Facebook Strategies for Radio

By Jerry Del Colliano

(With my daughter, the Facebook "consultant" and son who uses Facebook to communicate with fans of his Home Theater Review website).

Facebook, the Gen Y social networking site that older generations are now beginning to embrace, is ready to count its 200 millionth user sometime this week.

200 million Facebook users!

Talk about rapid growth.

In August, just seven months ago, Facebook users hit 100 million.

Mark Zuckerberg, the 24 year old Harvard dropout, only started Facebook about five years ago. First at Harvard, then a few other schools before opening it up to every university.

Facebook is signing up over a million new users every day.

And I was surprised to learn that more than 70 percent of Facebook members live outside the U.S.

As a recent article in The New York Times pointed out, "All of this mojo puts Facebook on a par with other groundbreaking -- and wildly popular -- Internet services like free email, Google, the online calling network Skype and e-commerce sites like eBay".

Facebook's biggest growth area is now the over 30 crowd. Perhaps you know that already because you may have become a recent convert.

It's time for radio to get in.

I discovered Facebook four years ago when I was teaching young college students at Southern Cal. In those days (the good old days of Facebook as far as many students are concerned), you had to be a student or a professor to sign up.

I resisted at first until the students argued, "you're trying to remain on the cutting edge, you are our professor, why not?" So I did what any red blooded American radio guy would do. I consulted my college age daughter, Daria. She helped me rush out my first primitive version of my page.

I returned to the classroom bragging that I had in fact started a Facebook page only to hear the students complain that there weren't any pictures.

They wanted to get real personal. See what I looked like without a suit (clothes, but no suit). What my wife and children looked like. Pictures of where I lived in Scottsdale and Marina del Rey. Jersey stuff. Flyers stuff.

So, I added it.

It took me a while to get into Facebook but my students would regularly communicate through Facebook instead of email. That was noteworthy.

After all, email is so for old people. (Sorry about that).

I noted how much time they spent on Facebook. Time away from TV. Certainly radio. Hell, studying! I noted how important it was to them when they stopped seeing someone to remain connected to them on Facebook. And I learned something else.

They like to spy on each other.

That's right, spy.

And that's a major reason Facebook exists. Spying. So since they spied on me, I decided to look them up when I got my class roster to see what the next group of students looked like, who they were, what they were interested in and sometimes I discovered more than I wanted to know.

Like, what they looked like drunk or partying with friends.

The urge to let it all hang out on Facebook is so great that this generation is not a bit intimidated that future employers will (and currently do) check Facebook and to a lesser extent MySpace to see who they are hiring.

MySpace, the News Corp purchase for less than a billion dollars (cheap in those days), has gotten too commercial for the cool set. It's Facebook for them and now for everybody else.

I mention all this because Facebook is not a toy for businesses to play with. The one piece of advice I could give about Facebook before you strategize about how to use it for business is that it is really a communication system.

Radio companies, far behind on understanding the change makers in the next generation, run the risk of misunderstanding some basic tenets of social networking.

Obviously with 200 million users (and radio with 234 million listeners), Facebook can't and shouldn't be ignored.

Many of my readers tell me they are intrigued with Facebook and I have often invited the late comers to put together a rudimentary page and friend me -- click here to friend me on Facebook.

Facebook is not radio -- not TV, not newspapers. It's a different thing. But your listeners are spending more and more time with it. A half hour a day is not uncommon for a newcomer. For students, it's much more.

A typical network of contacts, according to the Times article, is 179 "friends". Even though most people agree to be friends with those requesting it, members maintain a relationship with a much smaller group of people. And they send messages to an even smaller group of people and of those "only some reciprocate" thus producing "real" friends.

As one young person told me not too long ago, "we're fickle, Facebook could be gone tomorrow". That is a trait of the next generation. But one thing seems certain -- social networking is here to stay.

Perhaps peaking with Facebook and dividing into smaller, niche social networks. No way to be sure -- but there are signs.

So, let's take a look at some strategies for radio people interested in employing Facebook in the most useful way:

1. Do not try to make Facebook the digital version of direct mail. You'll fail miserably. While it is easy and inexpensive to reach your base of friends, they will blow you off faster than you can click send. Some stations think Facebook is a promotion tool. It is not. Rather, it is a communication device to talk with your audience.

2. Facebook is two-way. If you're not prepared to talk back and forth then you're likely to appear as a blip on their radar screens or, better put, a summary on their Facebook page.

3. Real people should do real Facebook outreach. Some folks don't agree with this, but your time is well spent whenever you get to know your audience. In bygone days, maybe that was done at a personal appearance or a "record hop". In our digital age, an effective use of Facebook for stations is to have their talent keep their own personal Facebook pages and communicate as individuals associated with their station not as a station business venture. (Of course, I am assuming that Repeater Radio has not come to your station yet).

4. Understand the importance of posting video and pictures -- a great asset to a radio personality. Remember, Facebook members like to spy. Give them something great to spy on.

5. Integrate Twitter into Facebook. Check my Facebook page and see how I've tried it -- as an example. More and more I like to flash inside information I come across about music, mobile and radio and I can do it on Twitter then have it appear on Facebook automatically. You can also use Facebook to say to everyone what you're doing "now".

6. While you want to avoid spamming friends, you can form groups very easily on Facebook to allow friends to opt in. So, if your station wants to clean up Main Street Park -- and you'd like to launch a civic pursuit (something I recommend strongly), Facebook can become a sign up sheet. But have a personality send the request -- not the station.

7. You can link listeners to your streams, but you can also produce new content (not heard on the air) and short in duration just for your friends. They can then virally pass them along to others who may at some point want to become friends with you.

If you're wondering whether all this Facebook strategy is worth it, let me tell you a personal story.

As you know I published Inside Radio for years and it had a pretty wide circulation. I had to work on that. Spend money, time and effort to compete with some excellent trade publications.

But when I started this site -- Inside Music Media -- it was just for college kids. Until a few friends of mine in the industry started spreading the word. Then came Facebook where people could recommend me as a "friend" and in effect have them try out what I do.

Today, Inside Music Media has far more daily readers than my best day at Inside Radio. It rivals some great industry publications and I don't spend a penny to spread the word.

It's done virally -- by my "friends" and in return I stay up until 3 in the morning sometimes to attempt to answer all communication I receive. A small price to pay for such rapid growth.

As the radio industry understands and discovers the power of Facebook, it, too, can benefit from digital word of mouth.

Facebook isn't the medium.

Used properly, it is the means to grow the medium.

And now that the over 30's are finding their way to Facebook, this bodes well to any serious broadcaster who wants to continue our long history of communicating with our listeners -- except now -- that communication will take place online.

I hope this has been helpful. But I want to tease you with a carrot on the stick for the future.

If Facebook is the beginning and not the end -- can you imagine how radio and music industry people will eventually start their own social networks using Facebook to direct them to these sites?

And I think you'll agree that if it comes down to presiding over a community interested in the latest music, news, video, mashups, personal info and two-way communication -- this can be a digital destination that radio folks can put into their sites.

And, one more thing -- local and immediate (the two bywords for successful radio) will work just fine in the digital space.

Good luck.

Sign up.

Ramp up.

And, take off in the growing world of social networking that 200 million people have warmed up for you.

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