Why Radio Doesn't Get Twitter

One thing I heard loud and clear from my brilliant young USC students while I was sitting out my Inside Radio non-compete was the importance of social networking.

In the music-related media business, we don't seem to understand it and when we do, we don't like it.

What's not to like?

This next generation -- the one the radio and record businesses have alienated -- has given us a gift.

But in radio, few understand the real significance of Twitter, Facebook, MySpace or the many other niche social networks that have cropped up while it was consolidating.

Let me put it plainly.

Consolidated radio is worth next to nothing -- or as I call it, less than six times streaming cash flow. It has fallen down and can't get up without the help of digital media.

Facebook is worth 160 million members with older folks just now discovering it.

Radio has for years monetized its on-air programming.

Facebook and Twitter have yet to figure out how to make money. Even YouTube, the Google $1.6 billion investment, is hopelessly in the red. YouTube is a social network.

Maybe we need each other?

In radio that means going out and making assumptions about the next generation and mounting an offensive on the cheap. That is, going off half cocked not knowing a thing about how the next generation works. Often, when I write about the importance of the next generation, an angry reader or two will trash Gen Y as being irrelevant.

No, it's the other way around.

Radio is irrelevant because its owners fell asleep during consolidation. In fact, look how the consolidators are making their own penny stocks worse every day by cost cutting instead of investing in the future -- the digital future.

So, if the record labels and radio industry want to become part of this major change going on, they will first have to understand this quirky generation -- something they have not done a good job at doing thus far.

So, here's a short course (and remember, there is no substitute for a real education on social networking):

1. Twitter is not a radio add-on -- it is the medium.

That's why broadcasters are trying to force their radio station into Twitter to use it as a tool for promotion when promotion happens virally when you use Twitter the way it was meant to be used -- to connect.

When Springsteen got irked at Ticketmaster for bilking his loyal concert fans, a station that plays The Boss could have tweeted that "The Boss Is Pissed At Ticketmaster -- demands paybacks. I'm talking about it now on WXXX". No more than 140 characters -- the Twitter rule.

Or, "Chris Brown beats up Rihanna -- I've got some info on KXXX in five minutes". You can even link to station streams. Or to pictures -- "Here's Rihanna's battered face". It is an ongoing discussion in short sentences. Of course, you can use it for many other reasons and radio people can come up with some creative ways to tweet, but keep in mind that Twitter is for connecting and informing not blatantly promoting.

2. Social networks are not just another way to give away tickets.

Instead discover a new singer or band and tell everyone who it is, link to the song and teach people that your jock and station discover new talent. Might not even mention the terrestrial station. Music discovery is the biggest unmet need of the next generation and radio stations are spending all their time playing the same 30 songs.

What's up with that?

3. Build audience through social networking.

Take Inside Music Media (my little generational lab) -- 100% of its growth is viral. I have spent nothing to promote this blog -- zero. Radio stations can also benefit from social networking by interacting with their listeners. Instead, most conduct one-way communication in which the listener calls, texts, Tweets, communicates by Facebook or MySpace. They get no answer. No communication. Missed opportunities.

Unfortunately, the old days of opening up the phone lines and having hundreds or thousands of people try to call in are over (What am I saying? Radio stations rarely ever put live people on the telephone request lines anymore). Nonetheless, if you're planning on getting a listener to listen for a longer time, you'll have to make a friend out of them. That means jocks will have to beat their computer keys into oblivion to connect with as many fans as possible.

One-way communication is radio.

Two-way communication is social networking.

Keep in mind that Twitter and Facebook are not just for kids. The young generation is the change maker. But the others seem to be following.

4. Texting is not a destination.

Stations often brag about how many people texted in to win a pair of tickets. That's nice, but it is not social networking. That's just an alternative to the telephone.

Being ignored after a listener texts in does not make a friend or a loyal listener. If you want large audiences, you'll have to communicate with large numbers of people one-by-one.

5. Bragging about Facebook or Twitter shows you're not "cool".

Ever watch a local TV news station mention their website? It's non-stop. Some TV consultants have even set a number that their Eyewitness News teams must direct people to the web.

How foolish.

The world we live in today expects everyone to have a website. You don't have to give your address. They know how to reach you. It is uncool to keep hawking Twitter and Facebook like we used to hawk the hit lines. This will take a leap of faith but if you stopped showing everyone how connected you think your station is, you'd be surprised to find that they would find you anyway.

Self-promotion of Twitter and Facebook works the opposite way -- it shows you're not connected. When you actually talk about Jim Smith who sent you a clip of his new song that you're actually going to play at midnight, you are the coolest thing in town. Twitter is a great way to let everyone know.

6. They spy

Parents, tell me if I'm not right about this.

Young people love to "spy" on their friends, "exes" and anyone of interest. When I taught a new class at USC each semester, many students knew of my successful lawsuit with Clear Channel -- some even knew figures. They knew about me, my family and interests before I ever said "Hello, I've got good news and bad news. I'm your professor and I'm from New Jersey".

It's all online.

They crave knowing about personal things which is why the mistake of all mistakes is to be too private with this generation. Some advise making your station Facebook pages like a business. I don't agree. I personally live my life in Facebook for all to see. Radio stations will have to deal with this because if they are intrigued with you, they want to know everything about you.

They are involved.


My point in all of this is that radio people can find new and creative ways to communicate with listeners but it will take hard work, time and maintenance to keep the conversation going.

By example, this blog is an experiment -- I ask readers to suggest topics, comment publicly and privately. They suggest content (about one-third of the stories I write are suggested by readers). They supply research. They forward the stuff they like when they like to whomever they like.

I cannot push them and don't.

They don't always agree -- and that's fine. They have the ability to say whatever they want.

In the end, two-way communication builds a big platform as it will for radio.

When I taught the next generation, the taught me:

• That music discovery is their number one passion.

• They cannot live without a cell phone.

• They can live without a radio.

• Joe Blow, their friend, has more credibility forming musical tastes than djs or record labels.

• Social networking is a two-way street -- not a one-way marketing tool for radio stations.

I don't know about you, but this makes me excited because we can do this.

Forget Fagreed. Forget Tricky Dickey. John Slogan Hogan can spend his time hiring more yield managers if he wants. They don't get it anyway.

This is one way we can get to the digital future -- by beginning to understand it.

I know and believe my friends in radio can and will -- without regard to whether their bosses ever get it.

If you're with me, here's an excellent article on how a newspaper uses Twitter to get readers -- and that's saying a lot in the dying world of newspapers.

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