Skip to main content

Finding the hyperlocals: Where online communities can grow

By April 19, 2011No Comments

Last week I wrote about how the The Worthing Page on Facebook might represent a different kind of ‘hyperlocal’ from the more familiar local or neighbourhood blogs. These pages – and other presences – are increasingly common and can be found in a multitude of guises.

For the clients that we work with, many of whom are local authorities, these groups represent a challenge. Sometimes they can be great – a place for residents exchange useful and important information with each other. On other occasions they can seem negative – picking apart services and employees in personal and destructive ways. But there is a greater, more immediate problem: while quite formal presences, like The Worthing Page, can be identified and monitored easily, the social web’s diffuse, unstructured nature means that not all conversations are likely to be, well… obvious.

At Public-i we carry out Social Media Audits as the first part of a journey towards developing a completely new relationship with these online communities. While that involves a lot of thinking, it starts with a search and as we’ve carried the audits out we’ve got better at finding the places communities can grow within.

Below, I’ve listed just a few:-

Online Forums
While there are quite a lot of local examples of these, many represent communities of interest, rather than locality. Sometimes these groups can be difficult to find – but in the case of local forums they may be connected to a local information website. The Buckshaw Village Community Forum is a good example of a particularly active and well managed one.

Buckshaw Village Community Forum

Yahoo! and Google Groups

Many communities of interest and locality use simple Yahoo! and Google Groups to communicate. The village of Girton, in South Cambridgeshire, for example, has a Yahoo! group for residents. They are straightforward to find and often very active, but can be overlooked because they’re not seen as part of the ‘social web’ and may be closed, rather than publicly viewable. Allotment tenants in Portslade, near Brighton, have a Yahoo! Group for those who tend to an allotment there. They use it to share information, tips, seeds and to help each other.

The Foredown Allotments Group in Portslade

Meet-up group websites
Eventbrite and Meetup both cater to communities – but with a rather different focus: the meeting. There are lots of meet-up groups and they’re an increasingly important indication of the way people use the social web to organise in the real world. Again, these sites can easily be searched – providing a useful guide for the kinds of issues and interests that people have in a locality. On you’re able to pick a specific location and search from that point – which is very useful for getting a good impression of what’s going on in your area.

Twitter lists
One of the more disorientating aspects of the social web is the absence of formal permanent structures that can help us to identify communities. Twitter allows groups to form around issues quickly and disperse just as rapidly. Nonetheless, Twitter lists are often used by tweeters to keep track of communities – and may help point towards specific groups interested in issues and localities.

Ning and white-label social networks
The town I grew up in, Hampton (in the London Borough of Richmond Thames) has a really good example of a Ning – essentially a customisable social network. While a lot of the content is public, you can join to take part in discussions and receive updates. Again, it’s well organised and administered by residents who take care a great deal in their community. There are plenty of other white-label social network CMSs available – but Ning is probably the most popular for our purposes.

Hampton People's Network

While Posterous is ostensibly a blogging platform it’s fast becoming a bit more than that. You can post to a Posterous blog by email. This particularly neat bit of functionality means it’s quite easy to have (at least theoretically) quite a few people posting to the same blog. The Civic Centre Residents Association in Birmingham started a Posterous blog after visiting a social media surgery to keep track of the issues they have on their estate – often around repairs and issues concerning Birmingham City Council.Groups may also be using other similar blogging platforms, like Tumblr, or (of course)

Civic Centre Residents' Association Notice Board

Nick Booth at Podnosh introduced me properly to the rather amazing resource that Flickr represents. It gets passed off as a ‘place to share pictures’, but its discussion boards are often include very ‘civic’ conversations – as this example demonstrates. Furthermore, because it deals with pictures it can be the focus for hyper-hyperlocal interests, like that around a rock in a river in Wales, as Nick explains on his BBC blog, here.


As I said, above, these are just a few of the examples of the places that people are organising around local issues might choose congregate. There are more – many more, in fact – but the point is they come in such different shapes and sizes that we shouldn’t make assumptions (or at least too many) about where people are talking and how they use the web to help organise and communicate.

Leave a Reply