Sam Ridgway, former head of social media at Unilad, is now building a hyperlocal social media publisher that champions Manchester as founder of The Manc. Can you really scale up a local title in such a way? If you can't in Manchester, the spiritual birthplace of the social publisher, then you can't anywhere.
As the ‘viral media’ world begins to take stock and realise there are considerably larger growth avenues in serialised content and fully programmed video publishing, hyperlocal social media is finally having its moment. With more and more people turning to their local social publishers for their everyday news, fresh scoops on hospitality and culture and inside jokes that make them feel more connected with their city or region, civic pride is very much alive on social media.
And with the city of Manchester being such a tight-knit community, The Manc is thriving on this strategy. Operating on an hourly content schedule, seven days a week, ‘the people’s voice of Greater Manchester’ has become the most engaged hyperlocal social publisher in the UK. With its mixture of informative articles, original video, and humorous alternative content, its audience is never short of things to digest and engage with.
But while social publishing has never been bigger, those working in the hyperlocal space are all too aware of the sharp decline of traditional newspapers, and that monetising your platform is a game of balance between staying afloat as a business and keeping your audience happy.
For years, revenue generated from most social publishers came mainly from display ads on their websites. More traffic means more clicks, which means more money. During the viral media boom, this was one of the most highly lucrative revenue streams in digital publishing, with websites such as Unilad and LadBible raking in chunky five-figure sums month on month. This is still very much the case, however with platforms like the above diversifying more than ever and creating revenue through other avenues, such as mid-roll on social video content, a natural shift to being less focused on website ad clicks has occurred.
This is a little different in the hyperlocal space, with the majority of local publishers still having to rely heavily on revenue generated from their website – as video revenue for publishers with a much smaller, local audience, is much less significant. Other revenue streams for businesses in this space are generated from client work such as brand and marketing campaigns, and affiliate linking. A mixture that most hyperlocal publishers have on the go.
Original video content and feature editorial is considered ‘hero content’ within the hyperlocal space. At The Manc, the majority of our original video and ‘longer reads’ are for the benefit of our audience. We see them as our extended family, and they are extremely loyal to our brand. Therefore, when we produce original content, what we think they will enjoy engaging with and digesting is always at the forefront of our mind. We don’t just want someone to ‘tag a mate’ and exit the page, we want them to digest our content and enjoy it as much as we love creating it.
As a large publisher for a specific region, with a passionate young team, we take our responsibility for keeping our audience informed and entertained seriously, and achieving that end result is just as rewarding for us as it is for them.
I spent five years as Unilad’s group head of social media, and as the company’s first employee, and a homebird, I was unwilling to up sticks to London – so Sam Bentley and Liam Harrington moved the business to Manchester so we could rebuild the struggling platform together in my hometown.
Over the years, and as Unilad grew (alongside its closest rival just a mile across the city centre), I had the privilege of watching Manchester become the pace-setter for viral publishing. London has always been the sales capital of the country, but the North West, and particularly Manchester, has churned out some of the most influential, but lesser-known social media experts in the world. The original teams behind LadBible and Unilad were learning on their feet in a space that was virtually untouched, and as a result, most of the viral content you engage with on your news feed today has, at some point down the line, been directly influenced by those companies.
Manchester is where I learned my craft and created a career out of nothing, and the place where I’ve achieved so much as a result. As a born and bred Manc who had previously refused to move to London because of my love for the city, I knew I wanted to work in Manchester’s media world for the rest of my career. So with my knowledge of the city’s media landscape, I knew when it was the right time to jump from viral publishing to local social media – and The Manc is the result of that well-timed move.
But it's not all been easy. Lockdown has been tough for everybody, and while plenty of media companies have had to let people go, those working online during a time in which there has never been more people online with them, have had it a little easier. The Manc, more specifically, has been internally shut down since the lockdown began, but we have just about managed to keep our heads above water and it has given us time that we wouldn’t usually have to sit back and take stock. In doing so, we decided that the most important thing for us to do was to utilise our audience in order to provide support to anyone and everyone we could. Navigating this unprecedented times (urgh, I hate that) has been extremely hard for most, but the hospitality, events and culture industry, who bring our city to life, have had it really bad. So our recent #BuzzingToBeBack campaign in which we offered any North West business free social media amplification for their messaging and free social media consultancy, has been a huge success – and we’ve managed to support dozens of businesses with their reopenings. This is what being a hyperlocal publisher is all about for us.
Now we are looking to our next step.
We have been operating as a proper business for 18 months and our development and evolution into who we are today has been a bit of a whirlwind. But with the local space becoming even stronger during lockdown, we want to continue to fly the flag for civic pride in social media – and we feel that our passion for Greater Manchester and its people will take us where we need to go as long as we continue to respect our audience. If we can land a few good brand deals along the way, launch a strong local video series or two, and create partnerships with the right people and businesses, I think the future will be as bright as the one sunny day Manchester has every year.
Sam Ridgway is founder of The Manc Group. Get him on Instagram at /samridgway.