Finding more ways to reach out
Wednesday, February 22, 2012 4:20 AM
We're always trying to connect to our readers and communities, whether it is through print or other means. One of the alternative ways we are going to do a better job of reaching out is through an electronic newsletter.
This isn't a revolutionary concept or one that is that new, but we decided it is time. We set it up a long time ago, had plans to revive it this year by gathering addresses last year and now are making it happen.
Most recently, we collected names and email addresses at the Spring Valley Chamber of Commerce Business Expo in October and had plans to continue at the Preston Area Chamber of Commerce Holiday Expo, but some issues, one of them weather-related, ended that idea. At a recent meeting of the Harmony Chamber of Commerce, in which discussion was held on various ways businesses can reach customers, pushed the concept on our end as it reminded me of some of the reasons for coming up with the idea.
It isn't newspapers that people love. It's the information provided by newspapers that captivates an audience.
You've probably heard about Eastman Kodak filing for bankruptcy. Although there are many reasons for the company's problems, including foreign competition and management mistakes, one major issue was its failure to adapt to a digital age.
Kodak thought it was in the film business. It was really in the business of providing a means for people to capture and share memories. When digital imaging debuted, few people dreamed that consumers would make the transition so quickly and completely. Film has gone the way of the vinyl record, which is only used by purists and similarly shook up the music industry.
The digital age is also shaking up media, including newspapers. That's why our industry is branching out into so many areas, keeping our core mission of providing information, but offering more ways for people seeking that information to find it.
Discussion at the Harmony meeting ventured into diversifying the ways businesses can reach their customers. Although my editor and I were always referred to as the "newspaper people," I realized we are also involved in many of the ideas brought up at that meeting.
We were the first newspaper in the area to create a website for our news, starting it well over a decade ago. We started with a private individual that set it up, but found after a few years that we had to rely on his schedule to post news, so eventually switched to another system that allowed us to post news and information.
Now, we can post news whenever and however we want. Although there isn't a lot of breaking news in the small towns we cover, we do put up immediate notices for certain timely news items. Looking at our web statistics, we find that many people find those articles soon after they are posted.
We are going to strengthen that process by putting up more timely information more often. It won't be just breaking news, but previews of events and meetings on the calendar.
Quite a few years ago we provided RSS feeds for people. RSS, which stands for Rich Site Summary, allows people to get feeds of our news headlines in a reader they set up on their computer. It isn't difficult to set up, but this isn't for everyone, thus the reason we came up with the email notification process.
We also have Facebook pages that we provide some updates and use to get feedback on issues, including answers to fun questions for our Reader.
Mobile users aren't left out, either, as we have an optimized website for smart phones. That site has grown substantially from just a handful of visits the first month to more than 2,500 visits last month. The growth is partially due to the increasing acceptance of smart phones by local residents.
We also have the ability to use QR codes, or Quick Response codes, which are those boxes that have a bar code type design in them. They link to a website when scanned by a reader installed on a smart phone or other device.
The verdict on the success of QR codes is still out. We haven't delved into them too deeply because, like RSS feeds, they take a bit of technological savvy and effort, so it is hard to know how well they will catch on in our area. The activity on our mobile site shows more people are using their phones to access our information, and some are taking the next step by installing QR software on their phones, but some experts feel that this will never catch on quite like some other technology. We don't want to use new technology just because we can. We want to make sure our readers have a need for it.
I could go on with innovations in new technology for a long time, but it isn't the technology that people care about. Even though Kodak found it wasn't film that people craved, others are now finding it isn't memory cards they desire. Consumers want the most convenient way to capture and share memories and they don't care how that is done.
For community residents, it isn't the newsprint they love, it's the convenient access to information, regardless of what technology is used to get it out to people.
Really, the technology is the easy part in this equation. The hard part is still the core of our business - gathering, presenting and maintaining the information that is useful to our audience.
That's why we keep involved in the communities, report on more than the basics and try to keep the lines of communications open so we can keep the residents in our communities tied together. More than technology, this takes hard work, personal interaction and a human touch.
As I said, it's not revolutionary. We don't want to wow you with flashy gadgets, just make sure you know you can rely on us to provide comprehensive, useful, quality information.
It's a continual process and we are always adapting to changes in society. If you would like to try out our electronic newsletter, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, sign up on our website, give us a call or let us know the next time you see one of our people in the community.
We could just go ahead and send out a blast, but that's not how we operate. For one thing, it is against anti-spam laws, but, more importantly, we want you to welcome us into your homes.
We hope you extend the welcome mat to us, whether it is in print, online, by electronic messages or through our next means of delivering you the news. We aren't offended by your preference. We aren't "newspaper people." We are your community information providers using ink and paper as well as digital processes to bring you the community news and information that is so vital to your lives.