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Radio’s Social Media Performance is Pathetic

Worse than pathetic:  Atrocious.

Let’s assess…

First, let me be clear:  I’m not talking so much about public radio – the service-oriented folks – but about commercial radio – the folks who make the money and have all the incentive to make more.

The average commercial radio station – and here I’m talking about the average one with a website or maybe even the average one with an online radio stream, neither of which are quite average – has dipped its toe into social media in the following way:  It has a Facebook fan page and a Twitter feed.  Or one or the other.


Let’s light up the big sign and signal the applause.

What do we do with these assets?  We put stuff on them and count the number of people who “like” or follow us on them. We celebrate a number that’s higher than the competitor’s across the street, pat ourselves on the back, and go back to our day jobs.

Sound familiar?

Let me try to explain this so it makes sense:

Your radio station is to a radio network as any one of your listeners is to her network of friends, her “social network.”  And “social media” describes the content and the pipeline for that content people choose to share with their friends.  Where there’s no sharing, there’s no “social” and no “media.” Social media is not a promotional vehicle per se for your station.  It is a network of relationships that live outside you – it is a set of connections you can be part of only if the participants in those relationships want you there.  It is not “you push, they consume.”  It’s more “you join in, and they share.”

When social media is ignored by radio or, worse, abused, it reflects poorly on us all.

Case and point:  I had a client I’ll call Station A with extensive use of Facebook comments on its front page (one of the very few such stations which boasts actual listener comments on its website, by the way – God forbid).  With each comment comes a thumbnail representing the Facebook user.  So their competitor, Station B, sets out to disrupt this by encouraging their own Facebook users to change their thumbnail images to Station B’s logo and plant some comments on Station A’ site. Result: Station B’s logo appears Station A’s site.

Are you serious?  No, I mean ARE YOU SERIOUS? Do you call this “marketing”?  Do you call this “joining the conversation”?  Do you call this “respecting the audience and adding value to their lives?”  Here’s what I call this:  Stupid. And ultimately self-destructive.  Because what kind of relationship does a consumer have with a brand that uses her to piss of its competitor?  It’s also, by the way, easy to un-do and ultimately pointless.  My client carries on. The competitor continues to lurk in the dim and low-ranked shadows of the ratings.  Well done.

Another illustration:  A major broadcast group which has received much praise for its online assets, some of which is deserved.  But visit one of their most prominent stations and check out how many replies they’re getting to their blog posts, which are central to their site design. This leading station in one of America’s largest markets features posts with less audience interaction than I have fingers on one hand.  How good is your content when consumers don’t react to it?

A final illustration:  A provider of a customizable mobile radio solution gave a demonstration to a familiar broadcast group where he highlighted the ability of his product to map the listeners – each individual listener – by location and other variables.  I’m talking about people who are listening right now and in real time.  All thanks to the magic of Facebook integration and tapping the so-called social graph.  Can you do that?  Because you’re about to compete against it.  How are those meters working out for you now?

And those are examples from the front lines of radio’s social media effort – the good ones.  Far easier to find are the folks in the back.  The ones with the zombie Twitter feeds or the Facebook pages with inches of digital dust on them.

Do these broadcasters realize that Pandora (as only one example) knows infinitely more about each one of its 60 million consumers than the average radio station knows about any of theirs?

Do they realize that the audience will give up information to you that allows your advertisers to target them with relevant messages – assuming your value is worth the “price” they pay and assuming you’re not forcing them to jump through a lot of hoops?  Indeed, this capability is now easier than ever, as Pandora and Facebook together prove.

Do they realize that the Internet is all about customizing content to my own personal tastes and I have yet to see a radio station site that allows me, the consumer, to personalize that content in whole or in significant part (I know you’re out there, so let me know who you are)?  Where’s MY version of the WXXX experience?  Don’t you think I’d give you more attention if you only gave some back to me?

Do they realize that social media is about listening, not just talking?  And listening means inviting input and responding to it.  I complained on Twitter about a problem I was having with AT&T U-Verse at home.  An AT&T rep responded to me via Twitter within hours.  That is listening.  Are you listening?

The fact that social media is all about conversation can be construed as a cliche or as marching orders.  If it’s the latter then we had all better start marching.

Radio as an industry is at risk of being largely deaf to the social interaction of the very audience upon which its future depends.  We are on the verge of being left out of the conversation entirely and being left behind by the advertisers who want in on that conversation.

It is in the wake of this sad state of affairs that I was thrilled to see a private demonstration of a comprehensive solution to this problem coming this fall from Triton Digital.  I’m guessing others are working on solutions, too, but this is the first one I have seen close-up and it was particularly jaw-dropping.  More on that shall be revealed soon, I’m told.

Radio can have a huge stake in social media thanks in no small part to our powerful megaphones.  But will we wake up and jump in?

In the meantime, who is doing a great job of diving into the social media conversation?  Tell your story here, lavish praise on some superstars and hidden gems, and show the way for an industry where too many broadcasters have fingers in their ears and palms over their eyes.

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