and-make-it-real-creative-logo-3By Trent Rentsch

I’d like to suggest that Facebook has become an anti-social network. It’s not just the virtual angry mob that occurs with every “upgrade” of the site, although judging from the hateful posts I’ve read, what people would like to do to those making the changes could hardly be called socially acceptable.

You could call it a case of growing pains. More and more people are joining in, and like those of us who have already been at the dance for some time, they become intent on adding “Friends.” It might be classmates, workmates, relatives, people who share common interests… even a handful of people you’ve never met, but politely accepted as “Friends” because, well, it would be impolite to ignore the request, right?

So here we are, loaded down with all these “Friends,” all offering up bits of their life or links to silly videos or compliments/complaints about the current state of government, be it local, national or international… blah, blah, blah! On we all go, trying to be clever or spiritual or convincing or downright snarky… to the point where it’s all one big blur, too much information to take in, and you’re left just looking to see who liked YOUR post (or who wished you a Happy Birthday, of course…). How social a network can it be, really?

Still, I come not to condemn Facebook, but to learn from it. Believe it or not, there’s a lot to learn about radio Creative from it. For instance, while I’m checking out who “liked” my own latest wiseass comments, I’m often surprised by who likes what. Like all of us, I have an interesting cross-section of my life that is represented in my Friends list, but the bleed-over is fascinating to watch. If I make a crack about radio, a bunch of my magician Friends might like or comment about it; if I mention playing the guitar, a couple of theatre Friends might respond. Food… all my skinny Friends. Sexual innuendo… Lord help me… I suppose it is the great equalizer.

The point is, while I suppose I could assume that any of my Friends might read my posts, it’s interesting who finds what interesting enough to respond to. Just last week I noted the passing of author Ray Bradbury, and received a heartfelt response from an Aunt I barely know and have rarely communicated with. It seems she too was a fan and had even met him a few years ago. All of this was a revelation to me; I didn’t know we had that in common… and I certainly didn’t imagine that she would respond to that particular post.

Facebook for me has become a lesson in knowing your audience, and what I’ve learned so far is that I still have a lot to learn! We are, all of us, complicated critters, and it takes more than broad sweeping generalizations to understand what pushes our buttons. And yet, we’re asked to do that every day in radio Creative… every market, every format, do it “this way” because “our audience” is “like this.” Really? How do they know? Because that small handful of people who always show up at free ticket events is “this way?” Or is the research even less scientific than that?

Now before you get all indignant and explain how your station does market research, tell me… doesn’t that research begin with assumptions about your audience? The target demo IS, well, whatever the powers that be want it to be, and it IS COMPRISED OF… and, there is the flaw. Even the new audience measurements, which may give a better reading of who is listening to what and when, still only give you part of the story. Maybe that “diehard Country fan” is also an obsessed Dave Matthews fan, but couldn’t be bothered to cross the street to meet Taylor Swift. Perhaps that leather-clad biker who went to your station’s Harley party sobbed uncontrollably at the news that Whitney Houston had passed away. It’s even possible that the office listener who won your Lite & Easy Lunch Break spends weekends following a Megadeath tribute band from venue to venue.

No, I don’t have the answers, but I’ve been around long enough to know that radio is filled with unanswered questions about who their audience really is, what touches them, and how to speak to them. There’s only one way to find the answers, and that’s to listen… not straining for what you want to hear, but for the truth. And with that truth comes the understanding of how to really communicate with your audience. Wanna make your station some loyal Friends? Learn to speak their language.