BLOCK ISLAND — Social media tools can be extremely valuable to broadcasters who don't just use them to…broadcast. At the recent NAB/RAB Radio Show in Nashville, Cumulus/Westwood One VP/social Lori Lewis crystallized the opportunity: "The essence of social media is reminding people that they matter."
For Gordon Deal, host of the nationally-syndicated "This Morning – America's First News," it's a useful feedback loop: "I'm not above getting an occasional kick in the pants from a listener if he or she feels a story sounded too biased." And he is as flattered that someone would take the time to speak up as they seem to be when he acknowledges them: "Even the angriest and most biased of listeners sometimes just want to be heard. 99% of the time, a polite Tweet back that acknowledges their feelings is all they're looking for."
WCHV, Charlottesville, Virginia morning talker Joe Thomas says his listeners "like the ability to comment and connect with me directly" real-time; and he calls that bond "something I haven't felt since my days in rock radio in the 80s and 90s when the listener felt proprietary over 'their' station." For that reason, KXNT, Las Vegas morning host Heidi Harris says that – of several screens competing for her attention – Twitter is "the one I watch constantly while I'm on air."
News/talk talent is accustomed to dialogue. Music DJs are more challenged connecting with listeners because their on-air talk time is brief. So WCBS-FM, New York night owl Dave Stewart figures that "social media is almost like a focus group, showing me what topics are relatable to my audience versus what they couldn't give a rat's ass about. It's really helpful in deciding what makes it to the air and what's left on the cutting room floor."
Help them find you.
Podcasters and bloggers thrive on social interaction, and use occasional on-air exposure to boost their digital traffic. You see and hear "Right In DC" pundit Gayle Trotter everywhere, and she always tells viewers and listeners where home base is. "On NPR, the host asked pre-show what I wanted her to use as my identifier, and she loved 'Right In DC' because it has a ring to it and quickly identifies for her listeners two key aspects forming my perspective."
Gene Valicenti juggles two shows. After hosting morning drive on WPRO, Providence, he anchors the 6:00 pm newscast on NBC10 there. So he's Mister audience recycling. "I link my Facebook page to my Twitter account so I only have to post once and it gets double exposure; plus the Tweet links back to my Facebook page to fully read it, so I'm getting cross promotion."
Another WPRO voice warns against spreading your social effort too thin: Tom Kraeutler, host of the syndicated "Money Pit Home Improvement Show," reckons that "there's not enough time in the day to be good at all of them, so you are better off picking those you can be most successful with to focus on." Those I interviewed for this column told me that Facebook and Twitter are their top two.
The show never ends.
Relevant Radio morning host John Harper uses Facebook "to continue the conversation that begins on the show." Online, as on air, his network speaks "about the realities of living our Catholic faith." So both platforms offer themselves on demand. "We feed the page on a regular basis through the day and evening, seven days a week. The result is a steady stream of e-mails from listeners who have made personal connections with guests who provide spiritual solutions for their lives."
Same deal in Sin City, where Heidi Harris "keeps up with it during the day. But I also make a point to walk away from it." Saying "all of us in talk radio need to get out of our bubble," Harris eschews the caricature she describes as "staring at Drudge and thinking that's your next show." So "I'll take the dogs for a walk, or read, to give myself time to disengage." One thing she finds handy about Twitter is that she can instantly loop-back-into what's trending.
Followers are "P1."
Joe Thomas admits "I have learned that they are much more savvy on programming nuance;" and Gordon Deal says "they've taught me that they like a little personality in their news delivery, as long as it's not mean-spirited."
Unsurprisingly – because his content is faith-based — John Harper says "our Facebook feedback is immediate. Our audience is living in the right now. That ups our game to deliver fresh content." And as all talkers know, many listeners are too shy to call. So "we use the Facebook page as a way the audience can engage in the live content if they cannot call."
Gene Valicenti finds "that my Facebook and Twitter friends are my core audience who really do 'like' me." And some actually pitch in. One friend will message him "about news regarding old TV shows and actors who've passed," and "younger listeners link me to cool stuff on BuzzFeed or other pages they see before I have." Ditto from Heidi Harris who reckons that Twitter skews younger than talk radio's median age, so it's entre to Millennials.
And Harris cautions: "Tune out trolls," the soreheads who are just spit-balling. She compares them to "the driver who screams at other drivers with the windows rolled up." Example: "Whenever I [politically conservative] go on MSNBC, I get trashed for days. It's a shame because we need to avail ourselves to different points of view." Occasionally, she'll post "here are The Rules," and she'll block subsequent offenders, to spare her and her followers the noise. Harris says, "I get a lot of likes when I lay out The Rules."
Social Media = Show Prep Gold
Radio 101 applies to all formats: Play the hits. And use social media to know what the hits are. By following his followers, CBS FM's Dave Stewart gleans a lot, "particularly offbeat and comedic perspectives on current events," things he admits "that I might not have come up with from scratch." As patterns emerge, "it probably has a subconscious influence on the content I post."
WPRO's Valicenti explains "I'll throw topics out there to gauge their reaction. Some light up, others fizzle, and it's often an indicator of how it'll play on the radio the next day." He says "I'm sending my producers Tweet links all day with instructions to 'cut for tomorrow;'" and he's found that "Tweets often link to some of the best sound of the day which is easily turned around for with a couple clicks."
WCHV's Joe Thomas sets up Twitter as a personal news feed; and Gordon Deal finds that "by following different reporters and PR people, I can get a feel for what kind of traction a story is getting if it's new." He says he can also spot "which organization seems to have the best contacts if it's a breaking news event."
When Gayle Trotter told me her followers "sometimes alert me to news developments before I have seen the news elsewhere," I recalled the Boston Marathon bombing. Working in my office that day, I had a cable news channel on, muted. But because I was looking at my computer, I first learned about it on Twitter. Heidi Harris told me she first learned of our pal Jerry Doyle's recent death on Twitter. "Listeners called when they heard me crying."
Remember: It's SOCIAL.
Even an ask-the-expert host like Money Pit's Kraeutler says "we are always learning from those we follow. Shares sometimes surprise us. We've posted stories we thought would be of great interest and they just sit there. Then we'll post a story that we thought would be of moderate interest and the shares and likes accelerate. One of our stories this past year had over 25 million views, which was a shock, and a very pleasant surprise. Tip: social media loves dogs and kids!"
I asked Heidi Harris to recall her most-re-Tweeted recent Tweet; and without hesitation she said it was about "how the people who are running for office say more about us than about them."
Gordon Deal says he'll mention social media posts on air "when a listener responds in real-time, and it's clever. I may quote a Tweet if I think it'll get a laugh. That could include somebody's unique perspective on a story, or it could be a listener who wants to take me to task for something. Tweets also spark ideas for different angles of a story that could be worth pursuing."
Tom Kraeutler figures, "If you are in this business today, you need to be awake and alert to trends or you will be left behind. Just ask anyone in the newspaper business!"
Holland Cooke (www.HollandCooke.com) is a media consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet. Follow him on Twitter @HollandCooke; and look for his video "Grey is Gold" this month on TalkersTV.