The Northwest Navy News network is growing, slowly but steadily. The audience remains small by any measure. Google Analytics recorded a little over 500 monthly unique visitors in September. The base overview pages continue to draw the greatest attention, followed by news posts, particularly those about events and financial issues. Most of the traffic comes from search engines and referring sites like Facebook and Twitter. Northwest Navy News has 125 Facebook fans and 1,505 followers on Twitter to date. The followers on social media sites tend to be much more engaged on those sites than on the pages of NorthwestNavyNews.com. Part of that is undoubtedly because I started posting content and connecting with people there well before the site was built and because people already visit those sites often. One of my goals for the future is to find a way to transfer that engagement to my site or to capitalize on it more effectively. Facebook Connect may be one way to do that. A distributed network with NorthwestNavyNews.com at its hub might not be so bad, but the activity elsewhere should feed back to the core.

For the project to continue to grow, I need to spend more time developing partnerships. A range of possibilities for that exist: chambers of commerce, service groups, spouse and family groups for individual commands, national military family networks, and news outlets. I made some great connections at the 2009 MilBlog Conference, and I’m beginning to act on some of them. I recently signed on to be part of Team Navy for a fundraising competition sponsored by Soldiers’ Angels, a national nonprofit. The competition is a fun way to raise my profile in the Navy blogging community and to support a good cause. I’m also beginning to reach out to more military family groups in the Puget Sound area. The biggest barriers to that are time and distance. The people I’m trying to reach tend to be busy, and I’m trying to fit them in around my full-time job and other commitments. It would be great to identify partners or key groups in each of the local base communities who could help me make connections there. The first step is always the most difficult, but each connection made tends to lead to others.

I struggle most with finding the time and energy to do the things I want to do to help this project succeed. At the end of a long day at work, the last thing I want to do is go stare at the computer screen for a few more hours. Social networking, curating links and trying to set up meetings with potential partners all echo things I do during regular work hours. It’s also tricky to balance creating content with efforts to get the word out to more people about what I’m doing. I’ve begun trying to spend at least an hour every morning looking for opportunities to update the site or interact with its burgeoning network of followers. When I do make the time to work on it, I always find it extremely rewarding. That’s what keeps me going. Though I want to see Northwest Navy News grow into more than a side project, the arrangement for now gives me the freedom to experiment and think long term, instead of feeling pressure to make a living from it immediately.

If I weren’t working full time for The Herald, I could see myself freelancing articles for local news outlets and national military publications, while fostering a more vibrant, collaborative community through my own site. I would need to hire someone dedicated to advertising sales and military discount listings for those to really take off. I still think the greatest potential lies in a business model with diverse revenue streams from news syndication, advertising, events and even merchandise. I have heard enough journalism entrepreneurs talk about diversifying partnerships and revenue models that I’m a firm believer. For now, I can afford to focus on building an audience, while planning ahead for ways to capitalize on it. I still have a portion of the New Media Women Entrepreneurs award money left, which I hope will sustain my marketing efforts for a while longer and enable a smaller second wave of development on the site late this year or early next year.

Looking back on my NMWE application and mid-project progress report, I had grand plans for what Northwest Navy News would become in just a year. With the Web site live for about seven months, I think I can safely say those plans were overly ambitious. That’s not to say the goals I established are unattainable. They will simply take more time to fulfill. I have learned a great deal about myself and about creating a niche news site through this process. Many of the things I knew on an intellectual level before embarking on the project, I have now confirmed through practice. Thank you very much for this opportunity. I look forward to continuing the project, exploring new ways to engage, strengthen and inform a community that deserves attention.

Sincerely,

Elaine Helm Norton