Despite the onslaught of music streaming services, radio can carve out a niche for themselves online by nurturing a loyal, engaged and geographically diverse listener base that can ultimately generate additional revenue - but stations will have to overcome their fear of digital and take the leap in order to avoid being left behind.
From the start, there needs to be a change in mindset to how media entrepreneurs approach radio transformation. Many in the industry have underestimated the impact of technology as they have often focused simply on shifting some of their content online, rather than looking at the broader opportunities that are created when a brand with a captive audience gets its own digital home.
While transformation has been spoken about in the local radio industry for decades, not much has changed as station management are often not incentivised to implement truly transformative initiatives. Going digital for radio has traditionally meant a website and a presence on social media platforms - and not building an “owned” digital community.
A moment of truth
A challenge for broadcasters is that they often lack confidence in conventional listener numbers, have a poor understanding of their own audiences, and in turn their influence and buying power. They are hesitant to hear the answers to questions such as “Will people love us when we go digital?” and “Are we really the great brand that we think we are?” It is a moment of truth for radio stations?
Radio does have the advantage however: its value around human and community interaction cannot be matched, and it still has the trust of audiences, unlike social media platforms, and has the ability to provide more nuanced or localised content for audiences. This is especially vital for community stations with a large diaspora audience.
With the right support and digital tools, such as locally developed Fabrik, stations can start converting their traditional listeners into a digital audience, on their mobile application. Apart from gaining data on how many digital listeners they have, and where they are based, stations can carry out registration drives, polls and competitions to learn more about their audience and their preferences - and better serve their needs.
Benefiting from owned communities
There is a generational challenge to be overcome. While many senior decision makers in the industry understand the intricacies of radio, they are not digital natives, and are yet to fully comprehend the capabilities resulting from merging radio with digital.
Here is where the next generation of talent in broadcasting can be a great asset. Many of them are already active, and engage with fans on mainstream social media networks, and extending their activity to Fabrik will be key to bringing more fans on board.
They can also do this by blending audience participation into their programming, which makes for great, interactive radio, helps drive further traffic to their own app, and makes for an ideal way in which smaller stations can build credibility and relevance in the market, as well as generate additional revenue through selling advertising space.
Using a native platform gives stations the engagement and functionality of social networks, while still retaining control of their listener base. All that is required is a solid content and engagement strategy as well as promotion.
By persuading their listeners to register with the app, stations can collect demographic information about their listeners, and use these audience insights to bring on board advertisers. This local market already exists, and is being taken advantage of by international social media companies; having a native platform will help stations to benefit financially from this too.
Closing window of opportunity
A challenge however is that successfully implementing a social media engagement strategy requires a more decentralised and democratised approach, to ensure that it serves the need of the community or audience rather than a one-way information distribution channel for the radio station.
However, radio transformation needs to be seen as an opportunity for media practitioners to reinvent themselves for a digital future. By not doing so, they risk the same pitfalls faced by many in the print industry - they have avoided going digital for so long, that they do not have enough of a traditional audience left to convert. The window of opportunity for radio is still open, and stations must take advantage.
Radio has long been known for its trust quotient with its community and now they can extend that trust to their own digital private social network. In essence, they have a superpower to compete with the global, hyperscale platforms who are bleeding trust at an increasingly dizzy rate.
They have a clear bridge from the old world to the new world without losing themselves in the process. But they have to take the leap.
Broadcasters cannot remain fearful of technology. This transformation is easier than people think, and more often than not, audiences are ready for it. They have an identity and a sense of belonging with their preferred radio station and this will extend to their digital platforms.