Let’s Start a Fire

Many of the upcoming holidays are festivals of light; Christmas, Chanukah, Diwali and Kwanzaa all use light as powerful imagery to reflect goodness, purity and hope. Imagine Edith Wharton’s vision come true where “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”  How connected would our world and local communities be if we made a concerted effort to be either that candle or mirror? Imagine if we shed light on the positive, on the stories that celebrate powerful community impact and change?

As we reflect on the past year and about what made top news, what first comes to mind? Are they stories about crumbling budgets, reputations, democracies, relationships?  Stories that make you question whether or not the news is fake or real? Do any positive, heart-warming stories bubble to the surface? The kinds of stories that inspire kindness, positive action and tears of joy?

There is certainly opportunity to shift the paradigm from negative to positive. Local news outlets are clamoring to lift up their local residents with the power of good news. They are itching to tell stories that highlight the good in their local communities. Local online news sources like Patch.com and community-specific social media platforms and local directories have the power to influence local brands and businesses using hyperlocal communication. The success of these outlets is evidence that local stories can serve to reveal the heart of the residents and foster deeper community connections.

When Leadership Greater Hartford announced its 2017 Polaris Award winners, the news received coverage in the Hartford Business Journal and the Hartford Courant. But placing those stories in local news outlets in West Hartford for Ronit Shoham, Windsor for Cheryl and Jamie McDonald, and East Hartford for Iran Nazario, produced a wave of local love and pride. The winners’ Facebook pages lit up with endless celebratory messages of love and support. And the reach and awareness of this nonprofit grew as a result.

When I was unpacking boxes during a recent move, I came across an old, yellowed newspaper article from the local Times Herald News that featured me as a high school senior. I was interviewed about the international club that I had created and the international weekend my club executed. The weekend was organized to bring hundreds of foreign exchange students from across the state of Pennsylvania into our high school to spread awareness, understanding, and cultural sensitivity in our local school community. The news didn’t make it into the Philadelphia Inquirer or even onto the TV news, but the local impact was palpable. The story and the activities of the club generated an excitement and positive vibe that not only made our town sit up and take notice, but proudly brought our local community together and connected us around something good.

I have dedicated my PR/marketing/communications career to paying that experience forward. I tell positive hyperlocal stories that highlight the accomplishments of graduates from our leadership development programs, task force projects that have significant community impact, nonprofit boards that have been strengthened and unsung heroes who go above and beyond to inspire hope in our region. This strategy is not only beneficial and effective for shining a positive light on individuals and the larger community, it is also good business.

Marketing experts tend to agree. Steve Olenski, a contributor for Forbes Magazine, and author of Hyperlocal Social Marketing And What It Means For Brands, writes that “the ability to customize messaging and reach into a community through the development of an authentic local story helps to reach consumers.” He quotes Sanjay Gupta, Chief Marketing Officer for Allstate, who says that “hyperlocal social marketing allows brands to communicate to a group of individuals with similar interests in a specific community or neighborhood.” Gupta adds that “providing agents with opportunities to connect with customers on a more personal level further demonstrates that they care about them and the local community.”

The Newsmaker’s Group Best Practices Blog article entitled With hyperlocal PR, no business is too small to be noticed! recognizes that by positioning themselves to be at the heart of the community at all times, “hyperlocal journalists can understand the needs and desires of the audience they are serving” especially in our “current, technology-driven and globally-connected society.”

In this season of giving, hope and love, let’s all make an effort to be a candle or mirror. Recognize and shine light on the positive and spread those stories. Lift up our neighbors, celebrate and connect the hearts of our communities – one neighborhood at a time. In the words of James Keller, “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.” Let’s start a fire!

 

Carin Buckman is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Leadership Greater Hartford.

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