Welcome to Small Town, USA. It may not be where you’d expect to see a social media wall, except this small town has Peter Slapichner.
Peter lives in Hastings, Minnesota, and has been a Walls.io customer since 2018. Over the years, we’ve had a chance to watch him experiment with various uses of our platform in his quest to keep the people in his hometown connected.
In its current iteration, the platform is called HastingsNow. HastingsNow is a website that bundles local information from Hastings, Minnesota. Peter collects content using five social media walls:
- Food & Drink
- Community Stories
He also repurposes the content by creating short videos summarising the ten biggest user-generated stories.
Over the years, I learned that HastingsNow is always in flux, with Peter changing things around all the time. So any showcase can only be a snapshot in time (in fact, there have been more changes since we started working on this showcase). But I recently sat down for an interview with Peter and his wife, Ashley, to learn more about the current iteration of their website, HastingsNow, and how they got to this point.
So how did HastingsNow get started?
Peter: I’m originally from here but bounced around a bit. When I moved back home, Ashley and I fell in love. And instead of hiring a wedding photographer, we bought a digital camera so we could start telling our own story.
Ashley had told me that she enjoyed photography. She had taken a class in high school, and I really liked the work that she showed me. So we took that digital camera we had gotten for the wedding. We’d go into a bar at one o’clock in the morning. I’d rip off 350 photos, and we might get two that worked, but it slowly became more efficient.
We made side deals with almost every business in every industry in town. We were, like, “is it okay if we just come in and take photos and anything that we come up with? We’re happy to share them royalty-free for you to repurpose because we believe you will need them.”
Back then, some small businesses didn’t even understand the importance of having a website. So we created a website, developed it into a platform, and gave everyone a micro website — sort of a profile with links, you know. And with all the photos we took, we were able to create this visual architecture of Hastings, where you could get lost for hours, just going down these rabbit holes. To us, everything mattered as long as it was local.
So that was sort of where we started. And then, during the recession, around 2008, we saw this article that our small town was running a contest to rebrand our city. So we pitched a concept. It was originally called “Good Morning, Hastings.com”. And the idea was that when everyone woke up in the morning, we would have something for them to tell them what was going on each day. We lost that pitch. But it’s funny because now, over ten years later, that’s what we have accomplished.
Why does Hastings need HastingsNow?
Peter: Unfortunately, Hastings has a stereotype of being a bedroom community. People will sleep here, but they’ll shop and do everything else outside of town. So we thought, maybe we can work on that narrative.
What ends up happening is you sort of create a product that benefits you personally. And so I went, “Okay, what content do I want that’s benefiting myself and my family and my friends? And if I’m solving a problem for myself, maybe I can expand that to other people.”
We designed an app at one point with the tagline “Hastings in the palm of your hands”, and we used Walls.io for it, and it was just so beautiful. We wanted to make sure that if anything is going on in town, you can find out about it on HastingsNow.
So how is HastingsNow set up?
Peter: At the very top, we might do a trending story. And then, below that, we do the top 10. And then, there are five different sections with a social wall each. So there’s something for people who are really into sports, the news, food and drinks, and they can quickly select what they’re looking for. It’s sort of like a directory. You see every single business in town.
We’ve tried to hand this to the city and the local Chamber of Commerce on a silver platter and have them rebrand it as their own. But it gets tricky with local politics.
But local business owners learn really quickly that, for a small amount per month, we can enhance their presence on HastingsNow.
Peter: Starting at $9 per month individuals and brands have the option to engage locally with the public and network with community leaders. Using Walls.io, members add content directly to relevant feeds that may be shared on various social networks — Snapchat, Tiktok, Instagram, Facebook, Stories, Reels, etc.
People check their feeds daily, and we wanted to be included in that. So we tried to come up with something short that is extremely valuable to our audience. We started creating these 1-minute videos called “Quick Minute”.
So what’s the Quick Minute?
Ashley: Every day, we look at the Walls.io feeds and take an existing story from one of the feeds and highlight it by adding voice, video, and transcription. After composing an original illustration, we share the “Quick Minute” on HastingsNow.com and its social networks.
Peter: Lately we find ourselves layering existing content found on the web to create stronger relevance and better connections. And the data shows that this has become a valuable part of people’s morning routine.
Who is your main target group?
Peter: People who live here, people who work here, people who visit here.
So there’s a tourism aspect to it as well?
Ashley: Yeah, if I were to visit some other town somewhere and if there was a platform like HastingsNow, I would use it to find out what’s happening in that area.
How do you promote HastingsNow to the community?
Peter: Usually, with local brands, it’s just, “hey, did you know this is possible?” I recently talked to someone who said they’re trying to reach the senior population. And I said, “well, one of the best things about Walls.io is you don’t need a login and password to access the content. And they can even add content themselves. Everybody in town can be their own newspaper, their own storyteller.” This person was floored.
We haven’t reached out to many businesses for sponsorship yet because we wanted first to show them how we’re using their content. We want to teach them which stories are really attractive, which ones people are consuming.
And we can already see some of the people and brands that are keeping an eye on us starting to change just a little bit. They’re posting more content, more photos. And when they see us pushing those out on the top 10, then things get interesting. Monetization becomes attainable.
You started using Direct Posts as well right when we released that feature, right?
Peter: Oh my gosh, we love it. We’re trying to keep the bar low for people regarding technical barriers. For example, Ashley was talking about garage sales this morning. I think it will come down to people seeing the utility in Direct Posts because they can just post, “hey, we’re doing a quick garage sale”, and put up some images.
The metaphor we’re using is that newspapers did a great job of bringing everyone to the table and serving them. We look at this as a potluck. We’re inviting everybody to bring their own flavor. It changes every day. And we’re just mixing the cauldron.
How do you promote HastingsNow to the general public rather than just local businesses?
Ashley: A lot of it has been word of mouth and then getting seen by people on social networks. There are different local Facebook groups: a Hastings Moms group and a Hastings Community group, which have thousands of people.
Peter: We also had posters in all the businesses, and we had window decals. We had business cards that were being handed out — that was when it was still “Hastings in the palm of your hand” — because every business was represented. So there was a huge incentive for the small businesses to promote us to the public.
And then we kept pivoting and pivoting and pivoting. I think they were getting a little bit tired, justifiably, because we kept trying new things. And it was hard to stay on point. But we knew we’d get there eventually.
So what’s the future of HastingsNow?
Peter: The future of HastingsNow.com lies in a virtual space we are calling “The Breakfast Club”. It’s a dedicated time where individuals and businesses may go to connect, explore ideas, grow together and flourish. We’ll have a weekly line-up of community leaders and local experts that add value. Because we are using Walls.io to provide native, organic and filtered feeds, it’s sort-of unlimited what this platform can do. At the end it’s all about finding ways to nurture healthy relationships.
Ashley: The goal is to perfect this model for Hastings and then design successful models in other towns or even industries. When this succeeds in Hastings, it will succeed anywhere.
Peter: I strongly feel that cities will not communicate correctly until they have a Walls.io-type experience. And I’m not going to feel good until all these other cities have a version of this. They’re doing their cities a disservice by not creating this type of platform. And using Walls.io could easily be one of the most cost-effective ways of promoting information locally.
Ashley: It seems the possibilities are endless with Walls.io. Different industries can use it for different things. For example, we talked about using it in the optical industry and breaking it down by lens companies, frame companies, and software companies that are all involved with eyewear. And then, it’s just endless with different industries.
I think it’s admirable how Peter and Ashley are working hard to find the perfect way to help their community create meaningful connections. And, obviously, I love that they’ve realised how big an asset social walls are for a community.
With Direct Posts, it’s incredibly easy to add content to a social wall without using social media networks. The feature also makes it easy for users to consume content without logging in to Facebook, Instagram, etc. Direct Posts are a low-threshold option and make content accessible to anyone regardless of technical level and involvement.
And that’s not the end of user-generated content either. The videos they create for HastingsNow are a great way to reuse and repackage content to promote the platform and the social walls.
I like that the website mentions that noncommercial content can be added for free. Monetisation comes into play only when businesses want to use the platform and social walls commercially.
Last but not least, HastingsNow, with its five social walls, allows people to access local stories but from a wider circle than if it was just their friend circle on social media. More information, and more community, but none of the noise that usually comes with social networks.
This showcase also demonstrates that you won’t always immediately find the right way to achieve your goals. Sometimes, it takes iteration. And in the case of HastingsNow, the journey has very much been the destination.
I fully believe Ashley and Peter will continue to iterate until they find the perfect way, though I could not predict what that will look like if I tried. These two are full of surprises, and it will be interesting to see how HastingsNow will develop in the future.