Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Should Public Radio Offer Incentives to Attract New Digital Listeners?

The strategic use of incentives helps make public radio pledge drives more successful. They help boost the number of donations during key dayparts. They motivate some listeners to give at certain pledge levels and in ways that are beneficial to the station.

Incentives were successfully used in the late 1980s and early 1990s to encourage listeners to give via credit card instead of asking for an invoice. One of the most popular credit card incentives was an annual subscription to Newsweek magazine. Each subscription cost the station a dollar.

Incentives were successfully used in the late 1990s and early 2000s to encourage giving via the station web site. Stations held special “cyber days” to get listeners to give online. One of the most famous cyber days was in 1999 at WAMU when the station gave away a new Volvo.

Public radio has no problem offering incentives to generate contributions and encourage ideal giving behaviors.  Why not try the same for digital listening?

We know from decades of research that listening causes giving. And having more listening makes it easier to generate more underwriting revenue. Getting more listening, generating more public service, is the best fundraising a station can do. It might make sense to accelerate digital listening by offering some incentives for listeners to try it.

It’s an interesting prospect. There could be incentives for downloading an app or registering to listen online. There could be incentives for first use or the first ten hours of listening or a certain number of podcast downloads.

What types of incentives? That’s the fun part. We get to test.

Maybe it is offering bonus content or a coupon code for the NPR Shop. Maybe it is a dining discount with an underwriter or a digital coupon for a local bookseller. Perhaps it is a “vintage” t-shirt or mug from the back of the premium closet. Maybe a Bluetooth speaker is offered at a special discount price to digital listeners who use the station 10 times over two weeks.

Digital listening is supposed to be an essential component of public radio’s future. That means public radio’s finances will depend on it. It just might be worth the testing whether incentives can accelerate digital audience growth.

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