Before you change your glasses or contacts or wipe your eyes to make sure you read the headline right, yes I did mention Taylor Swift on a Sports Radio blog. Before you assume I’ve completely lost my mind, let me explain why she’s relevant in this space today.
One of the real pleasures of creating sports talk radio is connecting with people. When you think about the position we’re in, we’re not really different than those who listen to us. Sure we may have more training, a microphone and broadcast signal that allows our opinions to be heard in our local markets and we may earn a paycheck which classifies us as professionals but at our core, we’re people who love sports, talking about it passionately and entertaining one another.
The reason it works, is because others care enough about the same things we do. Thru the bond of talking about sports, we’re given an opportunity to engage with audiences each day and get them emotionally invested in our content and people.
Similar to sports, music has a lot of appeal as well. One performer who has built an incredible fan base is Taylor Swift. To date she has over 73 million LIKES on Facebook and over 49 million followers on Twitter. That’s over 120 million combined associations to her fans.
So with all of those fans, it must be impossible for Ms. Swift to connect with people aside from when she’s performing on stage right? Guess again! Not only does she get active on social media, she also takes time at some of her shows to take photos with fans.
Today I watched this video and was genuinely moved by it. I encourage you to watch it too. While some of you may not care for Taylor’s music, I think you’ll agree that this is a brilliant way to showcase connecting between Ms. Swift and her fans.
While some will focus on her buying gifts and taking road trips (which by the way was very cool), what I got out of this was that Taylor Swift cares about her fans. Because she invests time and thought into connecting with them, it helps her relate more to her most passionate and loyal supporters and that gives them a reason to continue rooting for and supporting her.
When this type of bond exists between performer and fan base, there’s less concern about the next single being well received or the next arena being sold out. Because Taylor has made her most loyal and passionate fans part of her experience, they will be there to support her thru thick and thin. Click this link and you’ll see even more photo evidence of her connecting.
Now think about this and how it applies to what you do as a sports radio personality or executive. How much time do you spend interacting with your audience? Do they know you beyond your talk show? Have you ever responded to one of their tweets, texts or facebook messages? Are they able to reach out and provide feedback on your radio station beyond an email address on the contact page of your website? How many photos would show up if you google searched yourself and/or station with fans?
Is it taxing to engage sometimes? Yes. Does it get annoying when people take personal shots or reach out simply to complain? Yes. But people are entitled to free speech and having an opinion and sports talk is a very passionate and emotional format. I’d much rather receive a high volume of passionate replies and know what’s pushing the buttons of my audience then have them disappear and have to hire a research firm to find out why.
The way the world thinks and acts today is very different and we’ve got to continue evolving or we risk being left behind. In the past, hosts were seen as untouchables. They’d spend a few hours on-air spewing their thoughts on issues and aside from reaching out thru the on-air phone number, fans could not connect with them or learn anything further about who they were. The world outside of the talk show was very private and irrelevant.
Today, people want access and information more than ever and just hearing an opinion thru a set of speakers isn’t enough. They now want to join the conversation at the bar rather than eavesdrop in the distance. They also want to know who you are and what you’re about when the microphone is off. Being a private personality is a lot less acceptable by the audience today and that just goes to show how the world has changed.
In thinking of this topic, I couldn’t help but think about how different radio has become in this area over the past 20-30 years. Back then there was a stronger sense of community, marketing and investing in forming connections with local people. Over the years though that focus has shifted more towards ratings, ad revenue and metrics to determine what is and isn’t working.
Some of these changes have definitely been for the better. I know I’d much rather deal with this current flawed ratings system than the previous one and I’d much rather invest money in people and partnerships than marketing but I do think our industry as a whole can be much stronger in the way we connect with and view the association with our listeners. It’s not just about the people with meters or inside of focus groups, it’s about anyone and everyone who takes the time to listen and/or interact with your product and people.
Furthermore, executives can’t preach the importance of a strong digital and social media presence and strategy and then not be visible themselves. You can’t encourage or require participation from those inside your building if you’re not leading the charge yourself. You’re either all-in or all-out.
In my opinion, connecting with people and being accessible is as much of a job requirement today as anything else we do. You can’t say you care about your ratings and making a better living and then do little outside of your show to drive people back to the show. We should be thrilled that people care enough to tell us their opinions but smart enough to weed out what matters and what doesn’t.
That said, being accessible doesn’t mean you have to respond to every piece of feedback or change your show or station due to a handful of negative replies. It means the audience can follow you and reach out to you and you will engage when it makes sense to. The audience doesn’t control your brain, your voice or your emotions. You set the tone because that’s what you’re charged with doing but they also deserve to be included in the process.
As I bring this column to a close, the main thing I want you to take away is how vital it is to connect with your audience. Remember, people don’t have to listen to us or interact with us, they choose to do it. It’s our responsibility to find ways to further strengthen our bond with them and it starts with accessibility and engagement.
I understand we’re pulled in many directions as we try to balance life, work, personal passions and numerous other things but if the job matters to you, than invest the time necessary to make it pay off. Judging by Taylor Swift’s 30 million CD sales, 80 million singles downloads and 120 million fans on social media, I’d say connecting with fans has worked out pretty well for her. Maybe it’s time you considered doing the same.