TheSmartLocal has 306,000 followers to date on their website and followers who regularly engage with their posts on their Facebook page. It’s safe to say that the lifestyle online publication is absolutely killing the content game – and in this article, we speak with Bryan Choo, founder of TheSmartLocal, to learn how he did it.
TheSmartLocal started out in 2012, when there was significantly less lifestyle and content sites around. Would you attribute part of the website’s success to great timing?
Yes, we started at a very fortunate time when accepting Facebook as a media channel was still a foreign idea to people. Traditional media wasn’t allocating enough resources to creating content on digital media, and there was little competition. Because the barriers to entry back then were so low, we were able to capture a sizeable market share – one that we would have had no chance acquiring with traditional media.
That aside, it’s also about being able to make good judgment calls on trends that will disrupt the industry. Early adopters get a huge lead and if you don’t react fast, you’ll have to spend a lot of effort playing catch-up until the next big game-changer.
Can you give us a specific example of how TheSmartLocal was an earlyadopter, and used this to their advantage?
Sure, so in 2015, we realised that videos were a highly effective format in helping us get more reach and engagement. This might seem obvious today – but back then, it was a completely new concept and format that other publishers in Singapore ignored.
We made the decision to build a team specifically to create Facebook videos – and this was at a point in time when there was zero demand for these videos, and our clients didn’t even know what they were. But once they saw the ROI they were getting, they were amazed and very happy with the results.
Other than helping you to serve your clients better, did your video strategy also impress your followers?
Yes! When we applied this video strategy to Eatbook.sg, one of our new sister sites, we gained 50,000 followers organically within just 4 months. This was only possible because we were early adopters – other publishers took years to gain the same number of followers.
Other than video, what other strategies would you say are crucial to TheSmartLocal’s success?
For content platforms, it’s important to get your SEO foundation right. Once you do that, you can rank highly on Google, and as a result, still get traffic from articles published years ago. These are basically “evergreen” content and articles that people continually search for – our bumper listicle, ‘50 Fun & Free Things To Do in Singapore’ is one such example.
Right! And when it comes to your content, what’s the secret sauce?
The problem with content today lies in the fact that marketers produce content for the sake of doing so, which is the wrong approach to take. As for us, we take our ideation process very seriously – basically, we always want to be producing interesting content that actually adds value to our readers.
One key thing that we always do is to differentiate our content by developing our angles further. So in addition to the staple listicle you see on most sites – “X foods to eat at the Geylang Ramadan Bazaar”, a more developed idea would be “7 alternative Ramadan bazaars to visit” or “7 halal-certified stalls to break fast with at Geylang Ramadan”.
When it comes to sponsored content or articles that are client advertorials, is it difficult to maintain the same kind of creativity?
There are always clients who are very particular about what they want to achieve when they work with us, but when we take the time to explain to them the differences in each approach and how soft-sell and more creative angles generally work better, they do understand and are open to our suggestions.
Can you share some examples of advertorials that are still engaging and highly compelling in their own right?
We conceptualised a viral article for SONY called “11 Fitspo Photographs To Bluff Everyone You’re An Olympic Athlete”. Instead of just coming up with a generic camera launch article that most publications do (and which people dislike reading), we created humorous, positive content around #fitspo culture. It got people laughing, and at the same time, promoted the features of the camera well.
Essentially, we always start with the target audience in mind, then work towards creating content that will be interesting for that audience. So even though the readers know it is an advertisement, it doesn’t matter – because the article is still useful and relevant to their lives.
Any last words of advice for all the aspiring content creators out there?
Focus on providing value to readers. When you’re able to achieve that, you won’t even need salespeople to get brands to work with you – they’ll be the ones approaching you instead.
Check out TheSmartLocal along with sister sites ZULA and EatBook using our social cards right below!