There has been a huge focus on moving radio brands to the internet. Internet ad revenue has grown exponentially while the spot business has declined. Conversation and activity in building VIP Clubs, Twitter, Facebook, and My Space accounts at the station level has been intense. All that effort going in a number of different directions takes time, money, and people.
One of the strengths and hallmarks of country radio over the years has been its relationship to the fans. As PPM drives many stations to reduce the on air conversation and crank up the jukebox, that communication and companionship with fans has changed or even disappeared. We wanted to see just how good country radio is doing engaging and talking to the audience.
Unlike web metrics like unique users, page views, or server side streaming sessions, the number of fans who come to a stations Facebook page, or Twitter account are very public. Its easy to see and compare. This may be the one single “ratings” system that is completely open to all.
We wanted to apply specific metrics to the stations. Mediabase weighing has a large cume component in it. We can’t avoid it with the internet either. There will be a bit of a cume component in this methodology as well. Bigger populations give stations a bigger pool of potential listeners to become followers or fans. While there is no way to judge the level of engagement of fans or followers at this point, a raw count would be a good way to rate a station’s success. We settled on these numbers as a way to rank how social country radio stations are at the end of 2009.
1)Number of Facebook fans
2)Number of Twitter fans
3)Unique posts on either service in a week
One way to tell for certain that Facebook is a real thing–check the “For Dummies” books. These books don’t get printed unless there is a solid market. Now, there’s a new Facebook Marketing For Dummies book available online, or in your local bookstore. Facebook is the second largest web site in the world. Only Google has more site traffic. Unlike Google, you can completely control what happens on your Facebook page, and how you rank. It seems obvious your listeners are likely going to Facebook, long before they come to your stations web site. Go where the listeners are seems to be an easy answer if you want to build a positive listener experience and grow your own site. With all that as background, it seems stunning that Facebook’s fan pages are not being used by several top 50 market country stations. If they are being used, it was impossible from the home page of the station web site to find the Facebook link.
Twitter is another site frequented by most of the audience. Twitter ranks as fifteenth most visited web site in the U.S. Twitter essentially is non existent at country radio, with the exception of a couple standouts. The vast majority of country stations have well under 1,000 followers on Twitter. A few stations used Twitter only to tweet their playlists. The low follower numbers on these stations would suggest that is not a good use of the tool. Like Facebook, a number of stations either did not have Twitter accounts, or those accounts were impossible to find on the home pages.
One of the most important parts of becoming involved in social media is being in the conversation. Social media is a two way street. Brands like Zappos.com and Dell, built their businesses on great customer service. These brands have introduced a new position, the Online Community Manager, at their companies. This position is a real job with substantial pay. These companies have worked hard at increasing the engagement of their companies with their clients. In interviews with stations, we found most of the social media activity is generated by a single dedicated employee. There are exceptions, and the most social country station on Facebook, whom you’ll read about shortly, does it differently.
As radio stations have moved more and more to syndicated programming and imported voice tracking, the conversations between the stations and listeners have diminished. The engagement has fallen away. Radio seems stuck between two worlds. Are we simply a carrier of content, like the internet? Or do we produce stellar content for digital and over the air distribution. You can’t just post a site or a page, leave it alone, and expect growth. There are some exceptional performers at country radio, stations that were able to get it all done.
The country music station who has the highest number of Facebook fans is Roanoke’s WSLC 94.9 Star Country. Star has nearly triple the number of Facebook fans as its nearest country competitor with nearly 27,000 fans on their page as of the end of December. The large number of fans drives tremendous response to the page as well. Most posts from the station get a number of comments and interaction with their community. We talked with WSLC Star Country Program Director Brett Sharp about their success on Facebook.
Listen to the complete interview with Brett Sharp, Program Director 94.9 Star Country here, or read the highlights of our conversation below.
What is the secret of your huge Facebook growth?
First of all isn’t it amazing that country people have computers. Its over 27,000 now and still climbing. The short version our growth came as we gave away a car. We talked briefly about stunting, but I had no idea what Facebook was about. I intentionally didn’t learn anything about it before we started to keep it pretty organic. I let the listeners teach me, and they really did.
The goal is to be more grass roots and real. We found with Facebook its immediate. Its like a market perceptual. They will tell you exactly what they think, and its not always good. Its genuine and its real.
The 27,000 we didn’t expect. We got started when Robynn James, my morning co-host, called me out for not having a Facebook page. Then a car dealer friend of ours called and challenged me to build a page. In one day, we got over 1000 fans.
Brett, your Facebook page gets more than 100 responses a day. Today when we don’t have the time to talk with listeners as we once did, that has to be a great source of information for you.
Its fantastic. Read them on the air. Call them by name. A couple of comments from Facebook and bang the phone lights up. Your listeners are fun, they’ll do the punch line for you. It makes it easy.
Who is responsible for your Facebook page at Star Country?
No way shape or form is one person responsible. We’ve learned it has to be real. We used to send out slick looking e-mails and we found, that if we have the personality write and post his own words the response is a LOT higher. Text works better than the fancy high gloss efforts for us.
There has been an increase in our web site traffic as a result I think. We still work our Gold Star Club and set appointments for listeners to come to the station for audience building.
Have you found a way to make money from the page?
We’ve been working with sales to try and find a way to monetize it. We work well with sales here, and the work on these pages is like product placement. We haven’t broke through that yet.
If you were giving advice on starting a Facebook page to those country stations that aren’t in the space yet, what would you say?
Be real. Launch it and talk about real things. The more real you are the better.
Star Country doesn’t do additional contacts with their Facebook fans, like e-mail, outside the Facebook environment and posts. Sharp believes the depth of the connection you get doing social media far exceeds anything he has done before. A few posts a day is about the proper amount of contact to have with listeners.
Staffing for social media at Star has a level of importance. Sharp says you just have to make time to do it.
“I was one of those programmers. Ah websites..I’m not in the business of promoting websites, I promote radio. The buzz on the Facebook promotion was huge. Every where we went, people would ask us about it. The buzz was incredible. I’m just a fan of Facebook. Listeners registered to win on our Facebook page. We were seeing a huge amount of growth almost everyday once we launched the contest. A second element of what we do with the page is be real. Write the words the way we talk. Don’t be slick. I start almost all of my Facebook posts with “Hi Y’all, Its Brett”
Before you think about running a similar contest on your page, Facebook changed their terms of service in mid November. The changes eliminate or severely restrict the ability to run contests on the platform. Example, you cannot predicate entry to a contest on making a comment, or becoming a fan. A full list of the Facebook rules and regulations are here. Many country stations are running afowl of those rules and run the risk of having their page shut down.
Being told you suck is pretty unpleasant for most people and programmers. Social media gives listeners a chance to have their say and to have it very publicly. Sharp talked about how he handles those inevitable issues.
“I meet the problem head on. We never pull a post off the page because its negative. We thank them for their interest and concern, and share our point of view. We are very protective of our fans and listeners. Working in social media is worth it. To do it well, be real. Facebook is a grass roots cume building effort.”
Star Country’s metro cume is 87,000 while the TSA cume is around 221,000. Comparing the Facebook fan numbers against the cume shows the power this station has generated. It will be an interesting test of the value of social media to ratings to see how the Arbitron numbers look for the Fall book in Roanoke.
The top ten Facebook’n country music stations include WXTU#2 at 9,044, The Froggy group from Pittsburgh #3 with 8,170, Eagle 97.3 WGH at #4 with 7,917, and KYGO rounds out the top 5 at 7,196.
The second five are K-102, WIL, US99, WYRK, and B105 in Cincinnati finishes up the top 10. To make the top ten required over 5,000 fans. B-105 hit 5,049.
Twitter is another popular social media service that does not get a lot of love from country radio. Fourteen of the top 50 country stations either have no Twitter account, or it is not easily located on their websites or Google. In almost every case, a station with a large Twitter presence had little in the way of Facebook. The reverse is also true. The only station that scored well in both metrics was B-105 in Cincinnati, finishing in the top 10 in both.
The top Twitter’n country station is Nashville’s WSIX with nearly 5,000 followers at the end of 2009. WBCT was #2 at 3,434; Go Country Los Angeles at 2,171, KNIX was #4 at 1,942. WYCD is #5 with 1,812.
The second half of the top ten included B-105 Cincinnati 1,610 ; KMLE 1,360; Bull Atlanta 1,346 ; Kiss Country Fresno 1,187 ; and Kat Country in Stockton with 1,103 followers on Twitter.
The rank of all stations in the sample is here
Social media was big in 2009, but it will only become larger moving into 2010. How big? Pepsi pulled all of its money from the Super Bowl to focus more than $20 million dollars on social media projects. The issue is not if but when.
The biggest problem for stations appears to be three fold. With the personnel cuts of the past 18 months, social media has not been a focus. Additionally, finding quality material to post (talking about a normal weather day while social is wasting time) is needed. Having the time to manage the posts is an additional challenge for stations and their programmers. We even found posts that were done by staff that could lead to FCC investigations. One station posted a note describing how the talent had just “re-enacted” a contest. The FCC would take a pretty dim view of that kind of action.
We know having raving fans is a key to ratings and revenue success. Social media can be a difference maker.