Sunday, June 07, 2015

Promoting Digital Listening Like Your Survival Depends On It

How would you promote your public radio station’s on-line stream if the station’s very existence depended on it?

It’s not a hypothetical question.  Every public radio station faces that situation today as more of its listeners and donors spread their listening across broadcast and digital platforms.

It wasn’t a hypothetical question five years ago for Classical KDFC in San Francisco.  KDFC was a commercial radio station and its owner decided to drop the format.  Classical music lost its home at 102.1 FM.

The University of Southern California and KUSC stepped in and acquired two lesser signals on which to broadcast KDFC as a public radio station.  Two frequencies.  Far less coverage.  More than 100,000 distraught listeners who could no longer hear the station over the air.

KDFC already had a good digital presence.  It had streams and mobile apps.  It was social media savvy.  It had a good database and a newsletter.

KDFC researched the many ways listeners could easily hear its programming through digital platforms.  It developed recommendations for Internet radio options and how to use Bluetooth to send sound to external speakers.  It developed the simplest possible narrative for communicating those options.  It heavily promoted that narrative across all available touch points.  This went on for months.

Listeners who could no longer hear KDFC reached out to the station as well and KDFC was prepared to help them with information and support. That support went as far as KDFC’s program hosts returning phone calls from listeners and walking them through the steps necessary to hear the station online.  It was a daily occurrence.

Embedded in KDFC’s story is a template for how all public radio stations should be promoting their digital listening options.
  • Start with the goal of helping as many listeners as possible learn to create a quality listening experience on a computer, to listen via an app, to use external speakers at home and in the car, and to find and listen to a podcast or on demand content.
  • Have up-to-date and easy to use digital listening options.
  • Develop a simple narrative describing the benefits of using the station’s digital offerings, including step-by-step instructions on how to get the most out of each option.
  • Promote the heck out of it using every possible touch point, including on-air.
  • Provide prompt individualized customer service when needed.
  • Rinse and Repeat.
That last point is really important.  Rinse and repeat.

KDFC ended up with five different radio signals throughout the Bay Area.  Most of its previous coverage area was restored three years ago.  In some areas the station has even better coverage. KDFC promoted those new signals even more heavily than it originally promoted online listening, including billboard and bus card advertising, and has rebuilt much of its audience.

Still, 5 years after losing its original signal and 3 years after restoring most of its coverage, a pledge drive doesn’t go by without hearing from past listeners who are just discovering that KDFC is back on the air in their community. They didn’t get the message.

Rinse and repeat.  There’s always someone who didn’t hear the message.  There’s always some who has just discovered your station for the first time.

Growing digital listening is too important to not be engaged in continuous promotion.  To borrow and modify an old slogan from PBS, if you aren’t going to effectively promote your own digital offerings, who will?

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