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Hey Radio, What Happens Next?


I heard a story recently from a Buzzfeed exec.

As part of their never-ending experimentation with new platforms – and as part of their desire to play a joke on the boss – they filled the boss’s office with goats and hay while the boss was temporarily away at a meeting. What would happen when he came back to his office to see…that?!

The whole scene ran on Facebook Live and the metrics, as with all things Buzzfeed, were through the roof.

But here’s the interesting part of the story:

While the goats were grazing around the office all alone views grew and grew and grew.

But when the boss returned and encountered the scene, views quickly crashed.

In other words, interest ramped up during the build-up – the suspense.

But once the suspense was over – once the climax had been reached – few wanted to wait around to see what happened next. Because not much was going to be happening next. The suspense – the joke – was over.

So what’s the lesson here for folks in the audio space, folks obsessed with audience retention?

What are you doing to build and sustain suspense?What are you doing to build and sustain suspense? Click To Tweet

A “tease” is not necessarily suspense. Not unless it makes you hunger for what’s ahead. Only suspense is suspense.

A “forward promo” is not necessarily suspense. It could be nothing more than an “announcement” about content you’re about to sell me next that matters more to you than to me. Only suspense is suspense.

The not-so-secret secret of the Serial podcast, after all, is that every episode left you asking “What’s going to happen next?”

This is the same “secret” that drives all TV, all movies, all good books, all drama and storytelling of any kind.

One of the problems of audio – especially radio and online radio – is that it is so consistent, so always “now,” that it never builds to anything other than more “consistently now.” That’s great for fulfilling expectation, but it’s not so great for stoking retention and creating “must-hear-next.”

Ditto for morning shows built on benchmarks and bits, brief and self-contained, building to nothing but the next benchmark or next bit.

What is a “driveway moment,” after all, but the victory of suspense over behavior? “I’d turn off my car right now and go into my house, but then I’ll miss what happens next.”

Unless you create a hunger for what happens next, you will fail to create any hunger at all.

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