Blogging for a Reason

It’s very difficult for companies to blog. Or, it’s difficult for them to get the right tone. Sometimes it’s just difficult for them to understand why they’re blogging in the first place. Have they got anything to say? Will anyone actually visit them in the first place? Why would they?

It’s good when you have a reason to start and that reason is of interest to someone. Original 106 in Bristol has that reason – they’re starting a new radio station and they need people to know about it so they’ll tune in. Launching a new radio station is difficult. Most people already listen to something else, and probably quite like it. With a new launch you have to make people aware of it, teach them the kind of stuff you do and then hope that they tune in and sample you. When they do tune in you’ve then got to try and keep them, turning them into a regular listener. It’s all quite hard work.

As a new station start-up you have to use all the tools at your disposal. Creating talkability is something that’s always worthwhile. And it’s something that you can do relatively cheaply. Original have done it by sending out a gorgeous street team to spend a little money getting people talking to each other. It’s a nice idea, the’ve been randomly paying for things – shopping, round of beer etc. And i’m sure it’ll help increase their awareness.

But that’s just one example, with launches you need to use everything in your armoury and sensibly Original seem to be doing that. And online they’ve done a pre-launch blog.

No doubt some of their other activity will get people searching them out online and visiting their site. What better way to try and cement a further relationship by showing these listeners that you’re normal, down-to-earth and excited. A typical radio station showing pictures of the jocks just doesn’t really do that, but a group-blog certainly does. Naturally they’ve got a lot to talk about and the’re all excited about it. Doing it in the form of a group blog is a great way to introduce potential listeners to the whole team, show you’re nice people and teach them about the radio station.

You can visit their blog at www.originalbristol.com.

The Trouble With Using Twitter for Business

I genuinely feel quite bad about writing this post. I like Twitter a lot, I think it’s a great little service and as Dave alludes to it’s the kind of software that can be used for multiple reasons. Some people use it, as Twitter suggests, to tell their friends ‘what they are doing’ some use it update people about their blogs, others use it to find out problems on the Jubilee line. The fact it has lots of uses encouraged us to think about using it for the Sonys.

Myself, Helen and Sam work on the Sony Radio Academy Awards each year, mainly to operate the webcast. You see, the awards are always over-subscribed and quite often not many people from the radio stations that are nominated can come along, so for them, and anyone else interested we run a webcast of it. Now, whilst it would be easy to just plug in a feed of the ceremony, why just do that? Instead we create a special programme that includes a sort of pre-match show, commentary of the night live as people accept their awards, and then during the 40minute dinner bit we have lots of guests to talk to webcast-host Kevin Greening. It’s a bit stressful, but quite fun.

Each year we try and do new things to add value to the event for our viewers. This might be simple things like dynamically showing slides alongside the stream, having live polls or text-in’s so the station’s can wish their colleagues well as we interview them. This year we’ve got two nominees mob-blogging their day leading up to the event and we wanted to use Twitter to give people text updates of the winners as they’re announced.

We always have to be careful with what we do with the webcast as the people involved in the radio industry are aged from 12 to 90 and aren’t always as technically-savvy as we’d like. We therefore have to make everything very very easy. We felt using Twitter would be good on two levels – firstly it provided a valuable service to people who were already Twitter users, and secondly, in theory it seemed relatively simple for new users to subscribe using their phone. They should just have to text ‘follow sonys’ to the special number and away we’d go. Sadly it hasn’t really been that easy.

We decided to do a test with a mixture of existing Twitter users and people new to the system. Initially our main aim was to check whether our instructions were clear enough to test on the general public. With existing Twitter users it was fine, they were added quite easily. Those who were new to the system had lots of problems. Firstly the texts back from Twitter aren’t that easy to understand if you haven’t been briefed that the sender is using a system called Twitter first. This is because when you send a ‘follow sonys’ text and you’re a new user you get back – “Awesome! Please reply with your preferred Twitter username”. Then, once you’ve done this you get a text back saying “Welcome username! Have your friends send “FOLLOW username” to 40404 to get your updates. Send HELP to learn more.” Which, again is a bit odd to a new user, as they don’t know what Twitter really is, or why they should invite their friends. Additionally the number they’re getting back from Twitter isn’t neccessarily the number they texted to originally. Here in the UK we have a long dial number, rather than the 40404 shortcode.

However, the biggest problem was that most of the people who reigstered especially, whilst becoming Twitter users, were never added to the ‘sonys’ list. Which basically meant that whilst we were delivering new users Twitter, they weren’t delivering them to our list. The idea of getting them to text ‘follow sonys’ again seemed quite complex.

We’ve logged these faults with Twitter (eventually, their form kept timing out) last week, but they haven’t acknowledged them.

There is, of course, the argument that we should just put our hands in our pocket and use a proper SMS system rather than freeloading off someone else’s. This is something we could easily do, we’d just jump on one of the radio group’s existing systems, however we did like the idea of connecting to a more community-based SMS service rather than a flat traditional tool.

Whilst I’m sure Twitter will eventually sort themselves out when they get over these scaling problems, it does highlight the problem of using third parties for anything that you need an element of control over. For Twitter and other web properties it also highlights the fact that users (or potential users) might be using your system in alternative ways that are still as valuable (ie generates new users), but can they natively support their needs.

We will however be testing SMS updates, well, for existing Twitter users at least, at

Frozen Indigo Angel

Radio 1‘s online efforts have always been excellent. They try lots of different things and have a feature set that, quite rightly, the rest of the radio industry are very jealous of.

At the same time Scott Mills presents a very well produced show that probably has more planning than any other show on UK radio. They do an excellent job of storylining a load of their features so they develop over a couple of weeks or so. It’s clever because there’s a constant series of peaks that keep the audience interested and engaged. With Scott as Number 1 Dep for Chris Moyles, they’re also very good at rolling the storyline so it brings their drivetime to audience to breakfast and their breakfast audience to drivetime. It’s a very clever hours building exercise, which is undoubtedly successful. They’re also not afraid of re-developing ideas that have been successful on other stations, cough, Ryan Seacrest.

The latest campaign is giving a very non-traditional online viral approach spin to an old radio idea – that of somone getting fired unfairly and the audience then helping to solve the problem.

The execution is still in its early days, but the basic premise is that Paul Denchfiled is a freelance video producer who’s been sacked for inserting random words – Frozen Indigo Angel – into Scott’s video podcasts. He, of course, says this isn’t the case and uses a blog, YouTube, Twitter and Flickr to proclaim his innocence. The strange words then start appearing in other places, like on Colin Murray’s tracklist.

It’ll be interesting to see which way they take it over the next couple of weeks, but it’s a good fun way to bring the show (and the station) closer to the audience. Everyone loves a mystery…

If you have that nagging thought that you’ve seen Paul Denchfield before, you probably have, he was one of the ‘trackers’ on the excellent Channel 4 series ‘Wanted’. Using a ‘real person’ who’s got a backgroung in telly production is a clever way to make the scenario more real. What’s not so believeable is that the blog and flickr have both only recently started, if they’d fabricated that back even further they could have made it even more believable.

I hope this doesn’t get too much google-juice so listeners can enjoy the promotion’s ride.

Find, Listen and Label

Tristan Fearne and Chris Bowley who work for BBC Audio and Music Interactive have recently posted about a new project – Find, Listen and Label. It’s an audio annotation project that takes linear audio and allows users to create section markers and then annotate the audio with text. It’s sort of a wikipedia for radio programmes. It also means that a great deal of context can be applied to audio – which, I guess, will help normal users be able to search and find radio that’s of interest to them. The first test is with the speech programme All in the Mind.

It’s a great interface and as a user you really feel like you’re providing value to others, something which should encourage use.

At the moment it’s very geared towards users providing the annoatation, but I think it would be excellent if the producers did to. They could be providing the written version of those directors commentary you get on DVDs. I think you could really deepen the programme-listener relationship if you had extra value placed over the top of audio. It would work better with some programmes than others, but having Rachel from the Chris Moyles show explaining what happened off-air at certain times or an insight into the thought that went behind features could be really interesting. In fact, a breakfast show would be a really useful experiment, as you could have the different members of the team joining in and commenting.

Given the choice between a vanilla listen again and an annotated one, i’m sure i’d end up logging on more often to hear what I missed as well as what went on during the bits i’ve already heard.

Pirate Radio Research

Some really interesting research was published by Ofcom today looking at Pirate Radio. As well as some stuff you’d expect they also did some research into the listening figures of pirate stations.

With all radio research there’s a huge problem with listeners recalling what they had listened to (was it Choice, was it a pirate etc etc), so it’s hard to say for sure. But the best mesaurement they did was to show the sample a list of stations (both pirate and legal) and get them to choose which ones they tuned into. This metric gave Pirate Radio, collectively, a 6% reach in London. Which makes it a simialr size to LBC. Claimed listening to pirate radio stations was 16% (and this then rose to 34% across Hackney, Haringey and Lambeth).

Listeners to pirate radio were also asked if they agreed/disagreed with ceratin statements. The ‘agrees’ are as follows:

67% – Pirate radio stations play music that you don’t normally hear on other stations
47% – Pirate radio stations give me info about things I want to do locally
38% – Pirate radio stations are more for people like me
34% – Pirate radio stations support my community

The claim about pirate radio is that it exists because legal radio does not fill the need and play the music that those listeners want to hear. That it’s merely the product of a broken system. It is however illegal, interferes with fire, ambulance and air traffic control and can be a front for other illegal activities like drugs and guns. Participants in pirate radio also often have to pay to broadcast. This means that operators have an incredibly low cost base and can pocket large profits. The fact that pirate stations can pop back up within hours of being taken down re-enforces their need for business continuity.

Most pirate stations are not illegal community stations, they’re merely illegal businesses that damage licensed community and commercial stations and interfere with safety-of-life networks.

The other argument in favour of pirate radio says that they would be legal if they could, but all the frequencies have gone to mainstream broadcasters. Anyone can, of course, apply for an analogue station and some pirates have done, and been successful – Kiss, Choice etc. The response is that these are now mainstream and betrayed their roots. I would say that they actually bring urban music to a wider audience. However, ignoring that, there are also loads of other ways stations can go legit.

Community radio, DAB, RSLs, internet, DTV are just some of the ways that these stations could broadcast legally. The big issue is that they choose not to. It is too easy to be illegal. You don’t pay licensing fees, your power can be as high you like, you don’t need to follow the broadcasting code, and you don’t have to pay for the music you play – pirates may pay lip service to ‘supporting new acts’ but they also don’t stump up any cash for those who write and record the music, as every licensed station does.