Radio’s Secrets of Socialnomics – Q&A with author Erik Qualman

Erik Qualman is the author of a terrific new book called Socialnomics: How social media transforms the way we live and do business

Click below for the full and unedited audio Q&A with Erik.  The transcript which follows is abbreviated.

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Erik, what is “socialnomics,” exactly? 

Socialnomics is really simple. It’s just any exponential return that both people and businesses derive from social media. 

So, obviously you get a return, but then it’s the exponential piece that really takes it to the next level. The exponential piece is really “word of mouth,” so to speak, and that’s what socialnomics is all about.

Everyone recognizes the importance of social media in the broadcasting world. Everyone wants to have a Twitter feed or more than one. Everyone wants to have a Facebook fan page or more than one. What’s the difference between viewing this stuff as tactics and viewing it as a part of a broader strategy? 

Some people just jump in and try to start selling right away – it’s analogous to going to a cocktail party. Let’s say you walk up and say, “Hey, I’m Erik Qualman. Here’s my business card, and this is why I’m great.” You wouldn’t do that. Socially, it’s not the norm. 

So let’s take a step back, what are the four main components of social media? 

First, to listen, second to interact, third to react, and fourth is the soft sell. 

If you do the first three, the selling is going to take care of itself, but it begins with listening: What’s the conversation about you, your brand, your radio show, etc? 

The second is to start to interact – to join the conversation. 

The third is really important because it’s means you are adjusting your product and service based on those conversations. If 80% of the people are giving you feedback that, “Hey, I’d really like if you did this…” and you’re not doing anything about it, then you’re not going to be able to sell. 

A lot of companies still sit out on the sidelines with their arms folded saying “show me the ROI.” Well that’s similar to not answering the phone if your customer is calling in. 

It’s just amazing that you’re exposed to this conversation. Your audience has always had these conversations, but now you have transparency into these conversations about your radio show, about your product, about your service. 

For many broadcasters, before the first dollar is spent they’re looking for the first dollar and a half to come back, and I think that’s causing a lot of people to view these as marketing tools for their radio stations, their broadcast properties. And what you’re describing with your four steps – you didn’t mention “marketing” in any of those words. 


And then if I produce videos on YouTube, I listen first to what I think is going to interesting to the user base. So the first video I did was about why social media is not just a fad – a lot of people were getting push-back saying “it’s just a fad.” And so I listened to that and knew that there were many who had that “pain point,” and that’s when I put together that four-minute video which now is over 1.2 million views. But again, within that video I didn’t put a cover of my book. I didn’t splatter “Socialnomics” throughout the video. It just delivered what the customer needed. And then from there, that’s when you really start to engage people in what their tweeting about the video, and you can reach out to them and go “Hey, thanks for the positive feedback on the video. If there’s anything you want in the future, let us know. Oh and if you read my book, let me know your thoughts.” So it’s not really selling. 

Yeah, it’s analogous to a conversation I had recently with Gary Vaynerchuk who indicated that a lot of the stuff he does is what he termed “second level selling” – that the content itself isn’t what sells but you sell stuff because of what you do with that content. That’s what you’re describing, isn’t it? 

Exactly. Gary is a phenomenon. If you had him on the show, you know that he took his business from 4 million to 50 million dollars in revenue primarily through the use of social media. But I love his term, the “second level,” it’s not the first level that actually sells; it’s really the second level. 

This stuff isn’t easy. A lot of people sit back and go, “Well, we just want it to sell and want it to be easy.” Well, a lot of that second level requires rolling up your sleeves and really working to have that relationship, because relationships are work. But in the end, that’s when you get some benefit from it – both sides of the relationship benefit. 

Not only is it not easy, it’s extraordinarily difficult because a lot of work is required. I hear a lot of people on the broadcast side complain about how stretched their resources are – people are stretched, and where can they find the time for this? What’s your answer to those people?

Don’t try to “boil the ocean” from the get-go. Just enter the space first and understand you’re going to make mistakes, so don’t be afraid. Just jump right in and pick the application or the medium that’s going to have the best chance for success. So let’s say for Gary, it’s YouTube. That’s his best chance for success. Once he sells that success, then his next step is Twitter, and then his next step is to go offline and write the book Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion

So just take step-by-step approaches. 

What’s your assessment of the good, the bad, and the ugly from radio broadcasters with regard to social media? 

There’s one thing radio can learn from non-radio podcasts 

Some of these podcasts are starting to integrate the advertising into the actual content, which is funny because it’s going back almost to the 1950’s when the advertiser was part of the content. It’s not just a 30-second interruption, a “shouting break.” It’s actually funny and part of the content. 

ESPN does a great job of this with some of their podcasts for their fantasy football. They’ll have Combos, the snack, as their sponsor and when people write in to the show, you get a better chance to be on the show if you incorporate Combos into the actual question you have. So it’s, “Hey, I’ve got a Combo of running backs, Edgerrin James and Laurence Maroney, who should I start this weekend?” So ESPN really gets the user involved and so it’s actually a benefit. It becomes funny and part of the shtick of the show rather than an interruption. 

So your point is that it’s possible to integrate these things, not just as a straight mention but actually marry them to content in such a way as an advertiser benefits and the audience isn’t robbed of precious entertainment. 

Yes, exactly. 

And another thing that’s interesting: CNN has embraced social media probably the most of any media outlet, and they understand it goes back that old business model – if you’re a local newspaper, the key is to get many local names in the newspaper because someone will go buy that newspaper if her name’s in there. CNN really understands that, and so they have people send in tweets and questions during the show and they read these – they understand that this keeps the audience engaged because it all comes back to “me.” Am I going to be mentioned on CNN? 

It’s kind of like a call-in request, right?

Yes, exactly right. 

What could radio do that its not doing now? 

Radio should have a producer monitor social media to to see what conversation is going on during the show. Figure out what’s good, what’s bad, and adjust your show the next time that you do it. Also, try to respond to that in real time if you can. And when prepping for the show, go to the social bookmarking tools like Delicious or Digg and figure out what’s being bookmarked the most so that you know what’s the hottest story. Or you can use tools like Google blog search and figure out what’s being written about, what’s being re-tweeted the most. Obviously, you have a better chance for success if you deliver good content that people are interested in. 

I think it’s worth stressing that one of your four elements is doing something about the interaction. First is listening, second is interacting, third is doing something about it, in other words completing the feedback loop. That’s really important, isn’t it? And I don’t see a lot that happening in the radio world. 

No, it’s really important. Most of the time, especially if you get a negative comment and you reach out to that person you’ll usually find they just want to be listened to, they just want to know that someone is out there doing something. And all of a sudden that person went from a negative post to being your greatest advocate because you did something about their concern. And then they’re going to sell your product even harder than you are because you actually helped them and addressed what they thought was a good idea to adjust the product or service, or the radio show or whatever. 

Since radio really has two constituencies – the advertisers and the audience – one would think that a lot of these social media tools could apply towards radio’s relationships with advertisers too, not just audiences, right? 

Yes, by all means. You can figure out exactly what are the “pain points” of that advertiser, what are they going through, and you can use social media to listen to what’s happening to them and also listen to their customer. Obviously that advertiser has customers, so you can listen to what I call the “downstream conversation” (the customer’s customer) and you can determine, for example, that what their customers are wrestling with is the topic of a show we’re doing, so it would be a good opportunity for you guys to advertise during that show. 

Well, especially given the fact that the radio station’s customer only uses the radio station because they want to connect more effectively to their own customers, right? 

Right, exactly. 

One of the lines in your book is “Successful companies and social media will function more like entertainment companies, publishers, or party planners rather than as traditional advertisers.” What do you mean by that? 

I think going back to Gary, he’s a good example because he’s providing content. He’s providing entertainment and also knowledge about wine. If you don’t know who Gary Vaynerchuk is, he provides really a different kind of take on a wine connoisseur: He’s not stuffy but he’s out there providing content. That’s one example. 

In answer to the question, “who stand the potential to be the big losers in the world of socialnomics” you named “traditional media.” Why do you feel this way and what do we do about it? 

Sometimes an industry is so big, even if you wanted to move and react to this stuff, it’s really hard to, but you can. So many of the losers are going to be middle-men. 

If you look at the music industry, for example, the music industry could have embraced the digital platform and said “hey, you know what, this is outstanding. Now, I don’t have to pay for a distribution, mailing. I don’t have to worry about stealing in the stores, etc. Now, it’s basically 100% margin. Once I pay the band, this goes straight to the customer in the form of a digital file.” But they didn’t do that; instead they fought it because they wanted to make the money as they’ve always made it, and they ended in a very poor space: iTunes. Apple and iTunes had come in and dominated that, and now you see that repeating itself in the book industry. 

Another example: More and more people, including myself, are getting rid of their cable fees so they don’t pay $150 and instead watch television online. Instead of fighting this, why don’t you embrace the idea that it makes sense that television is going to be served through an IP address because now the tracking is much more salient and they have a lot more data that you can provide to your advertiser. So instead of fighting this embrace it, because now you have more data that you can use with your advertisers. 

So I’m looking for the clear analogy to radio and I think it might be that last point you just made. You’re arguing that just as television can be more effectively and profitably monetized because of the richer data available through online tracking, the same could be true of radio, yes? 

Yes, thank you. Radio likewise can be served to the IP address. So you start to engage with the community that way, you can tell where your listening base is coming from, what they’re talking about, what their “pain points” are, and then you can actually have more of a community feel with the listener.

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