Join the Loyalty Club

Listener loyalty is still everything when it comes to radio
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I admit it. I cheat on my favorite websites. Although I look at them daily, I am not loyal to any given brand and instinctively look for other sites to entertain and inform me.

Yes, my smartphone is so cool that I have trouble putting it down. Swiping up, down and sideways on new responsive websites has also given me the attention span of a five-year-old. My loyalty of a few years ago, when I might have spent up to five minutes on one website, is probably now more like one minute. As it is, I’ve gone from six page views per visit to two — three if the material gets me to go down a rabbit hole. While this may be bad news for radio station websites, it’s excellent news for our core product: broadcasting to the public.

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The listener loyalty club is an oldie but goodie. Here are the approaches of three different stations. All have specific, professionally designed Web pages and offer fun, interactive features to motivate listeners to tune in and also to visit the sites regularly. When it comes to time spent with the media, radio kills. Even millennials — the group one would guess isn’t that into radio — still spend a lot of time with us. According to the RAB’s December 2015 report, “Radio reaches 88.2 percent of all persons age 12–24 each week; they spend almost nine and three-quarters hours weekly tuned in to radio.”

How do you maintain or even grow your individual dominance? Offer value every day with great localized programming — and if you want to be number one? You must create loyalty.

ON-AIR TALENT’S ROLE

The long-term plan must include retaining your very best talent. DJs, talk show hosts and news anchors who have been on your station for years with significant ratings have something other hosts don’t have: listener loyalty.

People have a habit of listening to established shows because they consistently deliver on expectations. While this statement seems ridiculously obvious, I have witnessed first-hand on half a dozen occasions when management murders a legacy morning show, thinking that what a town needs is something “new and exciting.”

Without research unearthing overwhelmingly negative impressions and deteriorating ratings to back up this “feeling,” dumping a long-running show is the most risky move a station can make while remaining in the same format. Instead of encouraging station loyalty, dumping a legacy show tells core listeners that you don’t care about them. (If you need recent evidence, look at a debacle in Washington, D.C., where a morning show was dumped after 24 years; when ratings tanked, the show and the old brand both were reinstated.)

LISTENER INTERACTION

How can you show listeners that you care and that you deserve their loyalty?

Every point of interaction they have with your station should give them a positive feeling. Every social media message, smartphone text or phone call needs a response.

Ideally, you should try to handle these contact points one-to-one. If that’s just not practical based on a lack of staffing or interns, it’s okay to send an automated response, as long as the answer is friendly.

Whenever your station hosts events, listeners will interact with every staff member you have in attendance. Don’t assume that your staffers know how to represent you to the public. Discourage your people from bunching up in a group and talking shop. They are there to mingle — to meet and make listeners feel welcome so that they feel like part of the excitement.

JOIN THE CLUB

While loyal listener clubs may seem passé to some, I remain a huge fan. The primary arguments against them are cost and maintenance. For more mature stations, I recommend prioritizing funding a club over a marketing campaign.

The most effective approach is to select a vendor with a solid online interface that works on an earned point system. Participants use their points to “buy” tickets and station merchandise as well as discounts on items, CDs and more. Naturally, you’ll use air time to promote the club, peppered with real audio from members who talk about the benefits they’ve received by participating.

Paid, dark-posted advertising on Facebook could be very useful in adding members to the club.

(Note: Remember that your organic traffic on Facebook is nearly dead, so your posts are not reaching many people. I wrote about the death of organic reach in the Sept. 10, 2014 issue, “Our Free FB Ride Is (Nearly) Over.” I still see stations spending a lot of effort posting content. Aside from answering questions posed to you through your page, you should think of Facebook strictly as an advertising medium.)

Community involvement is also vital to creating loyalty. From promoting charity events, large and small, to having your staff members volunteer at key public service entities, you can make your mark over time.

Whenever you discuss ratings and revenue, consider adding a third point: loyalty.

The author is president of Lapidus Media. Contact him at marklapidus@verizon.net.

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