Michael Stelzner is the creator of the fantastic site SocialMediaExaminer.com, one of the leading – if not the leading – social media strategy sites. Michael also is the author of a great new book called Launch: How to Quickly Propel Your Business Beyond the Competition (see the book’s official site here). Needless to say, Michael is also a radio listener and has lots to say about the intersection of radio and social media.
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What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Michael, broadcasters don’t just want to bring consumers to their digital platforms, they also want to engage people more effectively with their brands and attract more people to their radio stations. How can they propel their brands beyond the competition using the concepts in your book?
I introduce a simple concept in the book called “the Elevation Principle,” and it’s an equation which looks like this:
Great Content + Other People – Marketing Messages = Growth
People in the broadcasting world know what great content is. The “other people” component may or may not be so common in this world. “Other people” are experts that have amazing knowledge, and if you can figure out how to tap that and have them share that with your audience, that’s a source of great content. And it can also be a source of strategic partnerships.
The key to great content is not just to have awesome information and awesome people but to also subtract the marketing message.
This may sound contrarian to broadcasters because traditionally marketing is what funds broadcasting and traditional broadcasting obviously has a lot of expenses. But in the online world, it doesn’t have the kind of expense that it does offline, and because we live in this social era where Facebook and Twitter exist and people can connect with each other in a personal and a social way, people do not like commercials.
For example, have you ever been to a wedding that’s been sponsored by Nike? Or could you imagine receiving a gift and when you open it you have to sit through a 30-second infomercial before you can actually get to the present? No, of course not. Great content should be a gift, and in order for it to be perceived to be a gift, it has to be commercial-free. The second you start wrapping commercials around it, it’s like wrapping presents with infomercials.
Okay, let me stop you there, Michael. Many of my clients obviously are commercial broadcasters. “Commercials” are how they make a living. How can they use “the elevation principle” non-commercially as you described for the betterment of their brands in a commercial context?
It’s about ears and eyeballs.
If you can build a place that is fed by your great content where people want to keep coming back for more and you can build mechanisms to get them to come back for more – for example a subscription service that invites consumers to “sign up to be emailed every time we have a new broadcast” – then you’re building what I call a “back channel.” In that channel you can sell. In that channel you can do your marketing and advertisements, but you keep your primary channel completely commercial-free. Before you know it everybody will be talking about it, they’ll be sharing it, they’ll be singing your praises from the hilltops, they’ll be raving fans, and that’s what you want.
Let me give you an example. I’ll speak from my own experience. Social Media Examiner publishes video and we publish articles and we have one piece of content that we publish every day that is extremely content-rich, the kind of stuff that people go crazy over. It’s not just small stuff. It’s really deep stuff. People come to it for the first time and they love it and they want to come back for more so we offer them a free video called the “Facebook Marketing Video Tutorial” if they sign up for our daily broadcasts.
We have 83,000 people that get emails from us six days a week and in those emails is a one-paragraph description of the post of the day – even if it’s a video – and then a click that says ‘Go here to read it…’ or watch it or whatever and below that is a 70-word ad of some kind which is often for free stuff (the best kind of advertisement) like, ‘Go here for a free eBook’ – that’s somebody who is paying you for that exposure, but it doesn’t look like an ad.
So it doesn’t even smell or look like advertising but because it’s such a simple little broadcast that goes out everyday we have a very high retention rate. We only get about five to 13 people a day unsubscribing from our list but we add 500 people every single day using this model.
Wow, that’s amazing. What you’re saying is that broadcasters are not being creative enough or investing enough attention into ways to monetize these relationships the way consumers want to be monetized.
I think at the end of the day, instead of thinking about how can we monetize, we need to think about how can we own an audience. How can we build a massively big audience? At Social Media Examiner we didn’t do any monetization until we had 10,000 subscribers.
From clients every day I’m hearing the same thing: How do we monetize this? How do we monetize that? The emphasis is on monetization first, content second.
In the case of Social Media Examiner, we are turning away advertisers every day that want to advertise on our site because we’re a commercial-free environment. If we wanted to we could take ads but we know it would turn off the audience we are generating because we actually have something we sell which is events. We’ve generated $1.7 million in our first year just following this model.
In the case of a broadcaster you’re selling advertisements, I understand that, but you’ve got to have a list of consumers to bring the advertisers, and the way to grow the list is to be as clean in the beginning as possible. Advertisers are willing to pay way more money for an email blast than they are for display ads or for a mention in a recorded audio broadcast, so if you can figure out how to grow that email list and consider that your back channel upon which you can market, you can make a fortune.
In the radio space, a lot of the email lists that are generated are in the form of a Frequent Listener Club. And a lot of those lists are not very large.
You’ve got to ask yourself if people really care about that. What do people really care about? They really care about hearing from people who are absolute experts so why not do a special broadcast, bring an expert in and do this really exclusive piece of content and then have that be an incentive for someone to sign up for your broadcast or your email? Not just, ‘Hey, sign up because you love us and you’re our fans’ because that will never get you anywhere.
Just ask consumers what they want and give it to them. It’s that simple. I hate to say it.
How important is original content for the digital platform that is in tune with what our audience wants even if it doesn’t come directly from the air?
Very important. I call this the fuel for your rocket and there are two kinds, primary fuel and nuclear fuel. Primary fuel content is the kind of stuff that you produce on a regular basis with, say, a 72-hour shelf life.
Nuclear fuel is special stuff like contests that get people excited and motivate them to be involved. It requires more effort. It’s done less frequently but it gets a lot of attention.
The average broadcaster says, “All of this sounds great but we’ve got a lot of people wearing a lot of hats and nobody has that much time. We’re lucky that we can have an intern update our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.” What do you say to someone with that excuse?
I say they’re stuck in an old rocket ship and they can’t get out of the gravity and eventually that rocket ship is going to come crashing down and they’re going to regret it.
You should take a tiny bit of money and invest it in content creators. They’re cheap and they’re out there. They don’t have to work for your organization. It is not expensive at all, and if you don’t have the manpower in-house then get it from the outside. Start small, experiment with it and then once you get a taste of it, I can assure you that you’re going to want a lot more of it because the response is going to be crazy when you begin to see what you can do with this medium.
As a radio listener and a social media pro, what is your assessment of the radio industry’s social media performance?
I’m an AM radio guy so I listen to talk shows. I have to say these guys got it right early. There’s this guy named Hugh Hewitt, a conservative talk show host, who brought bloggers onto his radio show very early and started talking about how these bloggers were breaking news stories and how people should follow him on Twitter. He saw how this social medium was enabling him to do some pretty cool stuff.
I was really impressed. I think broadcasters on the music side could take some hints from those on the AM side, the talk show hosts who are generating all this content.
In general, the radio world is very slow to adopt the social media stuff. I have taken a look at some of the stuff that’s out there and there’s a long way to go.
The big challenge for radio is that it’s a linear medium and social media is not a liner medium. Television or radio, you have to listen throughout the content. You have to watch the whole content. But the social media world is a multi-tasking world. People are tweeting on their iPad while they’re on their couch watching television. I think it’s going to be a while before a lot of broadcasters truly figure this out.
Down the road I think cross-promotion is going to be key: Figuring out how to use blogs, Twitter, audio and video and of course the broadcast itself as you’re starting to see in television. You’re starting to see advertisers getting really creative in their commercials. Some of them are just mentioning Facebook pages – they don’t even reference their websites anymore. Figuring out how to integrate all these things is going to represent the future for broadcasters.
Suppose you were advising Hugh Hewitt or another radio host. What’s one additional thing they could do that would improve their social media platform?
It would be to set-up a Facebook page where people can come and ask questions and to monitor that page around the clock and make a policy that your question will be answered in less than two hours. What that will do is build a massive way to connect with your listeners and your viewers that you never had before. Right now they have to call and get into a caller queue. If they know they can go online and get their questions answered on your Facebook page, they’re going to be loyal, raving fans.