How radio stations use social media as communication and backchannel tool, depends on their program and listener profile. A young CHR format versus a mature AC brand.

They exist in two different worlds, also in terms of audience and approach – planet more music radio in Hessen, and ANTENNE BAYERN in Bavaria. Still, both radio stations use social media to enhance their own distribution and feedback channels. At the RADIO DAY 2011 in Cologne, their PDs talked about how they implement facebook into the radio product.


Worldwide & German facebook facts

Current numbers about the most popular online community in the world:

  • 650 million users worldwide
  • 25.000 connections made per minute
  • 250.000 comments posted per minute
  • 1 out of 4 online Germans has facebook profile



planet radio facebook community

planet more music radio opened their facebook wall in May 2009, when the social media hype was beginning to reach the masses. “We opted for facebook because of its coolness”, PD Marko Eichmann explains. “It fits our brand. We come accross a bit American; the station sounds very young and dynamic. So we said: let’s open a fan page and see what happens.” Something did happen; planet radio has almost 170.000 friends now. It’s the second largest facebook community of all German radio stations. | radio sunshine live, planet more music radio, bigFM, 1LIVE, SWR3, ANTENNE BAYERN, N-JOY, DASDING, KISS FM and 90elf were the Top 10 German radio stations on facebook on October 1st, 2011 (graphic: RADIOSZENE)

8 of the 10 most popular German radio stations on facebook are young oriented pop stations (graphic: RADIOSZENE)



Goals instead of numbers

During the first months, everyone was focused on the facebook friends counter. Also because the Medien Analyse (media analysis) for radio only includes two ratings books a year (German radio ratings). “When you finally get to see some numbers going up day after day, it’s very exciting.” He says that nowadays it’s not so much about who has the most friends and followers. “It’s a matter of what are we going to do with them. How do we communicate with them; how can we efficiently answer their questions?” | The new generation of radio listeners is constantly online and connected to facebook through mobile phone apps, such as this one for Apple's iPhoneNew backchannel for radio

Radio has traditionally been the most interactive medium. How did social media change the station-listener dialogue? “When we signed on in 1997, it was about phone calls and letters, followed by sms text messages and emails. Today it’s facebook. It’s so super fast! Our audience is always online and when they don’t have a PC or MacBook in front of them, they carry their iPhone with a facebook app.” The PD sees it as a new backchannel for radio.



Direct connection triggers emotion

Because of this easy, fast and direct connection, forget about rational diplomacy – facebook users are direct and emotional. Marko Eichmann sees that the audience can be brutally honest and confronting online. “They can suddenly write: this is really sh*t! First, it’s a shock; we are not used to the fact that listeners directly comment that they don’t like something.” According to Eichmann, there is no censorship on the planet radio wall. “That would be killing.” So the team rather answers or tries to explain. “They realize it’s part of audience bonding; interacting with listeners very closely.” | Marko Eichmann, planet more music radio program director, notes that facebook fans self-regulate content on social media wallsListener discussion provides insights

The introduction of a new morning show with two new personalities on planet radio caused surprised reactions online; some fans of the former team wrote that it was a stupid thing. Marko Eichmann (photo) experiences that in cases like this, facebook users show collective self-regulation. “Right after such a comment, someone else writes: let’s give the new guys a break. It’s interesting to observe communications among listeners that you otherwise wouldn’t see.”



Personal, emotional, engaging interaction

Interactions become more engaging when they include emotions and personal involvement. “At Easter, we asked our fans: we have a bunny costume here; which of our presenters would you want to see in it?” It led to about one thousand likes or comments. Another time, the audience had to guess which mystery guest would visit the station – based on a picture of only her shoes. It first started a discussion about whether the shoes were awful or sexy. The next day, the entire picture was posted; revealing that it was Kelly Clarkson. | planet more music radio tries to engage their young audience in surprising ways every day through their facebook wall, as it's the station's most important backchannel (photo: Thomas Giger)

Interaction on facebook works well when it’s entertaining on the emotional and personal level (photo: Thomas Giger)



Google+ for radio stations?

Marko Eichmann sees facebook presence as an ongoing and fun experiment.“Our team enjoys talking about what we’ll do for our fans today.” Meanwhile, facebook is part of planet radio’s editorial schedule, along with on-air and online. Jocks check the station’s facebook wall as part of their daily show prep. The new Google+ is on planet radio’s radar. Eichmann awaits the introduction of company profiles to see what’s possible here. “In this sense, we are dependent on Zuckerberg & Co. and can only act accordingly.”



What works on facebook?

Radio stations that want more response on facebook have to be entertaing by:

  • Sharing emotion
  • Creating curiosity
  • Stimulating discussion
  • Offering personal involvement



Format and audience matters

Valerie Weber is program director and part of the management team of ANTENNE BAYERN. It’s Germany’s most listened-to radio station with an average daily reach of 3,2 million people – that’s about a quarter of the 12,5 million inhabitants of the Free State of Bavaria. In a RADIO DAY 2011 interview, Weber says that every interaction increases listener loyalty – “whether you write a post card or post on facebook”. But the radio format and audience profile determine to what extent social media strengthen the radio-listener connection.



Social radio effectiveness criteria

A radio station creates listener loyalty through social media easier if the:

  • radio format is distinctive
  • radio station is a young oriented brand
  • target demo has a homogeneous structure



Interest groups: audience foundation

“If you’re a young station with a clearly defined format for a homogeneous audience, such as a Rock format, you can really win a lot of listeners. Because you already have an interest group to build upon.” Format segmented radio stations could sell ads within its online radio player. Weber says that it’s not only ANTENNE BAYERN’s own sub channel ROCK ANTENNE that achieved “great successes” through its facebook presence. She also mentions the young radio station egoFM as a good example. | ANTENNE BAYERN program director Valerie Weber expects that whatever happens to social media, there will always be a backchannel for radio, because this medium has always been a social community (photo: ANTENNE BAYERN)

Valerie Weber: “the first bumper sticker was actually the first ‘Like’ button” for radio (photo: ANTENNE BAYERN)



More fans than listeners

It’s interesting that this new music station for young people already has more facebook fans than radio listeners. “Maybe the audience isn’t measured that exactly through our current Medien Analyse instrument? But they’re registered on facebook.” The PD sees that social media play a different role for mass-appeal formats such as ANTENNE BAYERN, although the family radio has a popular facebook page. The main reason could be that the average AC-station listener is mature, and therefore used to a traditional way of communicating. “Our listeners still write a lot of emails and call us.”



Mass appeal radio stations like ANTENNE BAYERN (picture shows facebook wall) and special interest formats such as ROCK ANTENNE both benefit from social media backchannel’s audience segmentation (photo: Thomas Giger)



Social + radio = more sales

According to Valerie Weber, also generic radio formats can profit from media like facebook. “Especially AC stations can use social media as backchannel to reach specific audience segments.” The combination of mass-appeal radio stations and targeted social media seems to effective. Weber: “By advertising in an AC format you can reach the masses and build your reputation and brand awareness. If you then desire feedback from a specific audience, you can use social media.”



Which medium to choose?

It’s a fact that every social medium requires a different communication approach:

  • facebook: entertaining style of communication
  • Twitter: news oriented, technical oriented, male dominated



Future of social radio

Over the course of a couple of years, online communities have developed very fast. Where are we heading with social media? Valerie Weber: “It will probably be unstoppable, but it might die eventually; just like the postcard. However, the backchannel will always be there. Radio has always been a social community.” And with a great feeling for sound bites, she ends with: “The first bumper sticker with ‘I love ANTENNE BAYERN from the 1980s was actually the first ‘Like’ button inside our social community.”