For stations looking to succeed using digital media, it’s not just about deploying your best assets—talent, local ties and market expertise—on new video and audio platforms. Stations also curate a wide menu of digital content, while maintaining active social media efforts.
“It’s up to radio to keep growing these audiences,” says Beasley Media Group’s chief revenue officer, Heather Monahan. “We have the loudspeaker. We have to drive people to where we have great content.”
Digital content includes podcasts, original video, mobile exclusives and streaming video on Facebook Live, and it’s vital to also include the likes of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat in your social media list.
Just like radio stations carefully craft their on-air programming, radio managers say digital media content requires careful curation and management to find an audience and, ultimately, attract advertiser support.
“We’ve seen that above all, content needs to make sense and serve a purpose. It needs to be well thought out and well-promoted,” says veteran broadcast executive Jim Bryant, now president of Hubbard Broadcasting’s in-house digital agency 2060 Digital. Podcasts should be engaging and consistent, he says, while video should be high quality and well promoted.
Perhaps no digital format plays to radio’s strengths better than podcasting. Podcasting offers radio broadcasters an opportunity to trade on their experience in audio and existing relationships between hosts and users. Station personalities can go deeper into topics they are knowledgeable and passionate about, and radio sellers can offer advertisers intimate integrations as podcast sponsors.
“Podcasting is a growth medium, with more and more people listening in the car, on the train or at home,” says Gordon Borrell, CEO of Borrell Associates. “Now, voice bots like Alexa and Google Home are allowing for even more listening.”
Univision, for one, is developing podcasts hosted by popular local radio and TV personalities, looking to extend listening and cross-promote its media properties. Similarly, iHeartMedia calls on its well-known local talent to develop podcasts and then talk about them on-air—a lot. Popular national hosts such as Elvis Duran, Ryan Seacrest and Bobby Bones also host podcasts and drive listeners to find them on iHeartRadio. The company recently hired a new head of podcasting and is aggressively expanding its podcast lineup.
“We introduce the concept of podcasting to 250 million-plus Americans each week,” says iHeartRadio chief product officer, Chris Williams, citing iHeartMedia’s reach on its radio stations. “We’re talking to people about what a podcast is and how a podcast works. We’re giving them content that has immediate impact because it is from a personality that they have a relationship with.”
At the local level, broadcasters are experimenting with podcasts that resonate in their markets. At Galaxy Communications, which owns outlets in Syracuse and Utica NY, stations produce three weekly podcasts: “Sunday Brunch,” a lively discussion on local happenings produced at an area eatery; “The Show,” a weekday Facebook Live video podcast featuring “K-Rock” WKRL-FM Syracuse’s morning show team; and “TK99” WTKW-FM’s “Blue Moon Cafe,” featuring acoustic performances.
“These are things that advertisers and listeners are migrating to,” says Galaxy president Ed Levine. For instance, he says, “Sunday Brunch” averages 7,500 downloads per episode and one episode even hit 10,000 downloads. “In a market like Syracuse that is pretty significant,” Levine says.
Similarly, at Beasley Media Group stations, Monahan says podcasting has been one of the company’s top priorities for the past year and the focus is beginning to pay off. “We are seeing some of our talent excel at creating their own unique podcasts which our listeners love.”
Monahan says Beasley is also expanding its social media and original video work. “Our fastest growing segments are video and social,” she added.
Another group doubling down on video is media company Radio One, which is investing up to $7 million in new video capabilities. The company recently said its radio stations, digital unit and cable TV network will all hire more video producers and ramp up production, and that all the units will share content.
Radio stations also continue to build on their social media presence. On Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, disc jockeys and station pages have huge followings, communicating a mix of musings, station happenings, local events and advertiser mentions. Any client tie-in needs to be done sparingly and carefully, station managers say, in order to avoid running afoul of social networks’ rules on advertorial content and also not to alienate followers.
To hit the right tone on social media, Jacobs Media’s digital expert Seth Resler advises stations and hosts to follow a daily “4-1-1” plan for managing social media. That starts with four posts from “influencers” such as local personalities or musicians associated with the stations’ format; one post about its own content, such as podcast episodes or a video, and one “call to action” to plug a contest, promotion or advertiser.
In those “call to action” posts, stations can find opportunities to mention or feature a local business. A host can post a picture of himself or herself at a remote at a local car dealer, or a station could call on followers to submit pictures of naps in unexpected places to win a new mattress from a local seller. “There is a lot stations can do to involve and interact with local businesses on social media,” notes Borrell.
Social media’s best use, several radio executives say, is as an extension of broadcasts, creating a way to increase conversations and deepen engagement. “You can use radio to promote social and, if you have really good social, you can drive people to the station too,” says Vince Benedetto, president/CEO of Bold Gold Media.
In Scranton, PA, Bold Gold Media’s classic hits “105 The River” WWRR-FM Scranton seems to have found a winning social media formula. The station’s Facebook page counts 850,000 followers, an impressive tally for any business and among the highest for any radio station, and mixes in clever cultural references, musician references, station promos and, occasionally, references to an advertiser.
Beyond Scranton, Benedetto says “The River” has Facebook followers across the country and around the world, which he says is a testament to its well-crafted content; it all strengthens the radio operation.
“It’s built around the nostalgia of someone who would like the music we play,” Benedetto explains. “What has helped the page is the credibility of the content provider. It is clear we are a radio station.”