It happens here: Consumer-centric Innovation in Charlotte and beyond

Random nuggets on the Hyperlocalism trend by Nheeda Enriquez

Since I wrote an article about hyperlocalism over the summer, I’ve been passively tracking the trend, and I thought I’d share these findings.


logo via

1.  Wait, what happened to
Last week, I stumbled on the beta news site that the Charlotte Observer just planted in the old site.  In an attempt to retain its local readership, the site features social bookmark-like capabilities (similar to TimesPeople,) allowing users to sign on with existing Twitter, Facebook, et al. accounts.  It pulls in stories from other local sources, including Yelp reviews and blogs.  Time will tell how successful it will be as the data builds; I do hope it eventually introduces more visual design (a la Creative Search or even Newsmap.)


screen capture via creative search

2.  You, too, can consume and create.
Looks like the creative team at the Observer is looking for hyperlocal contributors.  Not sure if it’s related to the site, but it’s related to a grant with an organization called the J-Lab.

3.  So are people moving here or what?
Remember the buzz from earlier this year about all the people trying to move to Charlotte to find jobs in this recession?  Newsweek offers an interesting viewpoint on hyperlocalism that might suggest otherwise.

A case for optimism: Charlotteans envision life in 2020 by Nheeda Enriquez

click for larger

Though I’m still new to Charlotte, I’ve been energized by some civic events lately, most recently with Center City Partners’ visioning workshop at the Convention Center.  It was the first of 3 community workshops, inviting citizens to give input to city leaders on how to transform Charlotte by 2020.

Beyond the topic itself, I really enjoyed with the structure of the workshop.  The consulting group (MIG) and project leaders provided multiple ways to take part: via Post-It notes and comment cards, through verbal feedback, and even through streaming video and social media, thanks to the CLTblog folks.  They visualized comments and ideas on a large mural, which I know from facilitating ideation sessions, keeps folks engaged and contributing.  The meeting ended with a survey called an “Idea Lab” where we voted on 20+ concepts using green, yellow, and red sheets of paper, a method I’ve seen to evaluate product designs and even election debates, but it was neat to see it used as a temperature gauge for urban planning.   It all made for an optimistic night, where we felt free to think about positive change for a few hours.

I wish that more citizens came out to participate, particularly those with more diverse viewpoints outside of Uptown.  Though I’m a big fan of green spaces and walkable cities, I’m sure that there are others who could make the case for investing in other kinds of projects.

Follow all the action on Charlotte 2020 here.  I understand the survey and all the presentation materials will be available on the site soon.

3 assumptions I had about BarCamp that were totally wrong by Nheeda Enriquez


What fun!  Not knowing what to expect, I attended the first half of BarCamp Charlotte today over at Area 15.  Reflecting on my newbie experience, I realized I arrived with a few assumptions, all of which were handily proven wrong.

1. I thought the informal nature of the setup would be frustrating. I’ve been working in a corporate setting where meetings and agendas are arranged months in advance.  But in this format, participants pitch whatever topics they want to talk about, either as an expert presenter or as a discussion leader.   Then the rest of us vote on which ones we want to see.  Despite a few logistic glitches, I found this free-wheeling format to be invigorating and liberating.  And wonderfully innovative.

2.  I assumed the topics would only be about SEO and/or social media. Not so. Though there were plenty of extremely relevant sessions about those things, the floor is open to many others.  Like the kid who taught folks how to make balloon animals.  Or setting up photo-voltaics in your home.

3.  I figured the average age of the participants would skew young. Boy, was I wrong on that one.  Of the 200(?) or so folks at the event, there was a wide range represented.  The mix in the room was impressive: small business owners, enthusiasts, and random interested friends (like me) of all levels of expertise and backgrounds.

Create a bigger pond to fish for ideas: Serendipity and innovation by Nheeda Enriquez
photo via wikipedia

photo via wikipedia

In an article for Charlotte Viewpoint about social media in Charlotte, I hinted at a downside of relying solely on one’s networks to mine through an ever-growing plethora of information.  We risk being too narrow in our interests and lose the potential to discover something completely new, whether that be a new author, a new product, or a new recipe for dinner.

Though sometimes it’s difficult, I always advocate trying new things just for the sake of it.  You never know when you might call that experience to inspire a new idea.

Everyone has their own way to introduce serendipity, but my boyfriend Brian has a painless way to do it at his own desk.  When he needs a diversion from a hectic workday, he’ll poke around wikipedia for a few minutes just to see what’s there.  They’ll have a featured article that’s different every day, and you never know what it’ll link you out to, and that helps create a bigger pond for you to fish ideas from.

Thought it’s old, I offer this Wired interview with Apple’s megamind Steve Jobs.  Towards the end, he describes the value of new experiences in innovation:

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”

Reverse Engineering a Fantasy Football draft party by Nheeda Enriquez

In honor of the NFL season kicking off this week, I highlight Scott Graf’s amusing story on WFAE about local bars that host groups who conduct their fantasy football drafts.  Though I’m not an active fantasy sports fan myself, I know plenty of people who are, and I’ve always found this market and the tons of products that target them fascinating.

I do, however, like to fantasize about the conversations that marketing and development groups have when they’re trying to decide whether or not to try something a little more innovative and counter to what’s commonly done.  Can you imagine what that Jetblue meeting was like when they were deciding if they should try its “All-you-can-Jet ” unlimited travel pass?

It probably wasn’t quite as hard to convince the management of Midtown Sundries or Hickory Tavern to create special packages for fantasy football leagues, it’s still fun to reverse engineer what they might have been thinking, and then use that to inspire other ideas.


Boy, what would the package for a celebrity funeral at an amusement park look like?

Charlotte goes back to school! Hyperlocal news you can use by Nheeda Enriquez
flickr photo credits: NIOSH + michael mx5tx

flickr photo credits: NIOSH + michael mx5tx

I’ve been cooking up an article for Charlotte Viewpoint about the role of social media in delivering hyperlocal news for Charlotteans.  One of the examples I reference is a company called, which is simply an application that provides service updates on commuter lines through text messages posted by fellow commuters.

With yesterday as the official first day Charlotte-Mecklenburg students (begrudgingly) return to their classrooms, I thought about how that concept might also be helpful to the parents (and other locals stuck in the related traffic.)

I noticed that April Bethea of the Charlotte Observer encouraged parents to tweet their “first day of school” stories and pictures for all to enjoy.  Also entwined are concerns about the spread of swine flu in schools, and I can imagine Google’s Flu Trends serving up data, in real time, to local parents deciding whether or not to send their child to school on a particular day.

Hyperlocal news delivery is quickly evolving all around us.  Where else in our lives will it sneak in?

The Charlotte Observer wants to figure out how to make newspapers new again by Nheeda Enriquez
flickr photo credit: jeku arce

flickr photo credit: jeku arce

My original purpose for meeting up with Steve Gunn, the Charlotte Observer’s Innovation Editor, was to learn more about Mission Possible, the project that his paper spearheaded to find innovative ways to meet the city’s charitable needs through crowdsourcing.   Instead, what I discovered is that this project is just one of many in his attempts to keep the Observer relevant in an era of dying newspapers.

Gunn mentioned that the paper’s readership is growing thanks to the web, but the whole industry is on the hunt for ways to convert new readers into loyal ones, particularly since content is now aggregated through or onto other sites.  Mission Possible, aside from being a philanthropic effort, is also a living, breathing experiment on how this paper might collaborate with other outlets: TV, radio, papers, web, and across counties, languages, and service providers.   They expect to learn and adapt throughout this process, and put the learnings into use for future programs.

It’s been a while since I’d been in a newsroom, and I had forgotten how “creative” these spaces have always been…Desks strewn with visual stimuli in a highly collaborative environment of ordered chaos.  Gunn’s office was no exception, complete with well-traveled trinkets and a full case of Diet Pepsi.  He reminded me that the staff is “very comfortable with messy” and previewed for me an innovative new service they’ll be piloting soon, so look for that on the Observer online in a few weeks!

Our Chamber of Commerce doesn’t use Twitter just because it’s trendy by Nheeda Enriquez

twitter_chamberLast week, I caught up with the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce‘s Julia Walton and Melisa LaVergne.  I wanted to learn more about the Chamber’s recent use of social media.

They didn’t get on facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter because all the cool chamber kids were doing it.

Apparently, it was because the 2009 branding budget was slashed.  To $0.  So to get the word out about upcoming events and communicate all the great reasons to be a member, they had to come up with a marketing plan that was, for all intents and purposes, free.  Talk about recession marketing.

LaVergne and Walton added that there are additional benefits beyond saving money.  They’ve hosted popular workshops on getting started in social media, bringing even more value to their member businesses.  Many members have leveraged these tools to catch podcasted events when they can’t network in person.  And they’ve been able to recruit new members like myself, those who might not have run into them if it weren’t for social media.

Check out the Chamber of Commerce’s:

Charlotte’s Bravest break down virtual doors, too. by Nheeda Enriquez
June 19, 2009, 4:50 pm
Filed under: branding, community services, social media | Tags: , , ,

I recently realized that I live around the corner from a little-known incubator of social media innovation in town: Charlotte’s own Fire Station 8.  Two firefighters from its C-shift, Leo Wurschmidt and Jason Almond, have been experimenting with twitter and a station blog, primarily to show the day-to-day, inner workings of the station.  It reaches beyond a traditional website-as-PR-placeholder, inviting visitors to read about the actual calls they go on or the personalities of its staff.

firehouse1The significance of the experiment is that the authors see potential value in regularly sharing this kind of information (in their down time, of course) with the community to demonstrate transparency and, to some degree, local accountability.  They hope to also create a place to share best firefighting practices within their department and with firefighters at large.  (Jason and Leo are studying their Google Analytics to better understand their reading audience.)

My favorite part of the site is the neighbor interviews, which were borne out of their QAP (Quick Access Plan) evaluations.  Part of the job requires visits to area businesses to learn the layout of these sites in case of an emergency.  But the blog also gave them the opportunity to showcase small businesses in the neighborhood and become a local resource of information.