Ad Opportunities: Chatting at the Back Fence

If you’ve ever questioned whether your local online advertising was actually reaching consumers in your target regions, ask no more. Local advertising is getting more community oriented, thanks to a site called Backfence.com.

Backfence is “a new way to find out what’s going on in the world closest and most important to you: Your neighborhood.” It’s based on the concept of grass-roots and consumer-generated media. Think of the Web property as the local town crier or your chatty neighbor who always seems to know what’s going on in the community. It’s a place where people can find out what’s happening around the corner or down the block, as well as share opinions and request advice.

A hybrid of a local newspaper site and a discussion board or blog, Backfence allows Internet users to post news and commentary on issues of relevance and importance to them and their community. In the McLean, VA, site section, you see posts ranging from “Where are the Cheapest Gas Prices in McLean?” to “Students Raise Funds for Katrina Evacuees.” “Soccer Mom” wants to know where to find a reasonably priced carpet cleaning company, while “The Plant Lover” solicits counsel on a good local caterer.

“The idea is for the community to talk about the issues that the community thinks are the most important to them — issues that are very local and deeply personal,” says Susan DeFife, CEO of Backfence Inc. “These are discussions that used to take place over the back fence. Because of changes in our society, the dialogue isn’t there anymore.”

Currently offering three local sites: McLean; Reston, VA; and Bethesda, MD, Backfence launched in May 2005 and continues to add communities. According to DeFife, the company will build out 10 communities in the Washington, DC, metro area, then add an additional 15 areas (each with 10 community sites) within the next 36 months.

Plans to build an affiliate site model are also in the works. Currently, Backfence creates sites using “blog, wiki, and photo gallery technology,” then hands them over to the communities, which generate the content. The company hopes eventually to allow communities to build their own properties from the ground up.

Faithful to Backfence’s community-generated theme, site advertising is user-generated as well. Media buyers can choose from display banners, classifieds, or Yellow Pages listings and build campaigns using an automated DIY online interface. Advertisers can create new ads or use existing ones, and determine campaign parameters (including what they want to spend and where their ads will run) before submitting their ad material for site approval. Campaigns can even be renewed and altered via the site.

Backfence’s back-end ad-sever technology and online ad placement interface are provided by online ad management company Accipiter, which also works with E! Online, Clear Channel Communications, SMARTpages.com, and The Weather Network. According to Accipiter’s East Coast sales director, Bryan Holjes, publishers such as Backfence stand to profit from the traditional ad dollars currently flooding the Web.

The benefits of advertising on community sites this resoundingly local are self-evident. You know you’re reaching the right audience. Your ads are certain to be relevant to site users. This, in turn, can increase product and service affinity as well as boost ROI (define).

“Many local advertisers are finding it very expensive to advertise locally online, in local newspapers, and in more traditional venues,” points out DeFife. “They’re looking for cost-effective ways to reach their customer, and we are a strong alternative for those who are already in other places or who can’t afford to advertise elsewhere.”

Next time you’re looking for a local online ad opportunity that’s highly targeted and cost-effective, look no further than your back fence.

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