The ‘Social’ Myth

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “The Bigger Picture” series, written by Charese Fruge on April 21, 2022 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying social media and the metaverse aren’t the future, but as it relates to traditional radio, we need to be smart about how we use social platforms to grow and extend our brands. “Social” is NOT a format for American Radio, and social media platforms do not work the same way that radio does. Digital extensions for traditional brands can go a long way with helping to market a radio station or talent, drive tune in and help create occasions, but it will never be the solution to driving TSL on radio. And even if a social platform creates an occasion for the traditional brand, if the station can’t immediately engage an audience and keep them for 5 minutes of straight listening, then you’ve wasted an opportunity. And let’ face it, it takes an enormous amount of creativity and talent to immediately engage an audience. You’ve literally got about six seconds of their attention to do so.

What’s the one significant difference between traditional radio and social media platforms? Nielson Ratings, right? Let’s break it down, it only takes one PPM panelist to take down a radio station. Sadly, that panelist may represent thousands of members of the local population. Just give them one reason to tune out and it’s over. And it takes 5 minutes of STRAIGHT listening for a radio station to even get credit for one meter. The margin of error in this system is extremely high, and anything, I mean anything, can impact it.

TikTok is probably the best example of all the social platforms out there right now. Every other platform wants to be TikTok and is doing everything they can to re-invent their own form of it. The draw? Mostly thirty seconds (or less) of video of the most useless, clever, funny, and entertaining video clips made by people from all walks of life, about anything and everything. Most people get sucked into one or two reels and end up spending hours going down the rabbit hole of relatable videos. It’s hours and hours of wasted time we will never get back in our lives, but we do it anyway because we are addicted to constantly engaging content when we have the time to waste (or when we can’t sleep).

But let’s be honest, the average attention span of a normal human being on a normal day is 6 to 8 seconds (according to radio experts). So, with social media, anything longer than a thirty second video on a social platform can do just as much damage with viewers as bad music or an over talkative inexperienced talent on the radio can do with listeners. Both cause instant tune out.

We’ve seen a lot of radio companies up their game during the pandemic when it comes to social media, and that’s a good thing in some instances, because the industry is archaic and too slow to embrace most contemporary trends as it is. But to think that social media is a new “format,” is extremely misleading. While it’s great to hire new, young, and innovative “influencers” to play on your radio team, you cannot mistake them for seasoned hosts or experienced broadcasters capable of playing the ratings game while still maintaining an engaging and entertaining show or experience.

People do not listen to the radio the way we think they do. If you do not get a listener’s attention within the first 6 seconds and continue to engage them as you move forward, then you will lose them right away. You don’t have the visual benefit of social media with traditional radio, and because of the ratings system, anything that could cause tune out is not an option.

We are hearing a lot about “developing talent” at this year’s All Access Music Summit. That’s not a new concept, but one we have increasingly grown to ignore due to consolidation. Same thing with making the listener the star, no one is live and local anymore. And No one has time to develop talent anymore, but it is a necessity in order to survive traditional radio which in turn means the actual SURVIVAL of traditional radio. You can’t just put a random social influencer on with no experience, to do a two-to-four-hour show, and expect they understand the craft and the ratings game and can get you instant ratings. Not in this extremely diverse ever changing American environment. So, again, while it’s great to have young and vibrant influencers on your team, you cannot expect them to carry a show or a “format” in a world where a Portable People Meter instantly determines a brand’s future.

Have we not learned our lesson yet? Remember FREE FM? Jelly Radio, Blink Radio, etc. Or what about the company that just Nationalized two of its formats and called their strategy for the Alternative format “TikTok radio?” It was a disaster and too many great brands were destroyed. So much so, that some of the biggest brands in the country cannot come back from the destruction that was done.

We have the same problem in this industry we’ve had for the last twenty plus years. The definition of “insanity” is continuing to do the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. And that comes from leadership and consultants who are so out of touch with reality and being on the front line, that they will take an old concept, slap a new “Woke” name on it and expect it to be successful, without actually knowing what being “Woke” on certain situations really means or involves. In the end, it’s just sloppy…bad radio. And sloppy bad radio + tune out = bad ratings and lack or loss of revenue. Need I say more?