Lessons from a Social Media Addict

Once upon a time in the early 90s, a DJ friend of mine complained that webcasting “wasn’t radio.” He predicted that in a few years the web would be remembered as a fad, not unlike CB Radio. He was absolutely right about one thing – the web is not like radio. In terms of building audiences, it’s infinitely better.

Yet many broadcasters still treat social media as a means of repurposing their radio content instead of treating it as a medium in its own right. They need to know that social media and radio broadcasting have key similarities, and one of them is this: good programming leads to larger audiences, which attracts more funding to support and improve your operation. As with so much media – public and commercial, printed and digital – the main goal with social should not be to monetize your web presence. It should be to put out compelling content on a regular (hourly, daily, monthly) basis to engage and enlarge your audience.

If your station develops good content feeds via social media, then monetization will follow. If Kickstarter has taught us nothing, it’s that your fan base will support you if you have a compelling idea. Every station needs to develop a strategy that’s right for it. But as a 15-year social media addict and a lifelong radio listener (and now General Manager) here are a few tips that have worked at WFMU:

Choose Your Platforms, Make a Posting Schedule & Don’t Forget Email
You can’t have a presence on every existing social platform, so choose a handful that you’re going to actually focus on. Determine which social platforms are most important to your staff and listeners, and decide for which of those you’re going to generate ongoing regular content. For Facebook and Twitter, you should be generating daily content, seven days a week. You should actually have posting schedules that you stick to for each platform.

And, don’t ignore weekly or monthly email newsletters. Email may not have the buzz of Pinterest or Instagram, but I’ve found it to be the single most effective means of generating traffic to a particular program, archive or fundraising campaign. Don’t post too much or your fans will flee. The appropriate number of posts varies platform to platform – for email I wouldn’t suggest more than one email newsletter per week. But for twitter, I tweet 15 times a day, every 45 minutes to an hour.

Remember, don’t establish and promote a station presence on a social platform if you’re not going to dedicate station resources to it. But, you may want to register your call letters on hot new platforms, even ones you haven’t made your mind on yet, simply in order to prevent well-meaning fans (or malicious imposters) from hijacking your call letters. But just because you register your calls doesn’t mean you have to promote and use a particular platform. Focus on a few, warehouse the rest.

Choose Your Addicts & Use Stats
Find native speakers for the platforms you intend to focus on. You wouldn’t choose a tourist to give a tour of your hometown. Similarly, you don’t want a non-native speaker to oversee your presence on a particular platform. I prefer to use my small paid staff for this, because it’s so important and has been so helpful.

Choose somebody who can write, who understands your station’s goals but also somebody who lies on your platform’s spectrum between avid user and helpless social media junkie. Your chosen addict should also use third-party programs if needed in order to generate statistics and help generate traffic on their platform. For Twitter, I use ManageFlitter to manage followers, Twitter Counter to monitor traffic and Popular Tweets and SocialBro to monitor peak times to tweet and other stats. I cut and paste tweets that get retweeted a lot so I can learn from it, or repurpose them in various ways.

For email, I use MailChimp to manage the list but also to tell me which emails have the best open rate, the best click rate and which links get clicked the most. I redesign the email based on what the Mailchimp stats tell me. For the WFMU homepage, we’ve used heat maps to learn where people click the most, and we’ve redesigned based on that info.

Don’t Just Post About Yourself
With few exceptions, nothing is more boring than an institution that posts relentlessly about what it is doing. Every tweet, Facebook post or email / blog / homepage news item doesn’t have to be about something happening at the station or a link to a particular program or host. You should mostly have posts that provide content in their own right. Your social media feeds should focus on station’s areas of interest without regard to whether or not those items have been represented on your air or not. Treat social media as a platform in and of itself – not as an area to repurpose your station’s content. If you do a good job on social media, then your station should be repurposing your social media feeds – not the other way around. And each platform has its own culture and mores – so never treat one platform as a carbon copy for another.

Traffic is its own Reward
When I launched WFMU’s blog, I naively thought that it would generate listeners for the radio station. After watching stats on both the blog and our streams, I saw that this did not happen at all. When an article went viral on the blog, generating 100,000 page views a day, our online listening number barely budged. But the audience that the blog generated were becoming dedicated to the station, but through the blog, not through the programming. To the blog audience, WFMU was the blog. When the pledge drive rolled around, the pledge widget on the blog generated a fair number of pledges, with a percentage of readers pledging that was only slightly below the percentage of listeners who donate. The traffic on the blog was not ever going to hugely increase our listenership, but the readership of the blog was still completely valid, relevant to our programming mission, and the traffic could be monetized. (Although even if it couldn’t be monetized, it might still be valid and important, just not necessarily affordable.)

Emphasize Your Successes, Learn From / Jettison Your Failures
We recently worked with a listener on a Kickstarter campaign to generate money for a documentary film about WFMU. One of the best things about Kickstarter is the stats that the site generates for each campaign. The Kickstarter stats showed that the donors were coming from our own fan base – only 4% of the donors came from Kickstarter itself, not even covering the extra 5% in fees that Kickstarter costs. Our big surprise was that 58% of the donors came from our monthly email newsletter. Our homepage generated 14% of the donations, Facebook accounted for 6% and Twitter came in last (of those platforms that represented) at a disappointing 4% (although 4% of our 40,000 twitter followers is still 1600 people / pledges / etc.). These stats confirmed what we had seen during our pledge drive. Needless to say, we’re now stepping up our focus on our sadly neglected monthly email newsletter.

As I mentioned, every station needs a strategy that works for it. But, behind every good strategy are a few key principles:

Share great content, choose native users for each channels, measure, and learn from your successes (and failures.) If you keep these in mind, you’ll be on the right path.

This article comes to us from member organization NCME, and you can read more digital media engagement stories on the Media Engagement Blog.

Ken Freedman
Station Manager
Ken Freedman is general manager at WFMU, a listener-supported radio station broadcasting out of Jersey City, NJ.