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What Do You Do Online When the News is Bad?

| December 17, 2012

By Chris Miller
Chris Miller Digital

SHAKER HEIGHTS — Friday’s tragic events in Newtown, CT, remind us not only that life is precious… but also that our fans’ expectations can turn on a dime.  You may know what you’ll do on the air when the news explodes like that.  What will you do with all your other content platforms, like your website and your social media?

Radio has two worthy purposes on days like Friday:

  1. 1. Keeping our listeners informed
  2. Offering a place for stress-reduction

We talk a lot about the first purpose, but both of them are valuable.  I spent a lot of time with my favorite sports talk station on Friday so I could get things done, and not be caught up in the sadness.  I know I’m not alone.  Whichever role your listeners expect from you, there are really three broadcast-digital stances you can take that fit with what you’re doing on the air.

Keep people informed

If you have a major news commitment, as big developments come in, you’ll put them on your air and update your website with them.  Post those on your Facebook and Twitter feeds, too.  Link to information at your website, or post a link to listen online.  Everything people see or hear from you for the time being should be about this topic.

Furthermore, use your Facebook page as a place for people to comment on the big story that’s developing.  That’s the natural place for people to go for that, and (pardon me if this sounds like profiting from a tragedy) when your fans actively take part in one of your status updates, their friends are more likely to be see it.  Remember to tell people on your air that they can weigh in at Facebook-dot-com-slash-your-station, and get your webmaster to post a prominent link on your website, on the home page and “above the fold.”

Split action

You may not do much on the air when big stories break, but perhaps you don’t want to ignore what’s going on.  You can highlight news updates on your website, and keep a conversation going in your social media.  Of course, someone at the station would still need to keep an eye on it and take part.  When this is done well, your station feels more three-dimensionally human and in touch with your audience.

You can then invite people, on the air, to go to your Facebook page or Twitter feed to take part.  Clear Channel has been good about this, pushing down major news developments to their stations’ websites.  That allows air talent to send people to stay timely and topical, send people online, and not violate anyone’s expectations of what they’ll hear on the radio.

Offer a break

No matter what the big news is, from a school day cancelled because of snow to a major life-changing event, at some point your fans will just have had enough.  They know you play Today’s Best Music or Hot Country Favorites or More Music Variety, and they’ll come to you for that.

I believe it’s fine for you to stay in format, maybe using your digital tools to cover the story … or maybe not.  You might want to use your social media to remind people of the things you regularly do, and reinforce that you’re the way to relax or get their mood up on a tough news day.  Radio at its best has always been about instant gratification with great entertainment value.  The need for that doesn’t go away on bad news days; it increases.

Still, remember to respect how people are feeling.  A couple of hours after Friday’s school rampage, a Connecticut radio station posted on Facebook, “[Jock Name] checking in on your Friday, playing [station]’s 12 Days of Christmas at 3:20 today!  Woot woot!”  Last I looked, it was still there.  This doesn’t count as stress-relief; this is verging on insensitive.  Above all … do no harm.

Chris Miller, owner of Chris Miller Digital, is a leading radio consultant specializing in research-based strategic planning and smart use of digital media. He can be phoned at 216-236-3955 or e-mailed at chris@chrismillerdigital.com


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Category: Digital