22 August 2013

Can Genealogy Afford To Be Hyper-Local? Guest post by Thomas MacEntee

Guest post by Thomas MacEntee

Are you familiar with the term “hyper-local?” In online media, for a brief period of time hyper-local sites such as Patch.com (owned by AOL) and the now defunct Everyblock were all the rage. The idea was to connect people on a local level and let them exchange information. Sort of like talking over the fence with your neighbors without actually having to meet them face-to-face.

You can roll your eyes now, just like I did after I stepped back and thought about this crazy concept of meeting locals online. Very often what is hyped and is touted as “the latest cool thing” becomes a case of the “emperor has no clothes” and falls flat on its face. (On a side-note, I actually LOVED Everyblock. It would update me via email on everything that happened within a set radius of my address here in Chicago including crimes, building permits and more. It was like having my own Gladys Kravitz.)

So what is the lesson here for the genealogy industry? Beware of limiting yourself to local clients and constituents. With today’s technology, organizations are no longer bound by local geography and should have at least a global awareness, if not a global presence.

Geography Is No Longer Our Master

This is one of the lessons that I’ve learned in launching my own genealogy business. I live in Chicago where I have no other family and no ancestral connections. My New York ancestors seemed to be skittish about traversing through Ohio to the West or hopping on Great Lakes steamer. As I developed genealogy services to sell to the public, I figured that my target market could either be Chicagoans or I could just cast a wider net and go global.

Imagine it is 3:00 am in Chicago and I am Skyping with a client in Australia who needs information on how the genealogy market works in the United States or wants to learn about starting a webinar series. Hanging out with a “neighbor” chatting across a “virtual” fence is realty and no longer the stuff of science fiction.

Advances in technology such as faster Internet connection rates as well as easy-to-use social media platforms make it easy to reach almost any audience. There are segments of the genealogy industry seemingly unaware of this opportunity including many genealogy societies.

Selling Local Character To A Broad Audience

The days of meeting in a church basement once a month to have society members discuss local history and genealogy are over, or soon to be. There is no way that any such organization could possibly survive with current practices and faced with dwindling membership. For business owners, constantly trying to tap into a local-only market will eventually hit a wall with diminishing returns resulting in frustration.

Here are some tips on how any organization or business can go “global” and sell their services while still preserving a sense of local charm and character:
·       Use social media. I’ve said it many times, but it is worth saying again: You have to embrace social media to the point of learning the basics. No one said you had to like Facebook, but at least set up a page for your organization. Facebook is the #2 feeder of website traffic, after Google (and Pinterest is #3, by the way). When you are on social media, ANYONE can find you, not just your local residents.
·       Educate yourself on social media and technology. There are some valuable resources available for free: one is the Social Media for Genealogy group on Facebook and the other is Technology for Genealogy, also on Facebook. In both of these groups there are no “stupid questions” and there are many helpful genealogists willing to share their knowledge.
·       Raise your group’s awareness. It takes time to realize that you are no longer working and thinking just locally. Set up a virtual or online membership at a discounted rate. Offer online members a digital version of your newsletter and/or quarterly or other educational materials. Virtual members are almost never a drain on a groups resources and allow you to build a loyal global fan base.
·       Sell your local expertise. This can be done locally as well as online. Locally: create a small book of local historical information and genealogy resources for area hotels and bed & breakfasts. These places all have libraries where guests can relax and read a book. Make sure materials are branded with your business or group name and contact info. Try the same thing online but create e-guides that can be downloaded easily. The goal is for you or your group to become the “go to expert” for your local area.
·       Cultivate followers and initiate conversation. This is the most difficult thing to do, whether it is in person or on line. Join online genealogy groups and follow conversations related to your area of expertise. Don’t jump in right away, but lurk a bit so you understand the “vibe” of the group. Slowly offer helpful info and advice. The same will work at your local library or repository. Befriend newcomers and offer to show them the ropes. As someone once observed: a group may seem like a clique or a bunch of “regulars.” But join in the conversations and pretty soon you’ll be a regular too.


Embracing a broader view and a broader audience might be the survival mechanism needed for many in the genealogy community. Combine affordable and accessible technology along with a little bit of marketing savvy, and you could have a formula for success.

© 2013, copyright Thomas MacEntee
Bio: Thomas MacEntee is a genealogy professional specializing in the use of technology and social media to improve genealogical research and as a means of interacting with others in the family history community. For more information visit http://hidefgen.com.

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