5 social media lessons we can learn from talkback radio

04 May 2011

Today we had the pleasure of hearing  John Stanley talk about his experiences as a presenter on 2UE. While the focus of the roundtable was to have a better understanding of how H&K can provide better counsel for media training, I found all of John’s points could easily be translated to social media best practice.

It’s not the first time that I have been fascinated by the similarities between talkback and social media. The #qanda Twitter stream is the perfect example of that well known mix of contributors who are fired-up and passionate about a particular subject and those who love a soapbox for their 15 seconds (or 140 characters) of fame.  Social networks pull together all the elements of the talkback environment – people who want the opportunity to tell their story, a forum to publicly voice comments and replies, community hubs to nurture common areas of interests and polarising opinions to ignite discussion. And it can all happen on your Facebook Page.

Don’t be afraid to stand your ground against detractors

Earlier this year Julia Gillard made national news with her fiery debate with 2GB presenter Alan Jones. In fact if you Google “Julia Gillard vs” the first autocomplete recommendation is Alan Jones. As the Prime Minister, Gillard is no stranger to having her statements challenged. As one of Australia’s most controversial talkback  radio hosts, Jones is perhaps not as accustomed to a challenge as he is to defence. John also discussed with us the importance of following up a story with a journalist and told us how the likes of Ray Hadley would be all too ready to set the record straight should a story from his show fall victim to an overly biased or inaccurate point of view. However obviously he can’t do that unless a senior media representative contacts him to challenge the original detractor.

What can we learn?

Keyboard warriors are loud, aggressive and can command a sizeable audience. As John pointed out, the PM earned credibility for challenging Jones in her attempts to clarify statements that would “mislead your listeners”. If you have a vocal detractor posting inaccurate or misinformed statements about your brand, products or services you have a right of reply. In fact, this is often the reason companies finally include social media in their communications strategies – without a presence these statements are left unchallenged.

Be prepared to discuss your audience’s agenda

John had a great story about how Roger Corbett, Woolworths CEO (at the time), was on his show, prepared for the onslaught of questions about pokies, liquor stores and co-branded fuel outlets. When John threw the phone lines opened Roger fielded 45 minutes of calls from the audience on one standout subject – what was behind the policing of the 12 items or less line?

What can we learn?

While you might be ready to push your brand messaging to your social media communities, they are there to interact with you on their terms. In Craig Pearce’s e-report, Public Relations 2011: insights, issues and ideas, I wrote:

… your audience doesn’t care that your organisation has very separate PR, marketing, sales and customer services departments. And whichever one pops up in the social space first should be ready to manage expectations – the Facebook page you created to extol the virtues of your environmental program will be used for venting frustrations regarding service outages if that’s what they want to say to you.

Roger Corbett knew his business inside and out so thankfully he didn’t find himself struggling with this unexpected line of discussion. Those responsible for your social media voice should be equally prepared to deal with any topic of interest from your audience. Sometimes this will require significant organisational change so that your community managers can represent PR. sales, customer service and account management whenever the need arises.

Transparency will win in a world of spin

One of my favourite pearls of wisdom from John is that we need to respect that the audience has changed the way they view the media and can see through the spin. With pop culture favourites like Frontline, The Hollowmen and The Gruen Transfer shining a light on old tactics and the backlash to incidences of cash for comment, the audience is ready to question anything they find suspicious. As John said, those who go against the trend of using “weasel words” and remain transparent about sponsorship deals and advertising are earning respect and credibility from a more educated audience.

What can we learn?

Consumers know you’re there to sell a product, not to be their friend. Why can’t we admit that advertising is advertising? Why be afraid to link a campaign to the desired outcome – a product sale? Why not acknowledge that a business is run by people, and not droids, and that regular, personal engagement may be susceptible to less than perfect interactions? Australians know this better than anyone; we can relate to brands that are inherently open, transparent and accountable. We love a straight shooter.

The voice of your company should be connected to a brain

John spoke to us about the increasing popularity of “advocacy journalism” where presenters find themselves abandoning traditional lines of questioning to try and create a result for their audience: “how can I fix this?”.  Think how Karl Stefanovic has been taking on the insurance companies on behalf of flood victims or how telcos are taken to task over service or billing disputes. John played a sound bite from a discussion he had on air with a media spokesperson in this kind of situation who had clearly been media trained to the point of detraction. He was unable to deviate from the prepared statements he obviously had in front of him and even began reciting the company values and examples which had no relevance to the topic at hand.

What can we learn?

This is a fitting example for why the voice of your company should be prepared, but should also be prepared to improvise. And most importantly, this is why your social media presence should be managed by an experienced communicator and not just a junior who understands all this new technology. Was that clear? You can write up all the key messaging documents you like but at the end of the day you are speaking in a live, dynamic space that requires maturity, common sense and agility. The representative for your company should always be equipped with the skills to react and adapt in this environment.

Have something to say and be interesting when you say it

This one covers a few examples. I’m sure most PR practitioners have hestitated before arranging interviews with key spokespeople for one of two reasons: the spokesperson is as interesting as a bowl of oat bran or the spokesperson wants coverage for something that is in no way newsworthy. John was realistic about it – have something interesting to say and be interesting when you say it or you won’t be invited back.

What can we learn?

Without the barriers of pesky journos, producers or editors to put the brakes on branded stories or content, the responsibility is with us to maintain an opt-in audience. As I have mentioned before, if you don’t deliver relevant and interesting content then you won’t continue to be invited to promote your brand, products or services in someone’s sacred social network feed. I really loved this article from Viral Blog that dissects the benefits of a good content strategy and this sentence resonated with me,

Nowadays your brand is being used more than it is being preferred, and if you give the people the right reason to use you: they will.

If you’re planning to speak to mums through popular social networks on a daily basis, your campaign will require an online editorial strategy – enough relevant and interesting content to seed every day.

I hope to see radio presenters like John on the conference circuit in future. They’ve been dealing with the same objectives and challenges that are now facing many a community manager and I think we’ve got a lot to learn from them. What are your thoughts?

Photo credit: Ian Hayhurst

2 Responses to “5 social media lessons we can learn from talkback radio”

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