Adam Barrell & Ryan Northover

The media business built on Twitter

In Trends by Peter Gearin

So Perth is the ultimate “good news” website – especially for its founders, who see opportunities to spread the concept.

Tweet Perth is a home-town social media success story. Launched by Adam Barrell (above left) in 2010 and now with almost 90,000 followers, the Twitter aggregator covers news, entertainment, lifestyle and sport in the world’s most isolated capital city. For some, it’s the place to find a good time in Perth.

In 2012, Barrell met Ryan Northover, who had enjoyed some success with a blog (“writing weird stories like snakes eating alligators”) and ended up working in marketing and social media agencies. The pair looked at what they could do with Tweet Perth, assessed what made it so successful and (in early 2016) created a local “good news” website, which became So Perth.

That’s right. They built a media business on the back of a Twitter account.

If this seems unusual, So Perth’s initial audience numbers are proof of concept. The news and lifestyle site has between 80,000 and 120,000 unique visitors per month, and the affable Northover claims its stories reach up to 400,000 “uniques” every week on Facebook. He says “likes” are growing by 1000 a week, too, while Instagram follower numbers are shooting beyond 21,000.

Northover says creating a multi-platform brand was not really part of the original strategy. “It just evolved into that,” Northover says. “[Creating the website] made sense, because there was this really engaged, parochial, local city-based audience.

“Tweet Perth took off in the very early days of Twitter, before news organisations were on there. Adam was breaking news around town about things – maybe a fire happening somewhere – and sharing other people’s stories on Twitter. It made sense to leverage the audience, and pivot a little bit in that direction. It wasn’t a deliberate thing that we set out to do. We were sitting around after a few beers, and said, ‘This just makes sense’.”

So Perth is not a true news site, though it still occasionally chases fire engines. Many stories tell of Perth’s features – its best walking and hiking trails, or its “secret garden wonderland” in Gwelup – or the latest discovery by Murdoch University researchers. One of the most popular articles, by Northover himself, is a humorous take on why Perth is “the worst city in the world”.

Northover says the So Perth message has so far fallen on fertile home ground. “We’re big with those 18-40, particularly 25-35s,” Northover says. “These are people who aren’t watching TV any more – the Netflix generation. If advertisers want to reach young people who are disengaged from traditional media, that’s really a big selling point for us. We write our content with that audience in mind, the 20- and 30-somethings. Young families, as well.”

Editorial matters

The So Perth site’s success has made it attractive for local bloggers. “We’ve teamed up with a whole bunch of independent bloggers around Perth: foodie bloggers, money bloggers, fashion bloggers, health and fitness, you name it,” Northover says. “We’ve given them an audience through our audience, through our website and our social media. So they will occasionally publish their content on our website, and we’ll share it out, tag their channels, and grow their audiences. It’s at a point now where local brands are reaching out to us, saying ‘We’d love one of your bloggers to do a piece on whatever’s happening – a restaurant or bar launch, or top things to see and do. We do a lot of campaigns with events and tourism park authorities as well.”

Northover is happy to admit So Perth runs on parochial optimism. “It’s all positive. It’s the good stuff. It’s the good news. We’re definitely like, if there’s something weird or out there, or everyone’s talking about it, we’ll get involved in the conversation. We’re not going to report crime. We’re not going to do politics. We don’t want to polarise people.”

Still, he sees So Perth as a “peripheral competitor” to digital news sites such as Fairfax Media’s WA Today because relevance is important to the local audience. “We’re not doing journalism but we’re doing news, based on what’s happening in the social sphere. If it’s a slow news day, other news websites will share international stories or entertainment from Hollywood. These brands are advocating that they’re catering to the city, which is true, but then they share all this irrelevant content, which people aren’t really responding to. What we do is very focused on Perth.”

“We think that Twitter’s time has come and gone, in terms of the ability to grow quickly.”Ryan Northover

Northover says the biggest stouches in So Perth tend to happen over truly life and death matters, such as football. “That’s exactly it. You want to whip [the audience] into a frenzy with that. Even then it’s pretty tongue in cheek, pretty balanced. Adam goes for West Coast, and I go for Freo [Fremantle].”

Another way So Perth distinguishes itself is the pace at which news is delivered. “We can put content up that’s really good, and goes bananas for a few days, and we don’t have the pressure in our team from editorial or corporate to say, ‘Well, we’re not popping out enough content. Our audience is dipping. We’re fighting all these competitors with the Nielsen ratings’, or whatever. On some days lots of things will be happening and we’ll be really busy. On other days, nothing’s really happening so we might rehash old content that we thought was really good from a year ago … it’ll just find this whole new lease of life.”

Business plans

Northover says So Perth will continue to feature competitions and contra deals, as well as sponsored content. “The way it usually works is we’ll find a blogger who’s worked with us, and has their own specialised audience,” he says. “Then we’ll say to the client, ‘Look, we’ve got this relationship with this great blogger. They’ve got their own audience’, and we’ll connect them to that blogger, and also leverage our audience with the content. It’s kind of a three-pronged approach for audience engagement.

“When we do sponsored content, we make sure it’s quality stuff. [That] it fits in with our content strategy. We don’t do it blatantly. We stay away from really ‘salesy’ kind of content.”

The city of Perth is a perfect home for a website such as this, too. It has a small population for a capital (just over 2 million), is isolated, and revels in its parochialism. But Northover and Barrell think the So Perth model could work in bigger markets … but not necessarily on the back of Twitter. “We think that Twitter’s time has come and gone, in terms of the ability to grow quickly,” Northover says. “In the early days of Twitter, it was very personal. Now, it’s more niche. We might go down more of an Instagram-focused strategy.”

A news and lifestyle website based on an Instagram account? Who says that couldn’t happen?

Links & references

So Perth website

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