Our network of beacons cover a relatively small footprint of the city. It’s unlikely anybody would encounter every single beacon on a single journey but it’s definitely possible.
The human scale of the pilot keeps it manageable my end and presents readers with plenty of opportunities to discover a good mix of stories every day. These stories pop-up in places we all go to work, shop, unwind or pass through.
The individual pilot areas were chosen for the fluid communities that flow in and out of the spaces and the clusters of partners that exist nearby. It’s the latter that’s the focus of this blog post, as we reveal the different use cases behind their decisions to get involved and how they’ve helped to shape the pilot.
Greater Manchester Police.
Local police forces are prolific storytellers in any city. Manchester is no different.
OtherWorld can react quickly to any breaking news and broadcast appeals, updates and consultations close to where an incident has happened or to a particular community of interest. The added relevance offered by proximity means these are always popular stories and we try to include a call to action whenever possible to assist the police with their inquiries.
Truth be told, we’re still only scratching the surface with our support of public services. One avenue not yet explored is our ability to deploy all our beacons at once in response to a major incident, much like a US weather warning or Notify NYC text alert. A similar system could be deployed for large sporting or cultural events, as tens of thousands of supporters arrive into major transport hubs and make their way to a game or festival.
We’ve enjoyed a close relationship with the developers behind Spinningfields, Enterprise City UK and St John’s ever since talking at their creative conference in April. There are two beacons in Spinningfields – one in the walkway outside Pret and the other in The Oast House courtyard. Those who know the estate will know these two beacons are only 100 metres apart, however we find they behave completely differently. There is considerable footfall before and during the working day in the walkway, whereas the courtyard experiences extended dwell time in the evenings and at weekends. It’s interesting to test different types of content in each, including driving people to events, announcing new tenants, sharing local news, and talking about the exhibitions of museums and points of interest on the periphery of the estate.
Combined, these are our most popular beacons. This is due to an active estate and a proactive partner who regularly talks to their tenants and customers about OtherWorld.
Manchester City Council.
Holding local councils to account is an important role of local journalism. However, it’s not our focus. As a pilot we need to be realistic about our resources and stay true to our test.
That said, we’re proud to play a part in sharing the almost-daily public service announcements and opportunities for people to have their say. This could be anything from inviting applications to a new community fund, getting more people involved in the planning process, reaching a major milestone in the refurbishment of the Town Hall, sharing events at the library or engaging residents who might be otherwise hard to reach. Much of this involves keeping a close eye on council publications with the potential to do more original reporting in the future.
This activity often spills onto our beacons in nearby St Ann’s Square and St Peter’s Square.
NOMA is an £800 million, 20-acre mixed-use redevelopment scheme near Victoria Station. Its anchor tenant (and part-owner) is the Co-operative, whose employees constitute the bulk of our readers in this area. The beacon is located near Sadler's Yard – a public square at the heart of the future development - and is flanked by community workshop PLANT, digital workplace Federation House and community public house The Pilcrow. Our beacon helps to create a sense of place for an up-and-coming area and create links with the neighbouring medieval quarter and The Printworks.
Our relationship with Manchester’s annual LGBT celebration was arranged via Manchester Evening News. We would amplify their coverage and teleport it to hotspots in the festival, such as Canal Street. In addition to deploying and co-ordinating our existing beacons, we would arm their on-duty reporter with their own beacon, enabling them to become a roaming digital broadcaster. With better planning on my part, it would have been interesting to roll out this tactics to all newspaper distribution points along the main parade and deliver real-time updates about the festival.
Fiercely independent and never standing still, the Northern Quarter is unlike any of our other locations. The two OtherWorld beacons can be found at either end of the long stretch of Thomas Street, which act as the gateway for the many side streets that run off it. Despite boosting a high concentration of businesses and content partners, sourcing stories has been harder in this area that expected. We’ve had to rely on key partners for introductions, including the Northern Quarter Small Business Forum and the generous local arts community.
After a relatively quiet start, our marketing efforts in the Northern Quarter (flyering, posters and outreach) have paid off. Performance noticeably picks up in the evenings and at weekends, and our beacons often find themselves in the perfect place to talk to people queuing to get into a bar or perusing a pop-up street market.
The organisations listed above are a small sample from our large number of content partners. Despite this breadth and depth, some gaps do remain. The pilot has identified a few other areas where OtherWorld could make a significant difference and create new experiences outside of traditional local news, such as professional sports clubs, Business Improvement Districts and tourism bodies to help them to curate a warm welcome to visitors. Future food for thought…