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social media should be fully interleaved with your company’s total communications plan

Radio: The original social media
31 August, 2010 11:18:00

Neil Glassman
I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I fell in love with it as a kid that radio was one of the original social networks. AM had Top 40 formats (mashups), DJ shout outs (tweets), contests to win logo T-shirts (badges) and exclusive clubs to which everyone belonged (Facebook groups). I got into late night talk shows (blogs), which had an intimacy and affinity with listeners that radio has lost and web social networks have yet to fully discover. Later, FM jocks changed my music buying habits and political views (influencers).

Now that I have one foot firmly planted in social media and the other precariously in radio, I note that radio has evolved away from its “social” roots, with radio brands failing to fully leverage the new social media platforms that could bolster their listenership and bottom lines. There are many pundits more informed than I am who can predict whether better integration with the other social media platforms can help “save” radio. My position is that the other social media platforms are tools that can help radio in the here and now.

It’s always good to start by establishing a few basics, such my definition of social media and my biases when it comes to broadcast radio.

I despise the terms “new media” and “old media”. Let’s use “linear media” to refer to those platforms — broadcast radio and TV, newspapers, magazines, etc. — that are fundamentally unidirectional. User participation requires a back channel — postal mail, telephones or private emails.

“Digital media” puts two-way communication on the same technology pipe. A website serves content based on my requests, drawing content from a variety of sources in a non-linear fashion. “Social media” is an advanced form of digital media with a content provider hosting a media stream on a platform that allows significant user generated content. Social media grants users the ability to interact with the collective, as well as other users individually — user connections are non-linear.

Me? I’m a lifelong radio listener who still gets chills when a jock pulls off a flawless segue. I admire the radio personality who — though s/he is communicating with me via a point-to-point data network, with no eye contact — sounds like s/he is talking directly to me, along with hundreds (or hundreds of thousands) of others.

I’m also a big branding guy. That’s how I make my living — helping businesses that sell to other businesses (B2B) create and maintain strong brands as the foundation of their marketing. You may have noticed I used the phrase “radio brands” above, when you might have been expecting “radio station” or “radio group”. It’s your brand — whether your company consists of a bunch of studios and a tower or data centers and electrons flowing through networks — that defines your business. If it does not match your brand — or, better yet, enhance your brand — perhaps you shouldn’t be doing it.

When we speak of social media, let’s not ignore the “social” elements of “linear” broadcast radio. I was fortunate to have been with Telos Systems when its telephone hybrids vastly improved the sound of call-in and talk radio just as those formats experienced exponential growth. The technology of talk radio is social; the use of the telephone for a back channel does not seem out of place because it predated digital media platforms. Stations with local call-in and talk are better poised to have a brand that is social, as opposed to stations with their own brands subjugated by the brands of national hosts. I’m not saying it can’t be done by the latter group — I’m just saying it’s more difficult.

During my tenure at Telos, I helped promote a George Clinton audio concert to demonstrate Macromedia Shockwave — the precursor to Flash — that turned out to be the first multimedia event to grind the Internet to a halt because too many were trying to log in. Of course, the technology got much better. Was I naive to think that streaming technology would be embraced by radio brands as a way to decentralize programming sources and increase their potential audiences to, well, everyone in the world? Not quite how it played out.

Streaming’s social potential has been demonstrated by platforms that allow favorites and playlists to be shared. Most of the streaming platforms also facilitate sharing with other social media platforms. Last.fm is an example of a social streaming platform. Remind me to ask someone at CBS why the powerful CBS brand is not more prominent on Last.fm.

Stations have the option of adding HD Radio. The technology was (and still is) flawed, but the radio industry has managed with far-from-perfect tools in the past and used them with great success. Endless-loop tape cartridges stand out as an example. HD Radio was the hand we were dealt and, better than no hand at all, I was a strong proponent of the technology.

I was persistent and insistent — did any of you attend one of my presentations on behalf of BE? — when describing to programmers and managers how HD Radio created new potentials for innovation and profits. But the introduction of HD Radio in the US met the perfect storm of roadblocks — the decline of radio advertising, the recession and the failure of consumers to consider broadcast radio as an element to be included in their digital entertainment toy box. That last one may be partially attributed to the attraction and growing popularity of social platforms; there is nothing inherently social about HD Radio not found in analog broadcast radio.

Though we are still in the early stages of the social media evolution, its rapid rise and successful use by brands to increase sales tells us we can’t ignore it. Actually, we have to incorporate it into our sales and marketing or our brands will be left behind. New platforms — like location based services, such as Foursquare and Gowalla — continue to roll out and are embraced by consumers. Social media is blossoming in the recession; imagine what might happen after recovery.

When I say radio brands must engage in social media, I don’t mean just getting a Facebook page, a Twitter account, etc. These current platforms may or may not achieve permanence. Think of another social media platform for early adapters — CB radio. The technology is far less important than what the drivers wanted to do with it.

Research shows that brands that engage in social media with strategies are far more likely to profit from their efforts than those without strategy. No surprise there. The good news is that the best successes stories in social media are B2C — business to consumer — representing your relationship with your listeners. The bad news is that B2B — business to business — how you get your revenue, is less proven.

Radio brands have assets appropriate to social networking that presently are just slides on business plan PowerPoint decks in some other industries:

– Local radio brands are expert at building loyalty/community among listeners.

– You’ve got experience earning both national and local advertising.

– No matter how the mudslinging over FM chips in mobile phones shakes out, your brand is portable to nearly every mobile phone using social media. And your signal is portable to nearly every smart phone.

– There are just so many hours in a day people can listen/watch/chat/etc. Your task is to retain and increment your listeners and advertisers; new entrants concentrate solely on conversion, which is based on their being compelling to your audience and you’re not.

I recently did a webinar on B2B leads generation and conversion using social media entitled, “Why B2B Leads from Social Media Are More Like Joe Biden than Lady Gaga.” One of my key points was that a brand’s social media must be a part of — not apart from — it’s overall strategy.

Many companies are uncertain whether digital media activities are the responsibility of marketing, sales, customer service, human resources or some other department — the answer is all of the above. Note that I said digital media, as some brands are still having this internal debate about their websites as well as their social media.

To be successful, social media should be fully interleaved with your company’s total communications plan. This may require internal education and, sometimes, a change in corporate culture. If, as one outstanding marketer told me, Facebook will become the operating system of the Internet, brands cannot risk failing in the social media universe due to lack of strategic deployment.

There are those who dismiss the social media tools and science we have. Someone who says that marketing using social media has yet to take off is probably right. However, we’ve enough experience and best practices to be strategic — and some of those who are building solid B2B social media foundations are starting to see benefits from their investment. It may be a new frontier, but let’s be sure to use the maps and compasses we have to help us navigate our way to sales and profits.

— Neil Glassman is a digital and linear media marketing strategist whose clients benefit from improved new customer acquisition and enhanced customer retention. He has helped turn startup underdogs into wonderdogs and guided underperforming brands through their midlife crisis. He blogs on the WhizBangPowWow and Social Times. Based in New York City, he’s a pretty good cook.




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