Learn to be like Google with these three rules

Megan Smith is Google's director of new business and strategy.  And Google knows a thing or two about both.


Since your business – especially if it's connected to broadcasting – is unlikely to have anyone with such a title on board, let alone unlikely to fancy that it needs one, you might be curious about what Megan's three rules are, and why Google believes in them so utterly.

As told by Alan Webber in his new book Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self

1. The consumer participates

2. The consumer drives

3. Open systems beat closed systems

Let's take each in turn…

1. The consumer participates

The line between producer and consumer is getting fuzzy.  

What is a "program director" in an era when listeners are programming their own iPods and Pandora stations, an era when some of us are creating radio programs for the rest of us?  

What is an "air talent" when listeners are podcasting their own content or, say, contributing parody songs to enhance your morning show?

What is a "news station" when the most current headlines come from Twitter, and a revolution is powered by YouTube?

We can blather on all we want with the comforting slogan that "radio is the original social network" but – right or wrong – what does that matter to today's audience?  After all, the Model T was the "original automobile."

If you don't open the gates for audience participation on-air and online, then you are hopelessly out of step with the times, and your audience will choose to participate without you and around you.

Shockingly, I can't even find a radio station website with so much as a "tell us what you think" response box on its front page.

If you don't want your listeners to participate and you don't care what they think, there's no better way to tell them so.

2.  The consumer drives

The gift of choice is that consumers choose.  And the era in which their choices were constrained by the broadcasters on an FM or AM dial are long gone.

Even today, however, I see broadcasters Hell-bent on attracting listeners to their websites and keeping them there, as if their audience didn't have a zillion options to choose from and every inclination to do so, regardless of what you want.

The goal isn't to try to glue listeners to our properties, but to make our properties so attractive that listeners want to go there.  The goal isn't to force listeners to our sites but to allow listeners to share our content wherever and with whomever they want – because they want to and because it's worth it to them.

As Webber writes: "Your job is to learn to accept the fact that you're not driving anymore…Your job is to create the most exceptional, enjoyable customer experience you can conceive of.  You're just another roadside attraction.  That's it."

When the customer is driving its imperative to know what that customer wants and where she wants to go.  Woe unto the broadcasters who fail to do their homework in this area. They will be playthings for Arbitron.

3. Open systems beat closed systems

Whether its the fall of the Berlin Wall or the current strife in Iran, nature gravitates towards open systems.

Historically, radio has been a closed system – an exclusive club with a limited supply of federally sanctioned members.  But thanks to the Internet, no more.

Even famously closed Apple throws open its doors to podcasters and radio streams and iPhone apps – and the primary sales pitch for the iPhone becomes not the calls you can make with it but the apps you can use on it – Apps which depend on an open system (albeit one with standards and an approval process).

It's still common to find radio groups that perceive all the answers to their digital problems reside within the corporate castle walls.  But nature suggests that such fixed, closed systems are extraordinarily vulnerable to environmental change.  Meanwhile open systems, writes Webber, "save money, increase speed, invite participation…break down barriers, promote pragmatism, spotlight talent, and reward real performance."

Better to be like Google.

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