Newspapers remain best way to reach, influence local audiences

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Appen has 139,000 Friends, Likes and Followers – all in North Fulton and South Forsyth. Over 90 percent of them view everything we publish every week. But that is fairly logical as we do not compete with many other local news-providing venues – maybe two or three.

That contrasts with the local audience reached with “social media” that must compete with thousands – tens of thousands and more – of other online venues seeking the attention from the same audience.

Oops, did I say Appen has 139,000 “friends and likes?” I meant to say “readers.” Sorry.

OK, so I am talking about why local businesses are discovering that the promise of free gold at the end of the social media rainbow is, well, not quite what it has been made out to be; it’s not enough. I mean, it makes sense.

One of the keys to successful marketing of a local business is reaching and engaging a critical mass of potential customers. That means it is primarily a function of numbers. If one consistently sends a message and a brand out to 139,000 sets of local eyes with Appen and if one tries to convey the same to say, 1,500 “likes,” “friends” or “followers,” the first one is probably going to help the business much more than the second one. This is especially true if the 1,500 have to share an audience with thousands of other messages – which is the case with social media. Yes, the audience is very targeted but, no, you’re just not reaching nearly enough people. This is one of the primary reasons why, for example, there are almost no local or even regional websites or online plays – including even well-funded ones such as Patch – operating at a profit. They simply can’t reach or influence enough people because the social media/online audience is too fragmented – and is fragmenting more every day. If you can’t reach enough people, you don’t get many new customers.

Blasphemy, you say? No, not really. We actually do recommend bundling social media marketing and online as a supplement to print campaigns. We do, however, try to help our partners place social media in perspective. The analogy that we use comes from my old LSAT test experiences. What we say is something like this: “Social media is to successful marketing as an appetizer is to a banquet.” That is, you want to include social media in your marketing mix. It is important. But if it is your primary course of marketing, you will probably starve.

What social media can potentially do for your company is engage existing customers if you execute well. It can help keep your name familiar to existing customers, so if they do a search online and have 20 to 30 choices on the first search results page, they may click on your listing instead of the other 24. That is the core of what you will get. That is a good thing, but we all know that it is hard to maintain a business without increasing your customer base to make up for “churn.” Simply, one has to constantly find and retain new customers to stay in business and grow, and that is not going to happen relying primarily on social media.

And that is where print media – and especially hyper-local, news-based local newspapers – still play a critical role. Over the past 10 years, contrary to what many digital sales people would like for you to believe, the readership of our newspapers has remained constant; it has not decreased. We have 139,000 incredibly loyal “followers” who still read our newspapers – many cover to cover – and take us into their homes as a welcome respite to the deluge of electronic noise from Facebook, Twitter and all the others. And because we remain so well-read, the advertising in our papers has remained strong and effective.

I recently compared our readership studies from 2004 to 2011 and it confirms that readership of our print products has stayed incredibly strong. I suspect as the online options multiply that our audience will continue to grow and our advertisers will continue to enjoy even better results than they do now. Our audience – our 139,000 readers – remains intact while the online audience continues to fragment. And this explains why local newspapers – Appen Newspapers – remain one of the best ways to reach and influence the local audience your business needs. Think “print” when you are trying to figure out how to increase sales and your bottom line. It still works. It’s in the numbers.