“It’s a fad.” “Where’s the ROI in that?” “How’s that going to drive ratings?” Radio managers and talent alike were skeptical of many of the biggest digital innovations when they first disrupted the industry and its operations. But today? These innovations build our brands, drive deeper connections with our listeners, and provide new platforms for monetization. Here are 25 digital innovations that have changed radio for the better:
1. The internet. Can you remember a time when we didn’t have the world wide web as our frequency’s right arm? The next time you tell your kid, “Do you know how lucky you are? I didn’t even have Snapchat when I was your age,” think about how lucky you are to have the internet—a tool some of our older radio brethren would have killed for.
2. Email Marketing. There’s no more effective way to stay connected with your listeners away from the radio. Even among millennials, email continues to drive engagement with high open rates, especially on mobile devices. While some stations still use their email club as a dumping ground for content and sponsors, increasingly that is the exception to the rule. Leading stations, much like leading companies in every other industry, are spending time and effort on segmentation and messaging strategies to provide content that resonates and helps capture more listening occasions. “With Facebook and Twitter, you don’t own the relationship with the listener, the platform does. Good for social media companies, bad for you. With email, you have a direct connection with those who matter most and you can continue to enhance that relationship,” says Andrew Curran, President and COO of DMR/Interactive. Don’t take email for granted—it might not be new, but it drives powerful conversions.
3. SMS. Before social media, there was text clubs—providing radio talent with a platform to interact with listeners. Text messaging revolutionized radio promotions, gave talent feedback on programming, and offered advertisers new sponsorship opportunities.
4. Social media. Remember 2005, when you had to have a college email address to sign up for a Facebook account? Today social media gives us an opportunity to deepen our connection to our audience like no other digital innovation before or since. Whether you love it or hate it, social media has become an integral part of our operations, programming, marketing, and sales strategies.
5. Smartphones. The world is at our fingertips, giving us access to tools that make show prep easier, programming better, and audience interaction stronger. The world is at our listeners’ fingertips, too, with unprecedented access to radio and its competitors.
6. Talent-friendly station websites. New Content Management Systems like WordPress have made it easier for programming and marketing talent to own their web content strategies. It’s no longer technically necessary to wait around for your webmaster or web developers to create time-sensitive content— today’s CMSs are so user-friendly that anyone can learn them.
7. Online surveys. From music surveys to advertiser-supported polls, online surveying has changed the way we collect data and make programming and marketing decisions.
8. Streaming audio. The smartphone’s ubiquitous presence brought an unprecented distribution opportunity for radio. With streaming, it’s no longer just about the “home,” the “commute” or “at work.” We can reach our listeners 24/7 and monetize this extended reach in new ways, competing for digital advertising dollars in addition to broadcast. With streaming, our brand is a global one and not tethered to our geographic market. (An added perk for hiring managers? You can listen live to potential candidates instead of relying solely on demos!)
9. Video. Contrary to one very popular old song, video did not kill the radio star. Today it’s all about “video made the radio star!” Video offers us the opportunity to give our talent, our shows, and our events new life. Thanks to other digital distribution platforms like the station website and social media, we can complement the show with this visual medium and let listeners experience our content all over again. And today’s production standards make it so easy. High production is so yesterday—today it’s all about the content, so an iPhone video is all you need.
10. HD Radio. Higher quality sound for even the pickiest audiophiles, additional information on the display, iTunes tagging that drives music adoption—big benefits for listeners who love music and artists, too.
11. Podcasting. Jeff McHugh, Media Talent Coach at The Randy Lane Company, says, “Podcasting is survival of the fittest, where only killer content from the most talented hosts survive.” This gives radio a unique opportunity to test out new shows or new segments for existing shows, and develop new talent. “All great radio shows in the future will be in on-demand podcasts,” says Jeff. If radio follows the footsteps of TV, Jeff’s prediction is likely spot-on. But aren’t independent podcasts creating competition for radio? I’d argue that podcasting is a much needed reminder of how entertaining good audio content can be, how accessible it is, and what a great companion it can be to daily activities. Unlike TV or web browsing, you can listen while you workout, do housework, etc.
12. Live video streaming. There’s nothing like live streaming to make listeners feel like they’re in the room. But beyond live streaming the show, video streaming technology allows us to create new content for our audience— think post-show interviews, behind the scenes snippets, artist performances and social events.
13. Station and show mobile apps. Push notifications are powerful marketing tools, as we’re a captive audience to our mobile devices. When a listener downloads your app, she is devoting precious, limited real estate on her home screen— arguably the biggest opt-in there is!
14. Apps for audio recording and sharing. It has never been easier to record audio and share it with fans. Gone are the days where you can’t leave home without your audio recorder! Plus, audio sharing platforms make it easy to upload large audio files and share online with your audience.
15. The share button. P1s are passionate about their favorite station. However, for far too long, Word of Mouth was simply left up to chance. There have always been conversations around the office water cooler, but we had no way of knowing who was participating in the conversation. The digital share button empowers people to immediately share station content with their friends and co-workers. According to Andrew Curran, President and COO of DMR/Interactive, “Amplifiers who are in-demo and share your digital content are worth their weight in gold – get to know them. You can also encourage listeners, especially when they win a prize, to share their excitement online.”
16. Digital music services. That’s right—unpopular opinion here. The rise of digital music services like Pandora, Spotify and Apple Music have forced radio to innovate, and that’s a good thing. We’ve developed competitive strategies that have made radio brands stronger and positioned us to continue dominating as listeners have more choices in both programming and distribution. Radio was in a competition-less market for decades, and that monopoly was great while it lasted… but competition makes us better. Remember, we’re still the champion and not the challenger.
17. Content curation platforms. Creating unique, personalized show content is much easier with online tools that curate relevant content for you. It’s not possible to comb the entire internet daily, so these tools show you what’s relevant for your show and your audience.
18. Social forums just for radio. With communities like Studio Think Tank and private Facebook groups, you can connect to share ideas, mentor young talent, and be inspired by what’s working well for other shows around the globe.
19. Competitive targeting with social advertising. Serving ads to users who like or follow competitor Facebook or Twitter accounts can raise brand awareness to the most likely audience to convert, helping you chip away at market share.
20. Disappearing content via social media. Snapchat and Instagram Stories give radio the opportunity to drive urgency with promotions and of-the-moment content. Wait too long to check it out and you’ve missed out on the offer or satisfying that curiosity created by your favorite radio host.
21. Facebook’s lookalike audiences. Need to acquire new listeners? With Facebook’s lookalike audiences, you can target people who share common interests and demographics with your existing listener base.
22. Screens. As distribution platforms’ technology advances, we’re seeing new opportunities to make radio more visual. From our own websites and apps to cars, the screen is a chance to both engage the listener on a deeper level and provide sponsors with additional advertising opportunities.
23. Influencer marketing trends. The rise of social media has brought us a trend in influencer marketing. But wait, isn’t radio the original influencer? Capitalizing on this new advertiser budget gives radio talent the opportunity to better monetize their influence through digital and on-air endorsement.
24. Virtual assistants and smart speakers. Amazon, Google and Apple (and partnering tech brands) are racing to own this market and that means we’re on the brink of a shift in the way consumers leverage voice commands to play media and access content. Up your programming and marketing game to ensure your station doesn’t get left behind.
25. Talent. Our people are without a doubt the biggest digital innovators. Technology means nothing if not well utilized. It’s your station’s human capital that leverages technology to create better experiences for our listeners to drive brand loyalty.
We have a unique opportunity today to extend our brands to an interactive medium. Build your online presence wisely and it will amplify your on-air message, giving you greater reach and deeper engagement.
Photo by Jan Antonin Kolar on Unsplash. This article was also published in the 25th Anniversary issue of Radio Ink.