For the past two and a half years we have been working on a special project: LOL! Leeds Online. This is a massive online network for the city of Leeds. The network is about to pass the 50,000 'member' mark and we thought now was the right time to share some of the history behind the project, some of it's achievements so far and to share our plans for the future.
Leeds Online was created around two and a half years ago. It started life as a network for the Hebe team and our friends in the city. Back then we had lots of different groups on Facebook, related to the various events and projects we were involved with. For example, we had groups for small geographic locations in Leeds (Villages, city centre groups etc) and other groups created for taste / lifestyle (club nights, music genres, sports). We noticed a lot of these groups were not well connected with one another despite the fact their members were talking about very similar things. We decided it would be really interesting to try and create some kind of super-network on Facebook of our friends and subsequently, their friends.
We created a 'Fan Page', or so it was called at the time. We wanted to leave it as open and accessible as possible so we stayed simple and called it 'Leeds'. After inviting our friends the page quickly swelled to around 1,000 members and the plan was working; some of the conversations we had been having in seperate groups moved onto the page, which was really exciting for us. As we reached the 1,000 'fan' point the growth slowed, except for a couple of weeks when we grew by around 100 or so members. This project was never about the numbers though, it was about creating something really interesting; something with lots of interaction and discussion so we just kept going doing what we were doing. Slowly the numbers grew and after around 6-8 weeks we hit 2,000 mark.
At this point the conversations were mainly 'light' - things along the lines of 'Did anyone see the game last night, what do we reckon?" and "What a nice sunny day, what is everyone up to?" but I think that is what people liked (and still like now). Most other groups and pages were just spamming the hell out of their members with offers and invites to events. We were not about that, we were trying to create the Facebook version of the 'chat down the pub'.
Over the first year and a half the numbers swelled to around the 30,000 mark. The content was still very simple. We started to add in photos and other simple visual content to stimulate conversation and debate. For the first time we also started linking out to other content. This was a risky move as we had always stayed away from linking out of Facebook. But some of the things we wanted to talk about were explained deeply on other sites (such as Leeds Arena / Trinity / What if Leeds?) and we would ask a question based on the article / blog post we linked to.
The network was starting to become an influential voice around the city. People knew the network and were often surprised when they found out we were behind it. LOL! Leeds Online is definitely different to the Hebe blog that most people know us by. It is much more neutral and asks questions, where as on the blog we are much more opinionated and focused on what we want to achieve and say. With LOL! Leeds Online the idea is to give a voice and platform to the members of the network rather then push our own.
What has happened?
This question created the most interesting responses we have had to-date. We asked it because the 'What if Leeds' consultation was happening at the time and we thought it would be useful to get an alternative view to those being expressed by strong voices of Leeds people and brands on Twitter. The answers we had back were both entertaining, enlightening and also highlighted a gap in what people knew about the city, something we had previously taken for granted. We had lots of people talking about needing an arena, something that had already been confirmed to happen. The news about the arena had been put out in the local press and other platforms but a lot of people were not aware. Another rather funny answer was the need for a KFC in the city centre. I am not going into the rights and wrongs of this but what is funny is that after all these years of not having one in the centre, there is going to be a KFC in the centre now, coincidence? Perhaps ;)
Overall some of the reactions on the page have been great. Leeds United and Leeds Rhinos related posts are always popular, attracting 100s of interactions. Photos are also very popular with the audience. Over the last couple of years we have posted lots of different status updates, pictures and links and it is fascinating to see the level of interest they attract. Things you would think would be popular may not be and things you think may be trivial or less important can attract a huge response.
The page is also proving to be really popular with people visiting Leeds or people who have left the city. We have lots of people coming on asking questions about the city and what they can do here. We also have lots of people who used to live in Leeds reminiscing about the photos we post and talking about their own personal history with the city. Lots of people post their own content on the group too, including their own pictures and memories (Around 170 member photos uploaded so far). This is a big part of our plan for the future and it is great to see people contributing the page in their own way.
Recently we have begun to extended the network to other platforms. LOL! Leeds Online is now also on Twitter and Linked-in. These two platforms are quite different from but complimentary to Facebook. The Twitter profile started out as a a simple feed from Facebook but is now developing it's own personality and network. Linked-in is very different but we want to take the principles and aims of LOL! over to Linked-in and get a different view on the subjects we want to talk about. These platforms are young in terms of their development but we think they will turn into really interesting projects themselves.
In terms of numbers the project has grown significantly and today stands at 46,290+ Fans on Facebook, 1790+ followers on Twitter and 280+ members on Linked-in. The Facebook page has around 600,000+ views a month and 2500+ interactions, which we think is amazing.
The demographic of the group makes interesting reading too. The members are pretty much a split 50/50 between male and female. The age of the group is pretty young overall, but the older age groups are growing all time. The biggest age bracket in the group is 18-24 year olds who make up 37% of the members. You can see the complete breakdown below:
We have always intended to keep developing LOL! Leeds Online and over the past month or so the project has moved onto the next level.
We have created a visual brand that people can recognise and identify with. Previously the only branding was a picture of the city centre that was used as our Facebook and Twitter profile picture. The project has a new strap line - The city, talking. We do not want to push this branding too hard as that would be a massive shift, but we feel that it's the right time to start developing a visual identity.
Content-wise, we have a really clear plan in place for the next 6 months and the first parts of this have already happened. We have added new themed photo albums which have already attracted loads of interest and sparked new conversations. There are plans to create lots of different albums of different areas around the city. We will also cover events and special projects that we feel are going to be of interest to the network.
We are also excited about our plan to develop video content for the network. This is a big challenge but one we are ready to take on. The videos will be special features on various things going on in the city. We plan to interview interesting Leeds people and businesses, and cover important events. This content will then be featured on a new 'LOL! Video' tab on the Facebook page.
We have developed a number of partnerships on the page. Initially we had a news partnership with the Guardian Leeds but following the decision by the Guardian to stop the project, this is currently under review. Another media partner is the Leeds Guide, who we will be doing lots of interesting things with over the coming months. We are currently talking with other media organisations about how they can get involved with the project and add value to what we are doing and we welcome interest from any other organisations.
We are also bringing on board a number of partners for the page. These are businesses and organisations who support the project and its aims. We are interested in featuring businesses in the city who have strong links to Leeds and allowing them to showcase to a massive audience. We have already confirmed the first of these - Virtual FD, who have been involved in a number of projects in Leeds over the last year, including sponsoring Leeds Fashion Show.
We are also looking at ways to feature Leeds music. This is something we are hugely interested in and are currently exploring our options. LOL! Leeds Online should be used for promoting Leeds creative talent and the Leeds music scene is something we have a big interest in.
Team Hebe is really excited about the future of this project. We feel it is unlike anything else in the city in terms of structure and content. It has taken a long time to develop LOL! Leeds Online to the level it is at today. Our next big challenge is to keep the project fresh, interesting and to add new elements without losing the aims and vibe that made the network as popular as it is today. As with any big online project there are going to be all kinds of risks, but we are confident LOL! Leeds Online is going to continue going from strength or strength in the second half of 2011.
If you want to get in touch about the project your first stop should be our Leeds Online boss, Stacey Hicken. Click here to send Stacey an email.