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Social Radio: Traditional Radio's Social Media Status

What is social media doing to the radio? In Los Angeles, the Angels recently eliminated the post-game Angel Talk radio show. And no one seems to care.

Social media is taking care of fans’ need to call in, rant about bad calls, discuss the outcome of the game. The San Francisco Giants’ talk show host, meanwhile, had 150 people tweeting about trading players, pre-game. All 150 of those people wouldn’t have been able to express their opinions on the radio before a game, without dealing with a lot of busy signals first. By the time you get your hat in the ring, the game’s already started.

Gone are the days when families rallied around the radio. When FDR delivered the first fireside chat in 1933 to console and encourage the nation during the Great Depression, the whole country listened.

Fireside chat was a symbol of comfort, a term coined by journalist Harry Butcher—inspired by the warm tone of Roosevelt’s speech over the radio. We wouldn’t call the president’s annual speech a “fireside chat” if it weren’t for the aural nature of radio. Now, when the president tweets something, such as, 

we can only guess at his tone. Despite the picture, we don’t get a feeling of warmth. And, if the president had to depend on a radio broadcast to talk to the public, would he say something as banal and unengaging as, “Hope you’re ready—fall is here”? Let’s just say the tweet didn’t go viral.

Radio’s struggle

Peer-reviewed journal First Monday refers to Facebook as “Web 2.0”—a major development for the radio world that serves as a “multiplying factor” in terms of radio’s relationship with “social life.” Initially, some stations felt threatened because Facebook seemed like a penultimate blow.

The medium had already been assailed by satellite radio, podcasts, the MP3 and file-sharing, and the internet in general, which is yet another source of entertainment and information for radio to compete with. When Facebook blew up, radio was like an old man who’d already tried so hard to keep his young friends, only to be rebuffed by the lightning-quick pace of change. As Facebook was threatening its social life, apps such as Pandora and Spotify were edging in on its music life, too.

However, radio quickly became savvy to social media’s power as a community-building tool, a marketing powerhouse.

Still, if a station advertises its music wares on Facebook, the user can simply open up Spotify, Apple Music, or even Youtube, along with a host of other free options, such as Pandora and Soundcloud, to play music. Apple Music, for one, incorporates streaming radio and social media. Beats1, edging in on traditional radio further, is set up to broadcast worldwide, with real DJs and social media for musicians. How on Earth can radio compete with that?

Radio’s pushback

First, the bad. Turns out there’s a whole Facebook community with 5500 likes called Shit Social Media in Radio. Some of this stuff is so ridiculously funny it garnered an entire Buzzfeed listicle, with gems such as:

Multiple radio stations “like” the Shit Social Media in Radio Facebook page. Ironic, because the page demonstrates the ineptitude of radio stations attempting to use Facebook. The old man in the room is trying to make friends, fumbling around, laughing at himself, while kids in the corner snicker at his efforts.

But at least he can laugh at himself. And sometimes, he does well. At the major, commercial level, Radio Italia is the first radio station to hit 2 million followers, with an increase in listeners and branded hashtags trending nationally and internationally.  They’ve achieved this through the type of strategic and consistent presence we’re used to seeing from successful brands here in America.

They use Facebook Insights to analyze audience data, and “audience-centric” Tweets to drive traffic. They stream live events on Facebook, and post snippets of celebrity interviews on Twitter. Their most successful content links music-related posts from their Facebook to their website, where the audience can hear streaming radio. Hooking them online translates into listeners on the traditional format.

At the local, small-time level, independent stations such as Radio Boise have picked up on the community-building aspect of social media, listening to the wise words of Chrissy Symeonakis, who asserts that the majority of marketing takes place on social media, and it’s madness not to take advantage.

Radio Boise gets active at events. They use Facebook and Instagram to take “candid” pictures of artists and fans, posting them, “immediately via the use of tags and a Tumblr account to funnel all the social media team volunteers’ pictures and videos into one place.” They also stream events live on Facebook. This active presence has earned them the Best of Boise vote two years running.

The secret’s in the stream

Nielsen reports people listened to streaming, on-demand internet radio 54% more in 2014 than 2013. Stations that capitalize on social media to send audiences to streaming radio are hitting it big with this trend, because 59% of people listen to a combination of traditional radio and online streams. Altogether, this means big numbers for traditional radio, because you’ve still got the die-hards and stalwarts. 243 million people, or 91.3% of the U.S. population, listens to radio each week. People consume music now more constantly, and through more diverse channels than ever before.

With the move to adapt to social media and streaming music, radio is succeeding, and then some. People may not want to gab about their favorite team with a talk show host, but they want to keep the music flowing. Radio’s original strategy to compete with TV—play popular music—is still the feather in its cap in the age of the social consumer.  

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