Talk About Local 2013

On Saturday 28th September, and after a very early wake up call, I made my way up to Middlesbrough for the Talk About Local (un)Conference 2013 (TAL13).

Talk About Local are an organisation that helps people to find a powerful (and independent) online voice for their community, otherwise known as a hyperlocal site. In fact it’s the organisation that Digbeth’s very own Nicky Getgood worked for while running Digbeth is Good.

The venue for the day was the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (mima), and the weather gods were good to us. We started the day by planning sessions (at an unconference, the delegates themselves propose and lead sessions rather than these being prescribed by the event organisers) and topping up on caffeine, before having a number of very productive and useful discussions.

The first discussion I attended was on the role of other social media in running a hyperlocal site. Twitter has been a very powerful tool for Digbeth is Good and indeed Digbeth Residents Association, so I wanted to share my experiences while also learning from others. Steph Clarke from WV11.co.uk shared a lot of her experiences of Facebook with growing the readership and engagement for WV11:

“If Wv11 is the place I live in – Facebook is the pub I go to talk about the stuff that happens there, with the people that live there.”

You can read more about Steph’s experience of TAL13 and her top three tips for Facebook here.

The second session of the day was proposed by James Clarke also of WV11.co.uk, and focussed on bringing hyperlocal offline. While there are many people passionate about Digbeth online, my experience with Digbeth Residents Association suggests that not as many are willing to step away from the computer and put that passion into action in their community.

DRA has a fantastic group of residents and supporters who volunteer much of their time and energy into improving Digbeth as a place and improving people’s perception of the area, but not nearly as many people volunteer as are vocal online. I came away from the session with a lot of ideas of engendering ‘real’ (as opposed to ‘virtual’) support for Digbeth.

Then came lunch, and the chance to refill on the local delicacy of parmo – fried breaded chicken in a béchamel (white) sauce. My verdict: I’m not a fan, but I was grateful for the opportunity to immerse myself in local culture ;-). After lunch, Jerome Turner of BCU’s School of Media and the Creative Citizens research project, gave us a quiz entitled: What do we know about our audiences?

Digbeth is different in terms of demographics to a traditional hyperlocal website’s area; although similar in size to a village, it feels more like a group of silos or blocks of residents with their own personalities. This quiz made me think and question how much I do actually know about our readership, but also, what I can do to learn more. Read more about Jez’s quiz and the answers he received here.

The final session of the day focussed on anchoring hyperlocal in the real world. DRA have a few ideas of their own on this topic (more to be revealed soon hopefully), so it was great to learn more about new technologies and potential new software that could be used to support community activity in bricks with clicks. James Rutherford used the session as a tool to share knowledge and learn more from hyperlocal bloggers about his ideas. Another attendee, Janet Davis, shared her experiences of the discussion on her blog here.

There were many more sessions and discussions that I wasn’t able to join or contribute to, but here are just some of the things I missed:
Dave Harte, also from BCU’s School of Media and the Creative Citizens research project, led an asset-mapping session for running a hyperlocal website (what you need in terms of resources and how important each is). A photo of some of the results features below.
Will Perrin from Talk About Local ran a motivation-building session on falling back in love with your hyperlocal site (more here).

Soon after, it was time to go home, exhausted but enthused about the future and what it holds for Digbeth. TAL13 proved to be very useful as an educational but also networking tool, particularly with hyperlocal colleagues in the more northerly parts of the country (and from overseas too!). It is very easy to become narrow-minded when writing a very focussed hyperlocal website, so the opportunity to meet and learn from others with similar and sometimes very different experiences is very welcome. As ever, thank to Talk About Local for organising the event, and thank you to all the attendees for being so generous with their time and knowledge. Here’s to TAL14!

Pamela Pinski

Digbeth and Proud

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