Thursday, July 28, 2011


Social Media in radio - a Radio Academy panel discussion

When I signed up for the Radio Academy's seminar on social media I thought I'd come away with ideas, solutions and approaches to integrating the burgeoning world of digital diarrhoea with the essentially one-way traffic of radio broadcasting.

What I did take away, however, was the reality that no bugger actually knows what on earth we're doing with the multitude of platforms through which we now 'communicate' with radio listeners.

Julian Worricker (R4 You & Yours) chaired the discussion, joined on the panel by Laura May Coope (Social Media Producer, BBC Radio 1/1xtra), Matt Deegan (Fun Kids and Radio blogger), Tony Moorey (Content Director, Absolute Radio) and Chris Hawkins (6 Music). So ok, this much we know: social media allows us to market shows and stations, and can generate content from listeners; after that it's conjecture and anecdote.

It was estimated that only about 10% of listeners have access to Twitter and while R1 and 1xtra reckon that a significant majority of their audience is social media-savvy, in our obsession with the holy grail of 'interactivity' and audience feedback, we are focusing almost exclusively on communication from this vocal minority. There may be a risk of disenfranchising the majority who don't tweet/ Facebook/ text/ email, but it looks likely that programmes and presenters will continue to be seduced by the instant hit of the figures and feedback they see on the screen.

Chris Hawkins asked if it matters where feedback comes from, and commented on how much airtime it can now take up telling people how they can get in touch. In my experience it does matter, as listeners still get a buzz out of having a namecheck, and highlighting the variety of channels through which you can now get in touch, encourages feedback. Tony Moorey said Facebook and Twitter can foster a "pop-up community" (not heard that one before!) and there was some discussion later of how message boards can go in a tangential direction that its (minority of active) users send it, and all a station or programme may be able to do is try to steer it into new directions.

Pitfalls for presenters participating in Twitter, especially, can be that they have an impact on the reputation of the station, for good or bad. The BBC is in knots about presenters having their own Twitter vs an official BBC one, which can lead to someone like Fearne Cotton endorsing all sorts of products on her personal account that she'd never be able to get away with on the BBC; on the other hand Dave Gorman's personality and outside activities were acknowledged as pushing people toward his Absolute Radio programme. The rule of thumb is don't say anything on Twitter you wouldn't on air, though quite where that leaves the product-endorsing 'celebrity' BBC presenter is unclear, and it was acknowledged that the old disclaimer of 'there are my views, not those of etc etc' don't wash.

The commercial sector is seeing opportunities for revenue raising: some brands are offering £5-10k for a mention on a Facebook wall, but there was an acknowledgement that you don't want to annoy your followers with endless plugs; it's only a matter of time though, folks.

An interesting point was that the best way to get followers on your social media is through the use and promotion of that medium within itself - simply giving a shout out on radio to 'join our Facebook page' isn't the best way; radio is an add-on to that. However, it can be a powerful way of pulling new listeners into your radio for special events such as an interview or concert, where the social media networks will push people to listen.

And what about the social media users who don't listen to radio? They can be lured in through audio/ video clips, mixes, podcasts, web-only content and other teasers, which can be targeted and tailored for particular audiences.

So what overall conclusions came from this?
* Nobody actually knows what they're doing - it's just because 'it's there';
* It gives a quantifiable indication of listener response, feedback and numbers, but we shouldn't get carried away with it being the main focus;
* Broadcaster have to acknowledge that social media users can take it in their own direction as it's regarded as their own social space;
* We shouldn't disregard non-users of social media, but quite how we do address and engage them in the digital era is another matter.


I think it is interesting that the French have started addressing the problem of giving unfair promotion of leading social networking sites. With a media landscape that promotes a few online services relentlessly whilst having scant understanding of the value of those services to their organisations, the only winners seem to be the virtual dot.comv2 billionaires created in this feeding frenzy. I appreciate that in many cases these services will mutate as crowd forces mould them to their needs but that is still within the framework of proprietary software tools and draconian removal of personal information ownership rights.

This probably all means something, now I just need to go away and work out what that is.
Hi Urban, yes that was raised as an issue but never gone into in any depth. The online landscape keeps changing - bands are more likely to point people toward Soundcloud now than MySpace, so it may be this time next year we're all directing listeners to Google+
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