The Art of Online Conversation

‘DemonFM prides itself on having a strong connection with it’s listeners.’ Which would be a great statement to open our annual report to Of com if it was strictly the case. While DemonFM’s show teams do many good things that keep us working closely with our growing audience, social media is not necessarily one of the strongest things that we do. Yes, we use Facebook and Twitter a lot to interact with people. Yes, we have a very vibrant email and text message system so that listeners can interact with our show teams as we play out our shows. And yes, our website is well used with a lot of content being produced and shared from it, including podcasts of our shows, interviews, reports and show pages that give each team the chance to showcase their content. But, I have nagging question about what we do when we look at all of these things in the round? Do these things amount to a social media strategy? Are these things likely to prove that we have a strong conversation with our listeners and with our wider volunteers and partners?

So my job over the next couple of weeks is to put some flesh on this enquiry. I want to do this in two ways. Firstly, by looking at how other community, commercial and public service broadcasters use social media to promote interactive conversations with their audiences. And secondly, by talking to volunteers at DemonFM who use social media to help organisae the station, to engage listeners with the stations shows. The range of options and the accessibility of social media gives so many more opportunities for individual listeners to track and follow specific content that they are interested in, either on the basis of local media, national media, international media, personality and celebrity, or communities of association such as sport, music genres or college enrolment. Social media is emerging as a very powerful force among the range of traditional forms of media distribution, because it allows for discussion, diversity of provision and an immediacy might be lacking in other forms of representation.

I’m going to do this by compiling a table, but I need to think through the categories that I’m going to use – a horizontal and a vertical axis. The horizontal is easy, just a list of examples that I need to build up. So definitely in are the national BBC Radio network stations. This is a big job in itself to follow how these stations output social media, and what subsidiary social media forms are produced for individual programmes. The BBC also has extensive guidelines about the use of Social Media in it’s Producer Guidelines, so plenty to work on. The next group will be commercial stations, both national, regional, and if there are any left in the UK, local commercial stations. I’ve seen nothing that identifies how commercial stations define their social media policies, so I wonder if there will be a different level of engagement and feel to the type of conversation that their Tweets, Facebook chats and message boards engender. Finally, the growing importance of social media for the Community Media sector will have an interesting dimension, given that many users of social media are unlikely to be defined by centralised policies, the need to target advertisers or to give a consistent service/voice.

How can this be broken down into key categories then? To start with, let’s try grouping them into the straightforward Public Service, Commercial and Community media outlets. Following from this I want to look at the types of social media used; the frequency of use; the association with individual shows (which means diversity of accounts and feeds); the incorporation of user responses; is this anonymous or associated with a celebrity? Then I suppose I could ask: do they direct users to other content, such as blogs, podcasts, applications and other forms of additional content; do they encourage users to share content they have created themselves; do they direct users to determine how the programme progresses, either by influencing what is played or giving an interactive dialogue for the presentation team to relay.

Hopefully the Easter break will be a productive time for this. Now to produce a table that I can start to use to fill-in the blanks.

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