For Many Radio Stations, the Digital Hurdles Are Human, Not Technical

Seth Resler

By: Seth Resler,
Jacobs Media Strategies

A few times a year, I am asked to do “digital checkups” with a parade of radio stations at an industry conference. Like Lucy van Pelt, I set up at table with a sign that reads, “The Doctor Is In,” and over the course of the day, digital directors from a variety of radio stations come through and we discuss their digital strategies. What never fails to amaze me is how few of the challenges these folks face are technical. Ten years ago, it was much harder to get software to do the things that we wanted it to do. Today, with user-friendly tools like WordPress and Mailchimp and Google Analytics, it’s not nearly as difficult.

No, for most of the digital directors who stop in to see me, the challenges are human.

In fact, one of the questions I get most often is, “How do I get ______ to buy in to the fact that digital strategy is important?” That blank can be filled in with any number of job titles: “the general manager,” “the sales manager,” “the program director,” or “the DJs.”

I answer that question slightly differently depending on whose buy-in is needed. For management, it’s usually a matter of persuading them that digital strategy can have a significant impact on the bottom line. But for DJs, it’s different. That’s because while management is responsible for revenue, they aren’t on the ground being asked to implement the digital strategy; but the air talent is.

For example, frequently, DJs are tasked with writing blogposts, creating podcasts, or posting to social media for their stations. If they don’t see the value in these tasks, or they find them cumbersome, they will procrastinate or ignore these duties. This frustrates digital directors, who feel like they’re pulling teeth, or herding cats, or pulling teeth while herding cats.

Last year, we conducted the Air Talent Questionnaire in conjunction with Morning Show Bootcamp. This was the first-ever survey of radio air talent to see how they feel about different aspects of their job. In the results, it was easy to see why digital directors at radio stations are struggling to get DJs in line. It’s not because air talent doesn’t realize that these things are important. In fact, when asked which skills were most important for their jobs, a majority ranked social media skills, computer skills, and an understanding of technology at the top of the list:

While DJs understand the importance of these skills, they often don’t have confidence that they possess them. When we asked air talent to rank themselves on each of these skills, here’s what they said:

When you compare the difference between these two charts, the digital skills gap is very apparent:

In other words, DJs know that digital skills are very important, but they don’t feel that they have what they need. This is why so many digital directors have trouble getting buy-in from on-air talent.

Recognizing this, what can digital directors do? Here are some suggestions:

1. Continually train.
I come from a family of teachers, so I know how much patience it requires. Different people learn at different rates. Some DJs will immediately take to new technologies, while others will have to be walked through it multiple times before it clicks for them. Digital directors should get in the habit of continually training their DJs, recognizing that it’s not a one-shot process, but something that will need to continue in perpetuity. Figure out who needs extra help and provide them with it — with an extra helping of patience.

2. Create support documentation.
If digital directors want to go on vacation without being interrupted by work emails, or want to go to bed without frantic calls from the overnight DJ, they would be wise to create support documents that clearly explain every aspect of a DJ’s digital duties. Create instruction sheets with screen captures, tutorial videos, and even an intra-station training portal where people can find the resources they need to teach themselves when you’re not around.

3. Meet regularly.
Too often, discussions about a radio station’s digital strategy are relegated to “hallway conversations.” This fails to recognize the importance of digital strategy. If you want the DJs to take it seriously, you’ll need to carve out time on the calendar on a regular basis to discuss it. Your station probably has a regular meeting where the staff talks about what they’re putting on the air to engage listeners; it should also hold a regular meeting where you talk about what they’re putting online to engage the audience. Make this a priority, and so will they.

4. Share the data so DJs can see the results.
As a program director, I always appreciated the DJs who asked to see the ratings. I knew that these DJs cared about their craft and wanted to see if their hard work was resonating. By the same token, show them how their online contributions are having an impact. Share your station’s Google Analytics reports so DJs can see how the blogposts they write are performing, or the YouTube stats so they can see how their videos are being received. Most on-air talent got into this business because they want to perform; they are motivated by seeing their work get a reaction from an audience, so be sure to let them see it.

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