Radio’s Twitter Obsession

Dick Stone wrote a blog post about Twitter last month, touching on the fact that stations looking at Twitter buzz has replaced “all the lines lit up” as justification for  a particular feature etc. I’d go a bit further than what he said and say that radio has an unhealthy and incorrect obsession with Twitter.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Twitter. I was an early user and still a regular one – Tweetdeck tells me I tweet on average four times a day. It entertains me, I get to hear from people much brighter than I am and it’s helped in work – it’s connected me to people that now use our services and it’s helped us get press coverage too.

I am, however, like many of us, a media wanker. I like showing off and I like hearing from other show offs. I’m so entrenched in using it that I think it’s the cleverest most important and relevant thing in the world. I can talk about those super-injunctions, I can get i-rate about the latest Daily Mail poll and revel in Charlie Brooker’s put downs. The problem is real people, they really couldn’t care less.

They’re not stupid, they know what it is. Well, how could they not, it infects radio and television like a media-spawned virus. It’s just not that interesting for them. The vast majority of every Twitter mention on the radio is clutter that gets in the way of stations communicating with audiences.

Here’s a list of things that radio gets wrong.


Stations have created the most confusing way to tell people how to get involved via Twitter. Often different presenters each have different accounts with different descriptive styles. To take Radio 1 as an example (but similar problems affect everyone) – they go from @chrisdjmoyles (a dj in the middle?) to @fearnecotton to @gregjames to @scott_mills – an underscore ffs! They also mention @bbcr1  (an abbreviation they use nowhere else) sometimes on-air, but not all the time. Often they mention that station account and a DJ account together. There’s also now the introduction hashtags on air – be it for a breakfast feature or for something like #r1bw.

Giving out confusing Twitter usernames is the equivalent of giving all of your presenters different phone numbers or email addresses with different domains. It’s hard for listeners to understand and for people not on Twitter it’s irrelevant clutter that gets in the way of content that’s relevant for them.

Follower Counts

One of the biggest issues is an obsession with follower counts. If you’re a webmaster who gets annoyed at the amount of social network mentions compared to website mentions, i’ll tell you the answer – it’s all because with Facebook/Twitter presenters get to see a number increasing in the corner of their screen. They equate more ‘likes’ or ‘follows’ with success. Presenters crave feedback and this gives them it. It is, of course, irrelevant.

There is little accuracy to Facebook’s ‘like’ numbers and follower numbers are inflated too. Why not go through your Twitter account removing anyone that’s not a ‘real’ person – corporate accounts, spam etc. You’re hesitating aren’t you? Why, because you’re obsessed with having a high follower number! How many times have you seen “just ten more followers and I break 500, or 1,000” etc. Totally pointless metric.

The right things to measure are how many @replies have we had, how many retweets, how many click through – measure the engagement – that’s the true measure of your success.

Follow Me Pleading

“Hi, you can follow me on Twitter, i’m @somethingquitecomplicatedtodowithmyname”. Why? It’s the modern equivalent of hearing “give me a call” without giving a reason why. “Hi, you can follow me on Twitter, i’m @somethingquitecomplicatedtodowithmyname (not that it helps as you probably don’t know my name),  i’m quite needy and I can use my follower numbers to show people like me and replace the fact the PD hasn’t snooped me for a week and I had a slightly poor RAJAR”.

The vast majority of your listeners are not on Twitter. They don’t want to follow you. They can’t follow you. It slightly annoys them because you’re going on about something that they don’t use and can’t be involved in. Every time you mention it you exclude people. In fact, it annoys the people who already follow you, as you’re wasting their time with a link that’s irrelevant to them.

Your aim should be to signify to people on twitter that you’re on it and if they follow you they get a benefit – without annoying everyone else.

“Paul just tweeted @localdj asking for the new Take That song, it’s on next” is a great way to do it. You’ve told people your username, you’ve shown there’s value in getting in touch that way and it hasn’t cluttered the radio station.

Reaching Twitter Users on Twitter

The trap radio people fall into is that they think “Hey, we’ve got 200k listeners – if I talk about Twitter on there that’s the easiest way to get more followers!” whilst ignoring the massive number of people who aren’t interested. This slips into “oh, just one more mention” and on it goes. More clutter on the radio.

A much more efficient way of growing followers is to use the places that they’re more likely to be – Twitter.  Use other presenter of station accounts to retweet your messages and just write interesting messages that will be organically retweetable too! Also remember to follow people who @message you and the station during your show

Depending on how you’ve written your data protection rules, you can also use Twitter’s email checker to see if people who email you have a Twitter account that you can then follow. Just export all the email addresses of people who’ve been in touch to a fresh Gmail account – then just connect your Twitter account to it. It will tell you out of those people who’s got an account and away you go adding them.

Also make sure that the places people go to find you have links to your Twitter account – station websites and email newsletters as well as your Facebook page.

Twitter is about relationships not replicating broadcasting.

A few people just use Twitter to send messages out, never engaging with anyone. This is clearly a bad thing. But you probably don’t do that, do you? You send @replies and reply to listeners that message you, you’re all interactive, right?

How many of you follow back listeners? How many of you actually read the stream of tweets from your listeners that aren’t to do with your radio station? Do you independently get excited about what you’re listeners are up to? They follow you, but you don’t follow them – well, unless you follow them because you feel you have to.

If you can’t bear muggles infecting your feed create a list for ‘listeners’ – you can then read their tweets independently of your ‘real’ friends. But do it and engage with them. Congratulate them on births, commiserate on staying in and doing exams. They will be so impressed that you, that famous person, is interested in them, that you’ll have a listener for life.

Is it really you?

Punters want to follow presenters because they buy into them on-air and want that on-line and in their feed. If you are a personality presenter at the top of your game this is probably fine. You are probably mainly like your on-air persona, even if the volume is turned down a little bit in real life.

If your on-air persona is just that, and Twitter is the ‘real’ you then you have a problem. The reason the listener followed you is because of who you are on-air. If that’s smiley and breezy they’ll be surprised when they find out you mainly tweet about the government’s failings, back and forward in-jokes with the presenter on the station across town and plugs for your club nights. You need to deliver on your on-air promise – whether that’s a lie or not.

Station Accounts

One for the bosses – does your on-air team have a strong enough personality to justify a Twitter account each? You can almost justify the Radio 1 example at the beginning by saying that all their daytime jocks are big personalities and can sustain separate identities. Is it the same for, say, a small ILR? Do your listeners really know the name of the afternoon presenter? Is getting them to engage with a Twitter account for that person adding too many barriers to get a connection with a listener?

I believe that for the vast majority of people, they follow presenters as an extension of the radio show and station. If they disappeared off the radio, following them on Twitter wouldn’t be as interesting any more. For this reason, I think the majority of stations would do better with Twitter if they replaced their individual presenter accounts with that of a station one.

Also from a cynical business perspective, presenters are plugging their own accounts on your time, to your audience. Their growth in followers comes directly from them being on your  radio station. The numbers they amass and the relationship built can then be transferred to your competitor radio station.

When Chris Moyles finally disappears off Radio 1 to a new station, he’ll be giving 1 million Radio 1 fans reasons to switch radio stations.

The way around this is to let each presenter ‘host’ the station Twitter account during their show – but also at other times where it’s relevant. There’s no reason why the breakfast show team shouldn’t be tweeting about Eurovision at 8pm on a Saturday night.

The sell to presenters is that by using the main account they’ll be reaching more people and better improving their chances of growing audience -ie a follower who wants to hear about Breakfast will also find out about reasons to tune into the evening show.

Some people say that this isn’t the essence of Twitter – that brand accounts don’t match the authenticity of individuals. I disagree. Especially in radio, by combining the station’s brand values alongside individuals that live that brand, actually makes station accounts more compelling – and help to drive audience.

Return on Investment

As mentioned before, Twitter and Facebook are often enthusiastically used by presenters because it gives them instant feedback – but sometimes at the detriment of station’s own objectives.

Have a plan for how media is used. Don’t use Twitpics – work out a way to have those snaps go to a station website and link to that. Track all of your links so you can see what’s driving click thrus, measure which presenters are sending the most traffic and share the good practice amongst everyone.

Make sure that station key messages are used on Twitter too. If there’s a big breakfast promotion, tweet at different times in different ways talking about it. Radio followers are probably all P1s – there’s a great chance to increase hours by using Twitter properly.


Overall, Twitter is a great resource and platform to help grow audience and engagement. Remember though that the vast majority of your listeners probably don’t care. It’s not your job to evangelise Twitter to rejectors, it’s about finding ways to reach existing Twitter users with the right kind of content that helps grow your station and improve connection with your audience.

12 thoughts on “Radio’s Twitter Obsession”

  1. Brilliant blog post Matt. Agree with every word. Every bit of audience research I see among ‘real people’ says Twitter is irrelevant to them. They love Facebook but just don’t “get” twitter.

  2. Good blog post.

    What about those stations who send incessant tweets – often a minute-by-minute commentary – and you find yourself having to wade through loads of their tweets to find anything from anybody else? I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds that off-putting and unfollows the station as a result.

  3. The other thing you can do (if you can invest the time as thats all it takes) is identify your followers who are also influencers, (have lots of followers and engage with them, as well as gets retweeted themselves) and make sure you engage with them.. You want to spread your message to as many people as possible..

    Also like you say Matt use twitter to engage with people on twitter, whats better then having your listeners follow you on twitter.. well new twitter followers listening to you on your show.. IF like you say your on air personality is reflected in your tweets..

    Interesting website is take it with a pinch of salt but still always good to look at different sources of information…

  4. Great post Matt, engagement not followers is key. Good point about individual accounts allowing presenters to entice away listeners when they move on, but I’d still favour human accounts over station ones – I think people are going to become less and less tolerant of endorsing, friending and liking brands rather than human beings.

  5. Very perceptive post, and long overdue.

    Although I’ve been a media wanker for 25 years, I’m a relative newcomer to Twitter. But when I joined, it felt strangely familiar.

    It strikes me that our disproportionate obsession with Twitter could simply be down to the fact that tweeting can feel like being on the radio.

    And many of the Twit-traps you identify in your post apply equally to broadcasting – failure to engage, inconsistent calls to action, lack of authenticity.

  6. Solid article Matt.

    I think the points you raise re: usernames is a valid one, but then that’s the problem you run into when using a third-party operation. I’ve always felt that Twitter will eventually run itself into the ground – sooner than Facebook or any similar sites – simply because once a username is taken, then it’s gone forever. @gregjames and @richclarke are fine now, but already it’s almost impossible to get such straight-forward usernames, and then will only make it harder for listeners to find and engage with presenters (or for listeners to feel like they want a Twitter account in the first place). @prodnose may be a name with some significance for Danny Baker, but it means it’s a hell of a lot harder for people to find and interact with him than just being able to use @dannybaker.

    The other flaw I’ve always found with the site is that, despite people using it in that way, it isn’t designed for conversation. Facebook is like the coffee shop from Friends – designed for socialing and making/strengthening connections. Twitter is like a public noticeboard – just a series of ‘shouts’ – and sticking a note at the start of a tweet stating that it’s for one person in particular doesn’t really change this. This makes it great for radio (as Michael has already said, the short-comment format is a bit like being on the radio) and radio people can publicise their events/songs/competitions etc to death. But does it really work for people not in the media? I’d argue no – most ‘non-media’ people I know on Twitter use it purely to follow specific people (Lance Armstrong and Perez Hilton, although very different personalities, appeal to certain audiences strongly enough to make them want to use Twitter in order to hear more about them). It would say great things about radio stations and/or presenters if listeners felt so strongly about connecting with them that they signed up to Twitter just for that purpose, but I doubt there are many of those. Sometimes radio people fall into the same trap as many celebs – using Twitter purely to chat among themselves – and not actually doing anything to engage any further with their ‘fanbase’.

  7. Hi Matt

    Your article is a really interesting read and so true – but I had to write a comment after the radio horror show I heard yesterday. Cristo from LBC is not my favourite presenter although I have respect for anyone who hosts a talk radio show. But yesterday he opened his show with “You can tweet LBC but why not tweet me instead… come on, let’s get my followers up”. Sycophantic, desperate and so cringeworthy, sometimes he’s like the radio version of David Brent and he really doesn’t help his cause. I’d love to know what you or anyone else thinks of this, particularly based on the blog you’ve just written.

  8. Matt, you’ve written a good article, and at the time of writing 77 people ‘like’ this too. But as you say, when is a like truely a like…. 🙂

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