Tuesday 31 October 2017

Are You Wasting Your Time with Social Media?

Maybe it’s just me who head-scratches when I see a pic of a colourful playout system on social media posted by an enthusiastic presenter: "I'm on the radio now'"  Yeah?  Or worse: "This is my view for the next three hours".

Similarly, a pic posted of a screen-shot of the next track they’re about to play/played some time before I saw it: "This is a banger"

It’s a little like saying ‘come and see my new car’ – and then showing someone a pic of the engine.  A car is sold on the pride, the speed, the freedom - not a pic of its engine. A song is not about its title printed on screen – it’s a three dimensional visceral experience. To reduce it to a prosaic line of text diminishes its promise - unless your accompanying social media remark truly adds value.

This really is the broader question of a digital strategy.  Why do stations and individuals spend their time, money and energies on their assorted social media presences and websites?

Station head honchos boast merrily about their likes, favourites, dwell time, shares, unique visitors, sentiment, reactions, page impressions and bounce rates. In a business once starved of measurables, we now have a surfeit of metrics – and they are all HUGE. When asked ‘what’s the strategy?’ ‘’Why are you doing all this?’, however, there’s a more puzzled look.  They’d rather boast of the number of Youtube plays they’ve had in Japan.

What is success? Are the likes and shares an end in themselves – or are they a route to a greater good? If the latter - what is that greater good?

In commercial stations, commercial directors will often shake their heads when asked the question "if digital traffic doubles, will digital revenues double?". Some are even pushed to suggest cash will even increase very much at all, whatever the growth. So, is growing the digital ticks the right goal, per se?

Clearly, there are huge benefits to digital manifestations of our radio brands and properties, but if we don’t know exactly what benefits are sought, in any given case, how can we know that the content we’re investing in is wise?

Some programme properties, stations and individuals nail it. You can smell the strategy by what is portrayed.

The best programme presenters create a brilliant ‘brand me’ on their social presences. They know that listeners spend more time with presenters they like, and you cannot like someone you do not know. The social media keeps their on-air presence alive around the clock. Each post is just personal enough – about you and your world – and each reference to station activity pitched as friend-friend-conversation. What’s the real goal here? Audiences. You want to make listeners seek you out and spend more time with you and your station.  @itswillmanning and @JoRussell_FM excel. A pic of your mixer may not fit this strategy.

Station profiles often rightly try to achieve a similar sort of station 'human' personality. They post random lifestyle funnies  under a jolly line of friend-to-friend introductory narrative. Some nail it - but too often it's written by someone who's not quite as funny as your overnight weekend presenter. The tone is certainly not the station tone. 

It's little wonder you can scroll down the Facebook pages of major UK radio stations - and find less engagement than randoms generate with their graduation pics on their personal pages. The algorithm has long since given up and gone home.

Great stations are a mix of assets, dependent on the format: entertainment, presenters, music, showbiz, information and news.  On-air they are likely imaged with care, with the right elements in the shop window.  Turn to their websites or e-mailshots, however, and that finely-tuned mix may be alarmingly absent. 

Devoting the front page on a commercial station's site purely to client activity can be eminently sensible, provided that traffic is as easily monetised as the listening hours. But are new and traditional approaches to advertising simply banging discordantly?  Pre-rolls and the like on audio are fine - but are you sure you are not simply annoying listeners who might have been more lucrative had you helped them to listen with more ease?  

Alternatively, if online traffic is ultimately expected to generate more listeners/listening, the failure to showcase the product equitably is unlikely to fuel brand comprehension and thus Rajar performance.

Again, either response is fine, and your economic model will suggest the right approach – but I worry not everyone is thinking it through.

I adore the Archers’ digital presence.  A true labour of love, helping super fans expand their loyalty to the radio soap and grow their relationship with its characters, alongside accessibility devices to hook in new and lapsed listeners. When the Helen and Rob Titchener coercion saga climaxed, digital efforts must be partly responsible for the noise the plot generated – and audiences. The content is rich – and the wry tone of voice always enviably fitting and consistent.

The BBC Charter requires that the Corporation’s digital efforts must simply boil down, ultimately, to the public purposes: news; learning; creative, high quality, distinctive content; and representing the UK’s diverse communities. That should lend for an easily-defined strategy – but one which cannot simply be measured by the amount of digital traffic. Do the many staff posting across the BBC’s many accounts really appreciate their mini objectives and their contribution to the overall good? 

Within many radio operations, there exists huge social media awareness and digital understanding - but too rarely is it expressed in a sufficiently pithy way which can easily be understood by the person who's going to post whilst lounging in their front room one dark evening.

There’s no one right answer to the ever-changing digital conundrum.  But if you don’t know what your strategy is – and how success will be measured – the chances are you’ll fail.

Grab my book 'Radio Moments': 50 years of radio - life on the inside. A personal 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.

Wednesday 25 October 2017

Rajar Headaches

One great thing about being liberated from a day job is no longer being held responsible for Rajar figures.

We know that the clever folk at Ipsos Mori and Rajar do fine work in generating the most reliable data they can but, in the words of someone high up who shall remain nameless, as each adjustment to the methodology is made, it is but a piece of sticking plaster to help the currency survive a little longer.

There are alternatives – and they are being tested in other markets just as they have been thoroughly here. The fact is every system has its own flaws - and some flawed data is simply more expensive than other flawed data. 

What’s perhaps more critical is the fact that any new currency would suggest different  figures from the existing approach.  On publication day of the first data from any fresh methodology, the BBC would be hammered by the Mail for  either losing audiences/dominating the World – and commercial radio would have revenues slashed  by silly agencies for seemingly falling audiences/higher figures neither trusted nor paid for.

My thinning grey hair results from painful Rajar results days. They are excruciating.  You work hard all year round, trying to make your programming the best it can be and know fully well that you are sounding on top form - yet your figures then fall.  You have a problem quarter with no marketing, lose key presenters – and yet your figures go up.  Shit stations often post phenomenal results – and fine stations quietly concede they’ve not had their best survey.

The anoraks then merrily pitch in on social media suggesting that it was all so much better when we had a handful of monopoly radio stations named after local landmarks, with random songs and lists of lost pets.

It’s heart-stopping for a programmer when the figures cascade into your PC. You know it’s either going to be a great day – or a very naff one. Both will likely end in alcohol.   As your stomach churns on a depressed headline figure, you know someone somewhere will question your continued existence and your most annoying presenter is about to be particularly so.  You'll likely face delivering a Theresa May  post-election day speech when you feel just like sobbing into your Pret a Manger breakfast bap. Barrack-room programmers across the building will be telling everyone what you've got wrong – and the nice person from sales will wonder how on earth they are going to hit target and be able to pay for their kid’s new shoes.

And what of the poor innocent presenter who's largely doing as you tell them to. Yesterday they had loads of listeners, today it appears that no-one loves them.  It’s hardly morale boosting as they wander into the lonely studio with their Twix and headphones for their next programme.

For commercial radio, Rajar is really a trading currency  and is designed as such. It does not really tell us why things happen - and can be at odds with other research projects which do.  Amidst huge media change, however, our significant investment in a huge research sample generates figures which are still enviably trusted and underpin a stable industry. For the BBC, it’s good enough for headline stats for the annual reports, political dealings and a few broad brush-stroke graphs. 

Overall, they are inevitably a dated reflection of what audiences thought they thought they were listening to some time ago. And - when your Uber driver asks how you know how many folk are listening, it  rarely really seems to sound convincing.

Like your exam results, in a few weeks’ time,  you won’t  quite remember the grades you got and life will go on. Smile. It's radio. No-one dies.

Real-life Rajar heartache recounted in my book 'Radio Moments'.

Here's the true story of how Rajar is assembled on the streets.

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