Thursday, 18 January 2018

Peering over the wall at Facebook


New Year 2018. Everyone is ill. Across the land, new radio station programme schedules are trumpeted. Corporate press releases tell us how ‘delighted’ the new smiling presenters are at their appointment; and the ones they replaced are congratulated for all their good work as they crawl around to find a new opportunity so they can pay the mortgage.

Similarly, Mark Zuckerberg has played around with what passes for a programme schedule in his world, his treasured algorithm. He wants to ‘fix Facebook’.

We’re getting used to Mark fiddling with our organic reach. Whilst we’re largely responsible for our own fate at Twitter, with our followers ditching us if we get dull, big brother Facebook has long since wagged its finger at us if we keep posting material with which few people engage.

This latest newsfeed update appears to be more determined. A real long term view of the Facebook business to keep it social – more friends and family. Brand pages won’t stop appearing in your feed, it will simply not show you the duller posts from the duller brands.  Adam at Facebook stresses the extent to which people react to, comment on and share are key signals about which content will ‘spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people’. The winners will be shown higher in the feed and prioritised over ‘public content’. He loves conversations between friends.

For radio stations, we need to ensure our Facebook content continues to engage if our efforts are to pay off. Scroll down the pages of some major radio brands, and you can see which excel and which really don’t.  It might even say something about how focused their on-air content is too.

Similarly it's a time to re-examine all our other social media presences.The latest Facebook changes are a reminder to us all of the risks of over-reliance in our marketing strategies on a platform we’re not in control of. Similarly, a warning to those using Facebook as a way of disseminating content. As the BBC engages sensibly in ever more social media, I imagine it scratches its head, torn between wanting to put its content where punters spend time whilst acknowledging that the identities of the people to whom the content is shown are controlled by others. It’s a dilemma for all of us, but more politically sensitive for the Corporation. Luckily, its scale and brand strength mean its content can live in isolation elsewhere with relative success where necessary.

Drawing the parallels between this social media and the good old one which is radio, are we as confident as Zuckerberg?  Would commercial radio ever pause and worry it is killing the goose that laid the golden egg through too much commercial content? Killing that valuable listener social relationship through too many one-sided dialogues in unduly long ad breaks?

Mark wants us to hear more from our friends and family.  Maybe our listeners do too. In the ad trade press, some agencies representing brands with a decent social presence are saying their Facebook presence will become more valuable after the changes because the environment has improved. Traffic may go down – but one imagines the price will rise. Oh, if only that could be true of radio too.

Would we be better off limiting the spot ad breaks on our medium in favour of more genuine entertaining and interesting branded conversations involving clients and our listeners which deliver real entertainment and interest value? Or is it too late.

And Facebook is demoting the pernicious click bait and polls which get a volume of response but not true engagement. Maybe we should similarly demote meaningless on-air calls from radio presenters for social media or SMS response - which deliver little value to the listener.



Grab my book 'Radio Moments'50 years of radio - life on the inside. A personal and frighteningly candid reflection on life in radio now and then. The drama - the characters - the headaches - the victories.









Also 'How to Make Great Radio'. Techniques for today's presenters and producers.  Great for newcomers - and food for thought if you've been doing it years.











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