One piece of advice Dave Harte gives to community website managers in his fantastic post ‘Hyperlocal till I die‘ is, strangely, ‘to have some children’. Or, more specifically:
…something that keeps you tied to an area…The longevity of your blog is directly connected to your life circumstances…‘staying put’ is the best chance your blog has got of a long life. Knowing I’m staying put helps me not worry about updating it 10 times a week; I know my hyperlocal blog will be around and part of the media landscape for quite a while to come.
If you’re starting a community website, it’s always a good idea to be fairly certain you’ll around for the forseeable future and able to commit enough time and energy to get it going and well established. However, things and circumstances can very well change over the years and you might find that ‘staying put’ isn’t always possible.
When my family’s circumstances precipitated a decision to move back to my home town of Cardiff late last year, I found myself facing the question of what to do with Digbeth is Good, which I’d managed since it began in May 2008, before I left Birmingham. There was plenty of advice online available to help me consider:
- William Perrin wrote about the ‘hyperlocal life cycle‘ in July 2011 asking ‘what makes hyperlocal sites resilient?’ The answer was a sharing of skills and control and broadening the base of a website’s contributors.
- Richard Jones has told his story of handing over control of Saddleworth News, from wondering aloud about its future as he realised he could no longer commit his time to it, to reaching an agreement with the University of Huddersfield for its journalism students to carry the site forward.
- Ed Walker has written about his experience of ‘Handing over a hyperlocal site‘ not once but twice, and advises those doing the same to build up a team of good contributors, give a thorough handover before leaving and be on hand to offer help and support for long afterwards.
- Hannah Waldram wrote about her experience of ‘Passing over the hyperlocal baton‘ of Bournville Village to Dave Harte in early 2010. She tells those who are kick-starting a community website when their location is subject to change to ‘recruit a deputy editor in the early stages of concept building’.
Luckily for me the solution for Digbeth is Good was in place before the issue arose – Pamela, Secretary of Digbeth Residents’ Association and a relative newcomer to the area keen to get involved in local life, had started contributing to the website in early 2011. As she was posting with increasing regularity on the site and her involvement in the local community grew, Pamela was an obvious safe pair of hands for Digbeth is Good. I can’t wait to see what she does with it.
Shared skills, ethos and outlook
Working in communications and marketing at a local university by day, Pamela was no stranger to publishing online and a simple WordPress.org dashboard, which meant I didn’t need to train her (although this wouldn’t have been a problem – I was working to share my skills locally with Digbeth Social Media Surgeries last year). Having built up a relationship with her through Digbeth Residents’ Association and socially, I also knew Pamela was community-minded and wasn’t looking for commercial gain, so I didn’t need to worry that the website’s focus would shift beyond recognition.
What’s in it for them?
Although Pamela isn’t looking to make any money from Digbeth is Good she hasn’t taken on the site for nothing. Digbeth Residents’ Association is currently looking to build up its profile and support and Pamela is using Digbeth is Good’s audience to help her do that. The focus of the site hasn’t changed beyond recognition but it is featuring and promoting Digbeth Residents’ Association’s interests and activities more, which is brilliant.
Whoever you hand your hyperlocal website over to will want to use it to further their own interests (just make sure they’re ones you support) and will need to have the autonomy to do that otherwise their enthusiasm will wane. They will want to make changes, do things differently and cover new issues and will need to have the freedom to do so.
This isn’t the first time Pamela has found herself taking care of Digbeth is Good. Illness (mine and my family’s) meant I went a bit quiet online several times last year. Pamela increased her contributions to Digbeth is Good when this happened. So Pamela taking control of the site now isn’t a completely new thing.
A team player
Pamela isn’t holding the Digbeth is Good fort on her own. Midge is continuing to post his music-related updates, which he’s been doing since March 2010 and just before I left Birmingham I held a little Digbeth is Good social media surgery, getting local people who’d expressed an interest in contributing logged into the website and accustomed to the dashboard and publishing posts. Hopefully this extra capacity can support Pamela when she needs take a break from the website.
Lurking in the background
Despite living in Cardiff, I’ve not left the Digbeth is Good team and am still listed as a contributor who ‘sometimes chips in from afar’. I intend on being on-hand for support, one-off posts about stuff I might come across online and pretty much anything else for as long as I’m wanted.
If I’m honest, having the perfect person to hand Digbeth is Good to was something that happened by accident rather than design so I’m counting myself very lucky that things have worked out well. So if there’s one piece of advice I’d offer to hyperlocal website managers it would be to start thinking of how you’d hand it over now, even if you’ve no intention of doing so in the near future. New businesses are always told to consider their exit strategy when starting up and I’d suggest it would be a good idea for website managers to do the same.
How would your website fare if you were run over by that bus tomorrow? Are there more contributors who can keep generating content? (If not, could you identify some suitable team members and get them posting?) Does at least one of them have the necessary logins and information to be able to keep things going? If you want your website to outlive you or the time you can commit to it, then these are all things to start thinking about sooner rather than later. That way, if life throws you a curveball, what to do with your hyperlocal website can be one less thing for you to worry about.