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“Radio Should Participate in Media” – a Q&A with author Ben McConnell

A No-Nonsense Marketing Smart Tip March 8, 2007

, one of the books which kick-started the word-of-mouth marketing craze. He and his partner Jackie Huba have just penned a new book,

. We talked about why “citizen marketing” matters, and what it means for radio.

Listen to the full 15-minute audio interview (what follows is only an abbreviated transcript).

Ben, what is a “citizen marketer?”

A citizen marketer is a person who creates content or media on behalf of a company or a brand, radio station, product, organization or even another person.

But we’re radio – we’re big media. We are the content creators; you listeners are content consumers, right? How does the phenomenon of the “citizen marketer” alter this worldview?

Well, several things are happening. One is that the tools for content creation are no longer affordable only for the big corporations. And this digital media allows people now to actually become their own broadcasters, become their own publishers. And they can do it for almost zero cost in many cases. The distribution systems now are no longer just within reach of those who can afford 400 foot broadcast towers and 50,000 watts of power and all the infrastructure that goes with that.

With social media, with blogs and podcasts, people can now create their own audiences and their own advertising systems using Google ads and essentially become a broadcaster. These tools and the availability of these tools now are allowing people to become participants in stuff. There are a lot of people who want to participate with content – create it and share it – not simply consume it.

So from the perspective of the broadcaster, is this “participation generation” a threat or an opportunity?

I think it’s absolutely an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to build audience – to increase the number of P1s that a radio station has, and to build a component of participation so those bonds become even stronger.

The threat for radio stations is that they have to invest more into their own content creation because now they’ll have to compete with their own listeners. Amateurs are creating content that is just as good if not better than what a lot of the big broadcasters are doing.

The real advantage that traditional radio has is in the infrastructure inherent to creating content, but now I think the challenge for radio is to invest more into talent development. I remember talking with somebody in the radio industry not long ago who told me it’s becoming a bigger challenge for radio stations to find talent. Radio’s not as attractive to potential talent as it used to be, and people won’t work basically for free just to get started in radio; and that’s becoming a bigger challenge.

This is another opportunity, I think, for radio in that the world of podcasters represents a pretty huge farm team of talent that radio could pick and choose from. Broadcasters should look for the rising stars in podcasting to become some sort of participant in or fulltime employee of the radio station itself.

Are you surprised radio has not hired more podcast stars?

Yeah, but I think now is the time for a forward thinking radio station or radio company to hire one of the rising stars of podcasting and to be one of the first and probably garner a pretty good amount of publicity for it, whether it’s somebody like Leo Laporte, who podcasts about technology or somebody else. I think there’s a real opportunity for a pretty smart and ambitious broadcasting company to be the first.

You know, an established podcaster brings an audience into the system right away, and if they’re really good, they bring a passionate audience with them because their passion follows the podcaster’s passions.

How can radio use some of these democratizing tools to attract listeners into their own communities and power that effort?

Broadcasters can democratize their audience participation into communities, online communities. While I know there are many radio stations that have their own loyalty programs, now is the time to take it from a one-way conversation to fostering a community meeting point for listeners to meet one another and to build conversations – conversations not only between the station and the listener but between the listeners and each other.

What do you say to a broadcaster who says all this is nice, but we have to make financial goals this quarter and not worry about stuff like this that could create a distraction in the short run?

Well, I think you take small steps. Social media is a tsunami that is washing across the cultural landscape of everyone in America and across the world.

Stations will either have to adjust their structures to insulate themselves against this social media onslaught and actually take action to become participants in it, otherwise the water will begin to slowly rust away the underpinning of the broadcaster’s revenue model.

Are you surprised that radio has been slow to dive into social media?

Not to slam any of my friends in radio, but I think radio would do well to participate in media. They are media. I know many radio stations now have responsibilities to shareholders and costs have to be minimized. But social media is a longer-term strategy, and the stations that think about it that way are the ones that are going to succeed.

And what is the risk for the radio industry if we don’t awaken to the power of these social media tools and the trends that are shaping the communications landscape?

Well, under-25’s are growing up with these digital tools, and it’s second nature to them: cell phones, instant messaging, text messaging. The cell phone is the Star Trek communicator that basically does everything. Radio station owners and managers have to recognize that the tools people use are dictating how they will spend their time.

As Marshall McLuhan famously said, “As we shape our tools, our tools shape us.” And the digital tools we are using are indeed shaping us and how we participate in entertainment. Today, it’s about connection. You have to understand that mindset of the people who are using those tools in order to succeed.

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