Twitter’s Changes Offer a Sports Radio Education

We’ve all heard the saying “less is more”. Apparently though, Twitter doesn’t agree with that phrase. The company has decided to adjust its position on the length of tweets, giving users the chance to extend their comments from 140 to 280 characters.

On one hand, you can understand and appreciate the company’s flexibility. If users want the freedom to write longer and avoid being placed inside of a box on the platform, they should be able to do that right? After all, if the user isn’t satisfied, they don’t use the platform, and without customer activity and engagement, the social media giant is in an unenviable position.

But what about the rest of users who enjoy writing short and prefer reading bite-sized comments? They’re now forced to sift thru longer messages, which means that unless they extend the amount of time they spend on the platform, they’re going to see less tweets.

In situations like these, there are always pros and cons. It’s no different than starting a sports radio show and deciding which of two topics to lead a show with. But the challenge is trying to decipher if a strategic adjustment is critically necessary.

When Twitter first burst onto the scene, it was instantly noticeable how the company positioned itself opposite Facebook. Twitter wanted people to use their platform and present short and precise comments in order to continue conversation. Essentially the goal was to become social media’s sports bar, where patrons came together to watch and discuss games, movies, TV shows, etc. Then as the brand grew, the noise began to increase about having flexibility to write longer.

With any decision, there’s going to be vocal displeasure. But a brand has to decide who they are, what their unique point of entry is, and then reinforce that position again and again. The public loves to be heard, and feedback should be evaluated, but sometimes companies introduce change to satisfy a vocal minority rather than taking into account the feelings of the majority. As we’ve seen many times, the public can also push for change but when their convictions are tested, you find that they’re easily influenced to reverse their current position.

Was Twitter’s 140 character length the reason why people were or weren’t using the platform? I don’t think so. But from a competitive standpoint, the social media company is going to highlight the massive amount of users on other platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, and in order to reach a larger amount of people they felt a need to try something different to increase activity.

As I considered the benefits (the user has more control) and risks (does anyone like the idea of President Trump doubling the size of his tweets?) of Twitter modifying its strategy, I began to realize how it connected to the world of sports radio. Having listened to more shows and stations around the country than most, I hear certain things that remain problematic. Many hosts examine their content plan and execution through their own lens, not necessarily thru the audience’s. They live in their rundown and approach their content with the mindset of “we have 3-4 hours to get this all in” rather than taking into account that the average commute in most cities is 25 minutes and what’s happening in the moment is the only thing a listener truly cares about. What you do in an hour or two has little importance to them, only the present.

How many times do you listen to a host hit the airwaves and at 3pm they start telling you everything they have planned later on? “We have special guest A at 4:30, a caller segment at 5:00 and our favorite feature at 5:30”. Ask yourself this, when was the last time you changed what you were going to do in 90-120-150 minutes based on what a radio host told you they had planned? I stand a better chance of regrowing a full head of hair than you do of convincing an audience to change their lives for the satisfaction and benefit of your show.

But do you know when you do have a chance of stealing their time? Right now! If someone has the equivalent of two quarter hours of time to spend with you, your best shot at stealing a third quarter hour is by getting into their head immediately. You do that by not wasting your words and time and providing a strong content experience.

Let’s look at how that applies to Twitter’s switch from 140 to 280 characters.

First, let’s look at the start of a segment. This is the difference between spending your first 60-90 seconds sleepwalking thru your opening comments as opposed to attacking the air with a defined purpose – 140 vs. 280. Once the liner is done and the music is playing, you should be right into your topic and opinion. That’s how you maximize the audience’s time and earn their trust. The excuses of “we like to build up to things and ease into the conversation” sound good to the host because you’re looking at your road map and challenge of performing for 3-4 hours. What you’re not doing is respecting the person’s time who is listening to you right now.

So much of earning ratings credit is about grabbing five minutes of listening in a quarter hour. You help yourself by drawing people in quickly rather than wasting time and assuming they’ll stick around for your good stuff later on. Another part of this is understanding the importance of executing the most topical and relevant content every single hour. What you did at 3pm has no value to the listener who gets in their car at 5pm. If a big trade has happened, a high profile sports figure has sounded off, or an important game is taking place that night, the listener expects to hear about it, not your fourth story of the day because you’re mentally talked out of the big story.

Secondly, think of how these Twitter changes apply to a tease. 140 characters requires a short focused message. Grab my attention immediately, and make me interested enough to click on the attached link in your tweet or engage with you in dialogue. That’s what a radio tease is meant to do. Can you climb into my mind and make me curious enough to sit thru a few minutes of commercials or return after your break, so I can hear the answer?

A tweet that is 280 characters in length is the equivalent of a host who wanders into their breaks. For example, “We’ve still got plenty to do, Jim, Fred and Jose hang on the line we’ll get to you shortly, we’ve got tickets to giveaway to this Sunday’s game, there’s news about Colin Kaepernick possibly being brought in for an audition, Peter King of Sports Illustrated in about 15 minutes, plus I want to weigh in on this Ric Flair 30 for 30 documentary, so stick around we’re back in just a few.”

As you read that last example, I’m sure you thought of a few hosts who execute that way. To be honest, there are some hosts who are excellent on the air or have built up longevity in their markets that they can get away with it. But guess what, not everyone has those skills or advantages and good habits are good habits, and bad ones are bad ones. To me it’s simple, whether you’re on the air for a year or have hosted a show for twenty, what gives you a better chance to keep a listener around to the next segment, promoting what’s next in a way that makes people think or not mentioning anything specific?

If your audience has minimal time available to listen, and they’re being separated from your content by a five minute commercial break, 60-90 second sports update, :15-:30 seconds of liners/music and possibly an audio clip leading back into the segment, not to mention if your station runs anything else such as traffic, weather, stock reports, etc., that means they have to wait nearly seven minutes to hear your next piece of content. You assume they’ll be back because they love sports talk and have limited local options, but you don’t know if they just pulled into their driveway, approached a tunnel and lost reception, scanned the dial and found something else, took a phone call or simply got bored and turned off the radio.

In each of those situations, there are two options. You’ve either invaded their head space enough to want to hear what’s next or you’re just noise in the background. Maybe they’re exiting the car but because you intrigued them they’ll head into their home and use Alexa or the app on their phone to hear more. Maybe they’ll download your podcast later because although they’re busy now, they still want to hear the payoff. But if it isn’t short, sweet and intriguing, good luck earning additional tune ins.

There is another side of this debate too. 280 characters is definitely more valuable than 140 on a sports talk show when it involves extending a topic. Diving into a segment with a plan and teasing what’s next are what I often refer to as “ins and outs”. When you skip past those formatics (the last :15 seconds before your break and the first :60 seconds starting off a segment), the way you keep people engaged is by being compelling, opinionated and entertaining in your presentation with a topical story. Storytellers with strong positions, timely humor and solid evidence to support their convictions make people laugh, learn and think. When you get the audience into that frame of mind, you’ve hit the right notes.

Essentially a host is a lawyer making a case, and trying to convince the jury to see it their way. The guests, calls, sound and bits are props that add to the discussion. If you’re masterful in the way you frame your content, the listener turns up the volume, listens closer, and begins to argue or agree with what they hear thru their speakers. If it’s informational, offbeat and lacking creativity, direction and suspense, they’ll disconnect quickly.

The other angle worth highlighting in support of 280 characters over 140 involves adjusting a brand strategy. Hardcore fans will clamor for what they know (Ex: Bring back Mike and the Mad Dog, SportsCenter hasn’t been the same since Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann, etc.) but to stay ahead in business, you have to evolve, take risks and be unafraid.

In Twitter’s case, the proof is in the pudding. They’re trailing their social media competitors in revenue, relevance, reputation and routine. By switching to 280, they’ve created immediate buzz, which should lead to a short-term increase in activity. If people have a good experience, then it could lead to an uptick in users and/or activity. Twitter owns a niche but wants more, and to get it, sometimes you have the analyze the competition, the behaviors of the audience, your brand’s strengths and weaknesses, and modify your approach.

Which brings us back to the debate of 140 or 280 characters. In my opinion short tweets and long tweets can both be effective, but you’ve got to understand their purpose. If you’re trying to lead people to other platforms or develop dialogue, less is more. If you’re breaking news or providing opinions on important issues or personal matters, additional perspectives can be helpful. But if every thought that pops into your head becomes social chatter, you’ll not only waste the audience’s time, but you’ll make them question how important it is to follow you. And whether it’s on Twitter or sports radio, if you don’t have loyal fans spending time with you, you’ll soon be broadcasting to an empty room.

Jason Barrett :