Sunday 2 October 2011

Why is Twitter so much like radio?

Word economy matters. Twitter's 140 characters is a remarkable discipline.  Just when you think you cannot tell a whole story in so few words, you manage it.  Wow.  How many bits of radio could have been  just as powerful with fewer words. If not more so.

Every word matters.  Substituting one word for another in a Tweet will affect whether someone bothers to smile or find it interesting; and whether they choose to respond or re-tweet.  Or unfollow.  It's the same in radio.  One changed word in a topic proposition is the difference between getting a listener bothering to respond - or not.  A different phrase in a promo/trail is the difference between it working or not working.  Don't get me started on badly written promos.
Teasing works.  What makes you bother to click on the Tweet link to the article, audio or video? The way the words on the Tweet 'sell it'.  Sometimes you are cajoled into reading something which is not that interesting, but the words made you, at least, try it.  Again, the same as radio: 'throwing forward' is all very well, but is what you are saying really going to make someone want to listen?  Would the same words have made them click on an attachment? I always remember Eddie Mair doing the 'Later, we ask one of the Labour leadership contenders - would you sack your brother?'. I can think of a million common and less powerful ways that interview might have more typically been flagged up - but few more powerful.  Eddie teases on-air with the skill of a gifted music radio presenter equipped with years of making the rather more mundane (songs and sponsored activity) sound interesting.

Your personality really matters.  A great Tweeter will 'find' themselves. Some broadcasters never do.  A great Tweeter releases a blend of their personal and professional lives. They are known for their richness of consistent yet surprising character and they are always true to it.  No character or no consistency equals few followers.  Similarly, those who have no discernible genuine 'personality' on-air will never become a personality listeners want to spend their valuable lives with.
It's personal.  Great companies Tweet as if from a human being talking to another human being.  Not as a 'Company voice'. Great broadcasters show they are believable human beings too.

You never know what will work!  One can send three thoroughly fascinating Tweets and
reap few responses or re-Tweets. Yet an innocuous Tweet can touch a chord and go wild.  Just as in radio, that carefully-planned sure-fire link earns a disappointing response; and your brief spontaneous aside about something and nothing puts the phones into meltdown.

Put your head above the parapet.  When you  stand for something, then you stand the chance of losing some followers.  You must accept that.  But, the gains are probably greater than the losses if your topics are of sufficient appeal.  Great broadcasters may well be divisive on air, but on balance the appeal of what they do is great enough to generate a larger audience than those they irritate.  In every great broadcaster, there'll be something not to like.  Always be bland and you'll never have lots of followers; and you'll never be a memorable broadcaster. But watch the mix.

Know your audience - and be consistent.  If you create a Twitter account with a lot of bee-keeping updates and attract bee-keepers to follow you, then you'll probably lose a few when you start ranting about the Conservative government.  There needs to be a focus and distinct personality for a Twitter account just as there is for a radio station.

Response helps. Great users of Twitter respond and engage generously.  Great broadcasters take the time to interact personally with their audience howsoever and whenever they can. They let others sometimes have the last word, whether a co-host or a listener.

Depth and detail matters. We know that Tweets with attachments fare well.  A picture, a bit of audio. Similarly, the colour and detail when story-telling on radio turns the sound picture from black and white to colour. A brand name can make an anecdote funnier.

You. A Tweet can use the word 'you' powerfully.  You want one person to read it, feel it's talking to them, and reply once. When that to happen many times, you've scored.  No-one usefully starts a tweet with 'anyone out there...'. Nor do great broadcasters. They speak to one person.

Context. Just like in real life, you don't need to justify starting a conversation on Twitter. You just do it.  If it is interesting, people join in.  The same art is best demonstrated on-air by presenters who do not feel the need to justify why they are talking about something. Thankfully, protracted journeys from song title to topic are nowadays rare on British radio. But, we do still get presenters feeling the need to explain the tortuous or simply needless journey to a topic when it has long ago started to set its own context.
ObserveHow many great Tweets simply talk about an observation on life which chimes with you?  That makes great radio too. Am I the only one to feel that some presenters send funnier Tweets than their links?  Daily life has always been a better source of entertainment than 'The Sun'. Great radio broadcasters realised that long ago.
Unfollow is turn off. Says it all really.  You've been dull or mis-judged your audience.

Topicality. Some of the most re-Tweeted material is topical.  When something big happens
which occupies a space in every person's mind, some bright spark just manages to conjure up the post that inherits the momentum. There are numerous excellent corporate examples too. The great users of social media likely have seconds to get that thought together, and get it out there.  Great radio also hits those same topics  - now. The sense of the day.  Just repeating a known story is not sufficient, it's that twist which wins.

Repeat content. Tweeters often re-post. Different words. Different times. Radio content is re-used too; again, re-framed at different times, sometimes addressing different audiences. I've re-posted this blog twice.  Yes, of course, I've changed it, just as  you'll change a link when you repeat it.

Practice makes perfect. Your first shows sound pretty awful when you listen back.  Your inaugural Tweets likely look just a wee bit innocent now too. Listening to other great performers can educate; and studying the great users of social media may also.

Listeners like a bit of fame They like to be retweeted or followed by a celeb. They like you to mention them on the radio. It feels special.
How is Twitter different from radio?  On radio, you don't know who's listening. Thank goodness. Imagine you are just about to open your mouth on-air and you realise you have just been joined by two new listeners. You know who they are and what they look like: one very attractive person who lives down the road and seems to be interested in what you have to say; and the Controller of Radio 1.  It might rather affect your next link.  Mind you, the great thing about radio is that you never know. Those listeners may indeed have actually just joined you.

Enjoy some fun Hashtag Hell in another blog!
Follow me on Twitter @davidlloydradio


  1. Hi David I'm going to "steal" your piece for future reference.

    I have already retweeted the link from yesterday to @doctorsblogs as Annabel taught me a fine approach to Twitter saying to use it just like a radio. You "can turn it on and off."

    Having just started with Hootsuite they seem to be good at this only delivering the lastest 25 tweets when you come back on line.

    "A great Tweeter will 'find' themselves" How very true is that. I think the web has offered those online a great opportunity to engage with their own identity in an increasingly conscious way.

    I suspect you are of an age to remember Noel Edmonds! Now whilst I am not "in" to his TV and radio work he did make a profound comment possibly 20 years ago when he said, "We are moving from an era of broadcasting to one of narrowcasting". I don't think he could ever have imagined quite how "narrow" the broadcasting channel could become.

  2. Great post, but I *would* like to get you started on badly-written promos please.

  3. The credit for my successful Twitter account goes to WizUgo [com]. I used to spend a lot of time on Twitter and still, I was not able to get a decent amount of followers. For the first time, I used Wizugo for my Twitter account automation, and it became the savior of my sinking account. Within a few weeks, I got a lot of active followers that like and comment on my pictures and videos that I tweet.


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