out the best way they can create content on their their website to accomplish their goals. More often than not, that includes posting regularly to a blog.
But I’ve noticed a trend in the past five years, as blogging becomes more and more prevalent in Fort Wayne’s zeitgeist (several years later than in many other places, I might add). There is an unusually high number of people who want to start a blog covering events and happenings around Fort Wayne.
With some slight variations, the following conversation has literally happened to me three or four times in the past five years:
WELL-INTENTIONED GUY WHO WANTS TO START A WEBSITE: I have this great idea for a website. You know how people never know what’s going on in Fort Wayne?
GUY: What if we had a website that was sort of a central hub for events, reviews, and cool stuff? We could call it FortWaynePlaceToFindHappeningsAndStuffGoingOn.com. We could get companies to submit their events to us and volunteers to write reviews and stories! We can be the central hub of what’s going on in Fort Wayne!
ME: [points to two other people sitting in the Dash-In] That’s a great idea! See that guy? And that lady? They’re doing the same thing! You should talk to them.
GUY: Oh, no. They are actually [explains their niche]. What I want to do is [basically explains the same thing, only with a slightly different angle].
Everyone has their own niches, but it all greatly overlaps. Some are for visitors to Fort Wayne. Some are for those looking to move to Fort Wayne. Some are for residents. Some are for those looking to buy a house. Some are for millennials.
These niches look good on an advertising rate sheet, but on a Venn diagram of potential readers, there’s a whole lot of overlapping.
That word, “hub,” keeps coming up. They want their site to be the central hub for Fort Wayne events.
But what happens when everyone tried to be a central hub?
No one is.
Therein lies a problem I see over and over in this community: massive duplication — but half-assed follow-through — of effort. There’s a large entrepreneurial streak that runs through the downtown progressives, which is awesome. But everyone is short on money, time, or experience, especially when it comes to running a website like this.
I totally count myself among this number, by the way — with two or three failed media initiatives under my belt, I’m a poster child for false starts. But one thing that I’ve tried to do is to point my creative direction in a way that hasn’t been done before, or isn’t being done currently.
So, in order to not just be part of the problem and to try to suggest a solution, I offer four points for those who want to start the next FortWayneCentralHubForEvents.com:
Point One: Collaborate If Possible
This is the most important part. Figure out what the other sites are doing. Is there overlap? Can you join forces and help them improve their already existing product? (One great website is way better than two mediocre sites, after all.)
No? Well, okay then.
Yes? Great! The site will be all the stronger for it.
Point Two: Focus on Quality and Originality
All of our local events and happenings hub blogs have rounded up the usual suspects to cover. We’ve had a LOT of reviews of the Pint & Slice and profiles of Matt Kelley (I both love the Pint and have tremendous admiration and respect for Matt, obviously).
Let’s look beyond the usual suspects. That old breakfast place on Maplecrest that’s been there for years but you’ve never heard a thing about? Or what about that interesting guy who owns the liquor store that always has a really unusual selection of wines?
I think it’s time for some interesting, thought provoking features that require research, investigation, interviews and interesting writing. Show up the other publications in town, print and online alike. Don’t just be a content farm; commoditized fillers for which to wrap ads.
And in order to do this:
Point Three: Pay Your Contributors More and Hold Them to a Higher Standard
We have a lot of good freelancers in town. A lot of them write for multiple instances of FortWayneHomepageForWhatsHappeningAroundTown.biz blogs. I should know — I was one of them. And because I was so busy and stretched so thin, I was great a whipping out a who/what/where blog post about something, grab a courtesy photo and BAM. $25 and a byline.
Everyone should be paying their writers and photographers, and if you already are, get rid of the bad and mediocre ones, pay the good ones more, and expect better from them.
Point Four: Update Regularly
I’ve noticed a lot of the flash-in-the-pan WhatsGoingOnInFortWayneDowntownAndBeyond.net sites have had a recurring theme (except for uninspired editorial and an out-of-the-box Wordpress theme): they just couldn’t figure out how to keep readers coming back. You’ll visit the site, and the front page is filled with posts about stuff that happened months ago.
So many people will post a flurry of articles, stay dormant for six months, and then wonder where their traffic went and how they’re going to justify their advertising income in the next billing cycle.
I know I just got done telling you that you should post less but with better quality. It doesn’t really matter how often you post, as long as you stick to it. That’s how you build readers. Not by trying to hold a flashmob on the courthouse green in hopes your video will “go viral.” Not through be-hashed vapid tweets like:
Want to #know what #local #music we’re listening to over at FortWayneHubBub.info today? Come #CheckItOut!
It’s through regular updates of consistently good content that builds readers and subscribers. Unsexy, I know. But it’s a proven method.
No doubt this will be read by the editors of CheckOutTheFortWayneScene.org and WhatToDoIfYoureAMillennialInNortheastIndiana.com, and they’ll feel targeted by my negativity. I know they work really, really hard on this marketing vertical.
It may not look like it, but I really want you to succeed, guys. I want you to be our version of DCist.com or TheLMagazine.com. I want a central hub where I can go to see what’s happening in Fort Wayne.
But most of all, I want a place to find really good content. I mean, really good.
Who is going to stand up and deliver?