Ken George, new media production manager for Boston-based public radio station WBUR, 90.9 F.M., (one of the largest NPR-affiliated stations in the country) was bitten by the social media bug early last year.
Prior to 90.9, Ken was production editor for Masslive.com, a regional web portal based in Western Massachusetts.
After reading Ken’s blog, a chronicle of 90.9’s “web 2.0” initiatives, and following his “Tweets,” I got a chance to finally meet him at the station’s first “Tweet-Up” held in July 2008. Since then Ken has taken to organizing and hosting these events on an almost monthly basis.
WBUR is embarking on some really cool experimentation in the social media space, demonstrating a level of engagement and transparency pretty unusual for a major market broadcaster. As Ken is the mover and shaker behind this, I asked him to share his perspectives on what he is trying to accomplish for the station.
Without further ado, here is our conversation:
Eric Guerin: What prompted WBUR to get involved with social media and what websites/applications are you active on?
Ken George: We had been marginally tooling around with various social media sites like Flickr, YouTube for a number of years now. While great channels to port our new media content into, we never used those spaces to “converse” with users or listeners.
My eureka moment is a direct result of my attending one of the social media breakfasts last May. What I heard blew my mind. I left with a steely resolve to engage far more transparently and consistently with listeners via social media tools.
Twitter proved instrumental to this end. Why? I think the way it enabled almost real-time conversations. The more I Tweeted, the more followers I accrued and the more I would Tweet. A real self-reinforcing positive feedback loop.
EG: According to the most recent statistics I heard for public radio, the average age of an NPR listener is 47 and continues to trend older year after year. How does this age demographic of WBUR listeners, affect your approach to social media engagement?
KG: You’ve identified a huge problem with that question. For the most part, the “traditional listeners” are not the ones responding to our social media outreach. And frankly, I am unconvinced there is much I can do to reach those listeners via social media.
I see my efforts as helping the station to reach new markets and position itself for the future characterized by a limitless supply of on-demand content. Community will be the one trump card we can play to distinguish us from all the other guys.
EG: What are the biggest challenges WBUR faces as the way people receive news is changing?
KG: The unparalleled access to information, content, news on demand presents a huge challenge. Public radio operates best in an environment of information scarcity. When locked in your car you choices are 90.9, some innovative college programming or boatloads of crap.
This completely breaks down on the Web, where you can get all kinds of radio programs and other compelling content ad infinitium.
And of course there is the issue of money, specifically the amount advertisers (underwriters in public broadcaster parlance) will fork over to get mentioned over the airwaves. That revenue helps cover the considerable costs associated with radio production. On the web, those analog advertising dollars become digital pennies.
EG: You’ve started a monthly “TweetUp” at your studios where anyone can show up, get a tour and engage in a round table discussion about many different topics. How did you come up with the idea for this and what was the driving force behind it?
KG: The “Tweet-Ups” where a natural outgrowth of our social media experimentation. NPR resident social media evangelist (oh that term again!) It was from Andy Carvin, who among other things is tasked with getting National Public Radio affiliated stations onto the social media bandwagon, that I learned about “Tweet-Ups.”
So I thought “What the hay, let’s give it a go and see what happens.” I was dubious folks would attend, and was very gratified to see my misgivings were unwarranted. And these events have been of tremendous value to the station. The core attendees (yourself included of course) serve as a brain trust of sorts that have in no small way helped guide 90.9’s digital media efforts.
I think my strong feelings about empowering the “public” in “public radio” is what has made me a fanatic about hosting these events monthly. You folks have supported us through thick and thin. It is only fair play that you be invited in to tell us what you think (even if at times it is not necessary something we want to hear). I think that is incredibly empowering for listeners.
Speaking of events, the next WBUR Social Media Meet-Up is February 5th at 7pm and at the end of February we are hosting an “Eat Up at WBUR” – making a concerted effort to reach out to local food bloggers as part of the station’s new community-based “Public Radio Kitchen.”
EG: Being public radio you need to do fund-raising to stay on the air, how have you used your social media connections to help promote and donate to your pledge drive?
KG: We are in the embryonic phrase of tying social media to pledging. The end of the year fund drive last December represented the first time we tried using social media to solicit pledges. I would remind folks (mostly via Twitter) that the fund drive was on and direct them to a specific landing page so we can quantify the results. Our overall take via social media was small, but then the initiative was rather last minute and haphazard.
The plan is that the next time we try this we are a little more organized and consistent. We may (“may” being the operative word) even deploy “micro-pledging” applications across the social media space.
EG: Thanks for taking the time Ken!