What is now Front Porch Forum started out as a way for Michael Wood-Lewis and his wife to find out what was going in their Five Sisters neighborhood of Burlington.
Seventeen years later, and that digital bulletin board has grown into a full-time business with 14 employees, covering 185 “neighborhoods” and 130,000 members stretching the length and breadth of Vermont. The service recently boasted its one millionth posting.
“It’s always been amazing how much neighbors turn to neighbors … to exchange, news, tips and questions and offers and ask for help and advice,” Wood-Lewis said.
It’s simply human nature, he added, for people to ask their friends and neighbors for advice. So whether it’s finding a mechanic, carpenter or pet sitter, Front Porch Forum gives members the opportunity to reach a wider audience in a digital format.
Members receive emailed newsletters for their specific town or area that lists upcoming events, items for sale (there’s no charge), as well as queries for help or advice.
The service has a more formal business side, as well. Front Porch Forum has compiled a statewide directory of 7,000 businesses and nonprofits with a heavy emphasis on one-person businesses.
Karen Fahey always works to get the biggest bang for the buck for her clients.
“One of the beautiful things about Front Porch Forum is we call it a hyper-local platform because you can basically reach by county,” said Fahey, president of Karen Fahey Advertising in Stowe.
She said that allows the advertiser to target its message to a specific area as opposed to adopting a shotgun approach.
The other selling point is that Front Porch Forum has a community feel.
“Every one of these forums; they’re a little different as to how people use their forum in their own community,” she said.
It’s not just businesses that use FPF, state and local governments have gotten on board as well, including the state Agency of Transportation.
AOT spokesman Erik Filkorn said the agency has bought advertising to get the word out on a public meeting or survey on transportation issues.
“The way we use the Front Porch Forum more often though we have a sort of a custom subscription with them that allows us to post on any forum in the state,” Filkorn said.
He said that comes in handy when the they need to quickly notify residents in a certain area about road closures or paving projects.
“So that’s a way to get hyper-local stuff into inboxes of people in the town that it matters,” Filkorn said.
He said the AOT pays $15,000 a year for its subscription service.
Businesses on Front Porch Forum are listed by category. The listing in the directory is free but the company also offers a paid service.
“With the business access plan, you get listed in the business directory and if you do the paid version you get listed a little more prominently,” Wood-Lewis said. “But the other half of the business access plan is the ability to post in your local Front Porch Forum (e-newsletter).”
Businesses buy ads for a specific group or groups of neighborhoods. For example, although it has several Front Porch Forum neighborhoods, for advertising purposes Rutland County is sold as one neighborhood.
“Rutland County is one ad area right now,” Wood-Lewis said. “So if that’s the route you choose to go, your ad will run in all the Front Porch Forums in Rutland County.”
Because of its size, Burlington is divided into three advertising areas, each with a cluster of FPF neighborhoods, he said.
“Truth be told we never found any advertiser who wants to advertise in just one neighborhood,” he said.
Wood-Lewis said the local flavor of each FPF neighborhood is a key draw for users which in turn is a selling point when it comes to advertising.
“Advertisers are interested in geographically targeting and that is definitely a strength,” he said.
Learn more or join at frontporchforum.com.