Social Media and the Media


There was a pretty good radio industry article on AllAccess about the uncharted territory of social media and its relation to radio stations. This may sound a bit boring to my regular readers, but in my former life, I used to direct the social media strategy of a group of radio stations. The stations were kind of late to the social media game, but because I was pretty knee-deep in the stuff (and went to conferences and seminars on it), they pegged me as “the guy who understands this whole Facebook/Twitter thing.”

Well, anyone who tells you that they are a social media expert, is stretching the truth because the reality is that even for those who work for Facebook, Google and Twitter haven’t quite figured out the dimensions of this thing yet. Oh sure, they are quick to sell your browsing habits to anyone who wants to buy ads on their platform, they’ve amassed tons a data that we (as users) have given them freely, they are constantly changing the “look” of the user interface, privacy settings (mostly Facebook), and are trying to make it look like you have to be using their service to connect, promote, and hangout. If you don’t…well, you’re just out in the cold, aren’t you. The message being: everyone’s doing it, so why shouldn’t you?

So, as we join this and that social network and take part in the process of status updates, tweets, and sharing what’s new, businesses are wondering, “Hey how do I get my message in front of all those people.” Well, for some businesses, buying access on social network and creating novel ways to piss people off  advertise may work (i.e., “Bob likes his Toyota Avalon. Find out why!” Or, “Mary is listening to “Fences” by Paramore on Spotify”), but what about radio stations?

Sure we listen to them, but do we want to be “social” with them? What do we get out of the experience? Well, that was the challenge when I was in charge of social media. For the stations I was working for, they had launched new online streams and wanted people to listen. So, it was decided to do what radio stations have always done when they want to get more listeners: they pay them. How many radio contests have you heard that promise a chance to win cash, front row concert tickets, a new car, a vacation to Hawaii and the like? Well, that’s paying people to listen. Sure, only a very small percentage of listeners will actually win the “big prize” but it creates a buzz, some excitement, and gets people thinking about your station that has that contest. It’s a very old trick, and tends to work pretty well to boost listenership…or at least it used to.

Then came social media, and the game changed.

Now that we’re an on-demand and a me-centric culture – because social media conditions us to shift the center of the universe to ourselves — media entities like radio can become less alluring because instead of getting what you want when you want (i.e., the Internet), one has to wait for things (i.e., a song, a traffic report, a contest, news, etc.) when listening to the radio. In other words, there’s an alternative to old media. If you have a smart phone, you don’t have to wait. Want to hear that song you love now? Just launch Rdio or Spotify. Want traffic reports? Well, there’s an app for that. News? Weather? Sport? It’s all there for you with just a push of a button. Why do you need radio? Well, to be frank, people get tired of being their own program director, and want someone else to drive for a while. Radio fills that hole. But do you want a radio station to be in your social network? Well, it’s possible, but what do you get out it? A connection with the DJs? If they are on the same social media platforms as you, their special status kind of gets flattened. They are no longer “stars” whose ability to entertain and inform is unique. Rather, they are just another “friend” in a person’s network. Get it? You (i.e., a station) are on the same plane as other Like pages. You’re not that special preset on a radio, but are part of hundreds of status updates clogging up a newsfeed all vying for attention. Prizes? Well, I suppose there will always be people who want to win stuff and will play contests. But can’t they get that from listening to the radio? Why do I need a “Win Cash” update on my Facebook wall messing with my gossip time about someone I knew in high school or college? How about special knowledge about songs and artists? Sorry, radio…Wikipedia has got you there. Funny and entertaining?  YouTube.  You’ll see the best and worst in humankind — and some of it is funny and entertaining.

All is not lost, however (and from here on out, I’m talking to people who own radio stations)…

Radio stations are brands…you already reinforce your brand with what you program on the air. There’s no need to duplicate what you do on the air on social networks. Look at Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. They don’t always tweet out what’s coming up on their show. They mix it up with funny observations about politics, news, and life in general. People like that because the content is separate from what’s on TV. If Stewart and Colbert just recycled jokes from their shows on Facebook and Twitter, I would wager that people wouldn’t follow and Like them as much as they do now.

Think of your social network as another channel of your brand, but the way you interact with your so-called “friends” is to give them content that’s related to what you program over the airwaves. What you don’t what to do is something like this: you’re a country station and you post information and links about dubstep. That’s not “another channel,” that’s another dimension in the space-time continuum that’ll make your social media followers unfollow you pretty quickly. However, what if you found a YouTube clip that had the isolated vocal tracks of a core artist that you play. You post it, with a detailed comment about how you love his or her voice and ask if your followers have favorites of that artist they’d like to share with you. If the conversation goes well (let’s say you get 20-30 comments), then spotlight the most poplar song that keeps coming up in the comments and play it on the air. Don’t make it gimmicky. Just do it organically…and let your audience know that this came out of a great conversation you had on Facebook or Twitter. Think of that example as an updated request line. It’s asking the audience to take part in programming the radio station in a small way.  If you actually follow through, then it becomes special and it builds a brand loyalty.

Also, tell your jocks who have access to your Facebook and Twitter accounts this: Don’t post just to post. It comes across as stupid and spammy — even though most of the content on social networks are stupid and spammy. Why cheapen your brand by acting like those addicts who just fill up your news feed with utter drivel? If your jocks (I’m talking about DJs, by the way) put time and effort into show prep so what they say on the air is worth the listener’s time, why not do the same for social networking? When I was a jock, there was usually one break on an air shift that would go on my “master reel” I would use as a demo of my work. If I didn’t have one break that I thought was pretty great, I knew that I didn’t put any time and effort into prepping for my show. Think of a Facebook post or tweet in a similar way. You’re reinforcing your brand (both the station’s and your personal brand) with good content, so why half-ass it? If you’re a jock, a salesperson, or work in promotions, you try to put your best foot forward when you represent the station, right? So it should be for your station’s social network. If your station is irreverent, then being irreverent on your social network is totally fine. That’s what your audience expects. Your station has an identity. Your jocks have identities that are similar to your station (that’s why you hired them, right? They project the “voice” of your station), so remind them that they are still “on the air” when they are on the station’s social networks. They should personalize their posts in a way that keeps the “listener benefit” front and center. Yes, I know…social networking has become all about “Planet Me! Me! Me!” but have you noticed that when you invite others to opine on this or that topic, many accept that invitation and comment on your post? Oh, and if you getting a lot of comments per post, make sure you reply to what’s being said. People like to know that their opinions count. You don’t have a reply to each person individually, but group and tag them in the reply so they know that they’ve been “heard.”

Doing all this will not net you any more listeners, nor will it help your advertisers increase their sales (that’s what on-air commercials are for) but it will reinforce your brand. And as the author of the AllAccess piece pointed out, it will create an affinity between you and your audience.

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