Jack Wallington from loveclapham.com talks to TAL about building his site.
I’ve lived in Clapham for most of my adult life (so far!) and like most people running local sites, became disappointed at the quality of the local press and the lack of online representation for the vibrant Clapham community. LoveClapham.com was born!
Setting up the site was the easy part, involving a couple of weekends to set up WordPress and create a design I was happy with. The hard work started with the creation of content and getting the local community involved.
One of my personal priorities was to help local shops, restaurants and bars survive the biggest recession we’ve ever known ‐ it would be a terrible loss for the area to be overrun with just known brands. I don’t charge local businesses to promote things on the site as long as the residents benefit from it too. However, getting local businesses involved has been incredibly difficult. I’ve launched the Clapham Awards 2009 as an incentive to help awareness and to reward them.
Other things we’ve tackled in the site’s short life are reporting on major developments and raising awareness of a campaign by residents of Clapham Junction to stop oversized tower blocks. Clapham also has many large events throughout the year, like music festivals. Love Clapham provides a guide to all of these events including travel, nearby amenities etc.
Another thing I really wanted to do with the site was open up channels of communication. In London too many people have issues but don’t know how to deal with them. Top of my list of things to do was to meet and interview members of the local council and other important organisations. It’s too easy to criticise councils, but we’re lucky to have passionate councillors in Lambeth, I’d rather be a conduit to work with them than against them.
My top tips for setting up a local site are:
- Design. Content is undoubtedly king, but I think it’s important to make the site look lively and exciting too. Not over the top, but although we’re discussing serious issues, it doesn’t mean a site has to look serious too.
- Write about the area and local issues ‐ find out what matters to other people and get them involved. Be fun with it, again, there will be serious issues, but local communities can be fun!
- Make sure you’re listed in search engines like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! (there’s a lot more to search, but listing is the first step).
- Tell all your friends about the site, and ask them to tell their friends.
- The likes of Twitter and Facebook are indispensible at reaching out to people ‐ starting a Twitter account or Facebook page isn’t enough though, you have to seek out and start conversations with people. I found Twitter the easiest, because you can search for your local area (e.g. â€œClaphamâ€) and then find people in the area that way.
- Get out and about! I spent an entire weekend delivering hundreds of home printed leaflets to local businesses. You might not get a massive response, but at least it’s free.
- Interview important local people. It’s relatively easy, but extremely high value content. It also opens up a dialogue with the organisation you’ve interviewed.
- Local sites are fairly cheap, but there’s still a cost to buying a domain and hosting. I highly recommend adding Google Adsense to your site (https://www.google.com/adsense/). You can change the layout and colour so they don’t look too intrusive and while you won’t make your millions with them, you will cover the cost of hosting across the year.