For this year’s Student Radio Conference, we are asked at Aiir to run a session about the online side of radio. It was myself and my colleague Gav doing the talk, and helpfully I came up with a ridiculous title that was too long to fit in the programme.
The talk made a bit of stir with our viral ‘Is Justin Bieber on Capital’ site unveiled at the end, so here’s a bit of the background to what the point of it actually was (as well as having a laugh).
It was also about having a laugh, to be honest.
37 things to do the internet well that will make you react in some way (look here’s a gif of a cat)
Alright, so it’s the conference equivalent of clickbait as we didn’t really have 37 things, but the idea was to share a collection of interesting, helpful and surprising ideas across the radio and industry about how to take advantage of the web.
We had to rattle through for time, so here’s a slightly-longer-than-I-expected write-up of some of my notes, reference links and silly pictures.
Making a useful website
People tend to know what a radio site looks like – slightly to the point of cliche. It’s how the new series of Alan Partridge can parody that perfectly with its opening titles…
Alright, in practice this one is mostly accurate as it’s a carbon-copy of Bauer’s local sites (you’ll spot Cash for Kids in in there!), but the point stands. There’s room for more creativity, but also a lot of things are consistent as they work.
But you should plan your goals – for Absolute, it’s driving listening across their stations (a bit more about how they did this), for others, it’s advertising, listener information, or being a resource for local info.
We looked at anonymised data from a few different styles of station to see what’s performing well. Some of the things picked out:
- In most cases, live listening is as big as the homepage. For specialist music stations – the player can be bigger. Get that experience right.
- The basics matter – presenters, schedules, song information still do well.
- It depends what you invest your time in – some stations are seeing great traffic from local news content. Some stories have been so popular they outperform the homepage. Not all stories are that big, but the rest consistently deliver and that traffic adds up.
- Most on air promotion is just the homepage address. Can people actually find what you mention?
You shouldn’t just let analytics drive what you do – you should be data-informed, not data-led. In many cases, if something’s not performing well, it might just be as you’ve not promoted it well.
- Netflix is quite famously driven by data, but one thing they’ve done is look at what data actually is useful – and traditional age/gender stats aren’t it.
- The Guardian have a real-time tool called Ophan that’s open to all staff and here’s how you use it to help the teams make decisions.
But if things aren’t working, consider if it’s worth doing – The Times are moving away from reporting breaking news online in favour of fixed-time editions. Whether editions will work long term is another matter, but with so much competition in that space it’s a decision with some sense behind it.
Personality in design
When we redesigned the Jack FM website, we wanted something that properly reflected the station – that it’s local, it’s music policy, and that it’s got a sense of humour. Those three elements are combined to create a large ‘hero’ section which sums it all up.
From there, we had a bit of fun with the text – rather than ‘Get from iTunes’, it says ‘Download (Legally)’. When you’re choosing your local station, it’s light hearted, as well as functional.
Oh, and there’s a large button on the sidebar marked ‘Jack Off’. Go on, go and click it.
It’s important not to take this too far though. On a previous version of the site, the layout was a bit more all over the place, with cartoony font for titles – which didn’t serve the serious content well.
The ‘ideal future’ people often talk about for radio in apps is personalisation – but the real goal with that has to be simplicity.
That’s what Global have done well with the My Capital XTRA app. Swipe a song away, it’ll bring in another in a mix of pre-recorded, links and station sound. It’s a slick and clever experience.
That’s nice and all, but if you’re a student station, how can you do something sort of like that but on the cheap? Well, in Switzerland, an experimental ‘MusicBan’ site lets users vote if they love or hate artists. If they don’t like an artist when it plays, the stream is replaced with a YouTube artist. Once the song’s done, you’re back on the live audio. Here’s a video from Next Radio explaining it:
And for a different sort of personalisation, check out radio.likemee. You build up a custom day of different streams for different times, but the icing on the cake is personalised wakeups, with ‘Good morning, Jonathan’ from the DJ, followed by the local weather.
While we’re talking about doing things on the cheap – how about video? If you’re looking to do studio videos like Radio 1 or Radio X, don’t think you need to have clever live vision mixing. If there’s something of note happening, set up a couple of static cameras (or phones, but keep motion to a minimum), get the audio from the studio and sync it all up.
At Siren, I produced a series of videos for the No Adults Allowed show, as well as for my own show, Connected. With a couple of inexpensive HD cameras and a laptop for editing, we were able to get some decently edited videos online within half an hour of the features going out live on air.
Video also performs very well on social media – but it’s often muted initially. That’s why Channel 4 News’ videos on Twitter are so good – there’s clear subtitles to draw you in, for both the storytelling and interviewees.
And from one Channel 4 to another, the radio station in Dubai does some interesting experiments on Instagram. Here’s a short ‘three stories’ update video. There’s a lot going on, but could you experiment with this in a simpler form?
And speaking of Channel 4 – they’re one of my favourite stations to look at what they’re doing, just from a cultural view. Not many stations actually *give away gold* – or create a dedicated website for where in the UAE you can ride your hoverboard.
That’s great social stuff but radio tends to be audio so how does that work, hmmm
Good point! Yes – audio doesn’t tend to go viral as often, but it’s not impossible. A few stations are doing interesting things in short-form audio, and this includes BBC Radio 5Live. Their In Short brand contains clips from programmes across the station, and it’s doing pretty well. In October 2015, they had four million clip plays.
In America, WNYC have what they call ‘Audiograms’. They’re technically videos, but it makes it clear they’re audio – and are only short clips. It’s worth reading a bit more about the thinking behind them – but here’s an example.
— WNYC (@WNYC) 7 March 2016
And without fancy graphics? Sure, here’s a piece from BBC Radio Bristol. Obnoxious introduction graphics aside, this is 1.3 million plays* for a brilliant piece of audio – and the actual video? It’s just a screen recording of the audio editing software.
This little girl from Nailsea will make your heart melt. Emma, who's three, handled this 999 call when her pregnant mum fell down the stairs. Now South Western Ambulance Service will present her with a bravery certificate.
Posted by BBC Radio Bristol on Tuesday, December 22, 2015
*it’s Facebook video plays so god knows what that means in the real world with their stats.
Cool, so how do I go viral then without being a little girl making a 999 call?
I’ve had my fair share of viral projects – ones that had a life of one day and ones that are still going after five years. There’s no set formula, but you need to think how something actually gets shared.
You need to engage people at three stages: why they click the link in the first place – how they experience the content – and how you get them to share it. There’s a great diagram on this blog post, which goes in to a lot of different reasons why things take off.
A big part of why people actually share content is due to emotions. Strong, positive ones help. It’s that reaction, that emotion, is what people actually want to share with others – causing a reaction. That’s seen in Buzzfeed and email lists and puppy videos.
Think how high that barrier is for something to be good enough (particularly funny enough to share). Go through your social feeds right now – there’ll be so much good content there, but you’re not sharing them all.
There’s a real tribal reason behind sharing too – it helps people express elements of themselves that they want to, their empathy, and that they belong. This can be scaled down to within a bigger community.
It’s partly why minion memes are big – they’re effectively a blank canvas. They’re pointless. But they help people express their existing views, and their blandness is why there’s so many of them as Minions don’t actually stand for anything… except to follow the most despicable people in all humanity.
Casual reminder that Minions actively seek out the most evil being on the planet to serve pic.twitter.com/wThWVv66nH
— BuzzFeed (@BuzzFeed) 29 February 2016
Other aspects can help your content – from being topical, light elements of competition, collaboration or just sheer quality. But think from a user’s point of view – why would they share it? They don’t just retweet every breaking news thing.
But you also just can’t control things sometimes. I made Break Your Own News, the breaking news generator after an office joke. It plodded along fairly well for a year or so, but then after hitting the right communities, who effectively seeded it to the rest of the web, it outdid its lifetime traffic in just one day.
Not everything hits. You can get the right tone, content, but it just doesn’t always land. It won’t always trickle back to the rest of site – aim at an audience that matters, and be realistic about what success means for you and what forms that takes. Raw numbers aren’t everything and can be misleading.
Well this all sounds jolly exciting but what should I, an internet-and-radio-interested person do now?
Lovely! Well I’d argue you should create something, however small. Make notes of ideas, and silly sketches. Keep a hold of them. I tend to start on paper before going digital – my notebooks are full of dropped ideas. You should try things and hack things – find small problems, see if you can understand and solve them.
Or just have a bit of fun.
Look at what areas of a station there are – there’s marketing, content discovery, that content itself and the listening experience, amongst others.
So to hopefully inspire students into having a bit of fun, Gav and I went to the pub to come up with a relatively simple site – and knock it together in a few hours.
Ideas in my notebook included ‘like Tinder but for picking a radio show’ and other ideas that will likely go no further.
Earlier that day we spotted an interesting story that when Capital plays Justin Bieber, this will be shown on live billboards in London. It’s a clever idea, which got us thinking… well, how often is that going to be? It’s got to be a fair bit otherwise the campaign wouldn’t work. Plus, he’s got what, three songs in high rotation on Capital…?
So we thought we’d try this, and made isjustinbieberoncapital.com. Clever stuff by Gav, HTML by yours truly. The idea, go to the site and we’ll tell you if he’s on – and on average how many minutes you have to wait until he is next.
— Global (@thisisglobal) 30 March 2016
(Well, I’m glad they took it in good humour!)
Now, much of my day job isn’t making silly joke websites, but if you’re interested in the web site of radio and would like to pick our brains about anything, we’d love to chat. Hopefully the talk has shown it’s a really creative area and got a few ideas flowing.
You can contact me on Twitter or send an email – jonathan at aiir.com.
Oh and if I’m rubbish at replying just nag me a bit.