05/25

Just how “Social” is Public Radio?

Let’s suppose you provided a very specific product – unique to the world.  Let’s suppose the demand for that product was enormous, so much so that many consumers of it do what most radio listeners would never do:  They actually pay for it.  Suppose the consumers for this product have enormous trust in the brand, a vast sense of “us” – a sense that we who consume this product are similar to each other in important ways and different from others who are apart from our community.  Let’s suppose the relationship to this brand is so strong that many consumers choose to do the unthinkable:  They actually frame their license plate with brand’s name.

The brand I’m talking about is Public Radio.  And all the characteristics I have described make that brand uniquely tuned for a social experience.

What do I mean by “social experience”?  I don’t mean they have a page that features the Twitter feeds of reporters and the ability to comment on stories, although those are “social” in kindergarten terms.

I mean an experience which allows me to play in the presence of the Public Radio “sandbox” with other fans like me.  A place where the community connects to each  other, not simply to the brand.

To begin with, this type of functionality requires a social sign-in (e.g., through Facebook).

In a presentation at a recent public radio technology conference I made the point that almost no public radio digital platforms use social sign-ins.  “Even NPR.org doesn’t have it,” I said.

The guy from NPR Digital was so appalled he just about fell out of his chair.

“You haven’t looked hard enough!” he said.

And he was right.  I had not looked hard enough.

And that raises the question:  Just how hard should I have to look?

In fact, there it is, in the upper-right-hand corner of the NPR.org site. Unfortunately, when I go to the trouble of using this sign-in I find that the benefits of doing so are hard to see.  And without clear benefits you might as well hide this in the upper-right-hand corner of the page, if you bother to provide it at all.

Social sign-in without a clear value to social sign-in is a waste of effort for publishers and consumers alike.

What Public Radio doesn’t seem to get is that the “media” in Public Media is not their media, it’s our media.  Yours and mine. We are the media in Public Media. We want to connect with others like us.  We want to see the world through our communal Public Radio lens – and I don’t just mean the “news” – I mean the world.  Where is the functionality that transforms NPR.org and other public radio sites into experiences that are about me and people like me?

I’m picking on Public Radio here rather than their commercial peers largely because their audiences are so perfect for this kind of strategy that its relative absence is puzzling.

“Social” is not a special page on the NPR.org site.  “Social” is a third dimension to every Public Radio platform.  “Social” is about me – about us – not just about your content and how we feel about it.  “Social” may not be about your content at all, but rather about the people who consume it.

When I put your license plate frame on my car, that’s a “badge” I want to share with others, especially others with the same “badge.”

Judging from most Public Radio digital platforms, you’d never know it.

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