The disruptive multi-media installation: Patkin

A recent survey reported on radioinfo shows radio is the most engaging industry on Facebook. It’s an impressive bullet point for a PowerPoint presentation but that’s about it. Once a disruptive medium, radio is competing with Internet media and evolving tribes that defy traditional research demographics.

In “The Great Fragmentation: And Why the Future of All Business is small” author Steve Sammartino argues that some technology is self-defeating. Instead of saving us time, we waste it when we spend hours a day scrolling through Facebook Posts and Tweets. He uses the washing machine as an example of a time-saving technology – turn it on and it does the job. Social media is the opposite – turn it on and it steals time. So does radio need to engage in social media or report on it?

Perhaps radio can treat social media as a series of events and judiciously highlight the best. But beware of discussing the links on air only send your audience back to cyberspace. Radio allows us to move freely so asking a listener to get more information by following a Tweet hashtag is labour intensive.

If we follow Sammartino’s philosophy, choosing what suits our audience will not be based on traditional demographics such as gender and age but on clusters according to interests such as footy, gaming, and food. It’s a case of finding the meat in the long tail.

The Internet has delivered content that used to be strictly controlled and some have argued it has recalibrated our moral fibre such as attention-seeking sensationalist pranks. Is it time to recalibrate our behaviour? Sammartino offers five “human rules” about how to communicate using social media:

  • Speak with a human voice
  • Listen more than you talk
  • Be a resource to others and help them
  • Be nice to people
  • Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want on a daily news report

A human voice could be interpreted as showing empathy and this dovetails nicely with listening more. Empathy also relates to the way information is shared, whether it’s the news, natural disasters, or helping those in need. It’s also about showing respect to your fellow human being. And if you decide to be nasty, then you will be tabloid fodder. For some, controversy is a high-stakes game where there’s value in the muck they rake but if Sammartino’s right, vitriol is cheap.

Some of Sammartino’s ideas such as abandoning basic arithmetic for calculators and that 3D printers should be everywhere now are about as well-timed as the forecast New York would now be submerged by global warming. But his point is that businesses need to respond to the disruption caused by the industrial revolution associated with the Internet of Things. One of the best examples is how built-in filmless cameras and cheap home printing have disrupted photo processing shops.

The Great Fragmentation offers a glimpse into how the current wave of technology has engaged us and how it leaves us with the challenge of returning to a partner or background medium. Something like radio? Yes, but radio is no longer like a stand-alone portrait and is now a complex multi-media installation with competing channels. Avoiding a media medusa involves careful concentration and planning.

Holiday snaps and videos have evolved into the peoples’ media thanks to the development of sites such as Facebook and YouTube. Editing apps allow us to create studio quality productions, yet we are happy to present from our kitchen or bedroom with family, friends and pets in the frame. Traditional mass media such as radio, TV and newspapers are hanging onto their old ideals – turn your phone off before you go into the sacred radio studio, look your best on TV and print within boxes on rectangular paper. In the case of radio, where is the theatre and the connection to real life? 

The role of content director needs to be supplemented by content editor and not a social media specialist. While the content director can suggest the overall sound and shape, a content editor can work with talent, producers, and journalists to ensure information channels remain relevant. These may include traditional sources such as newswires and human contacts. Relying on a social media specialist will limit content and reach because, as Sammartino explains, the Internet has produced instant experts but some are a little less expert than others. As I have stated in previous articles on radioinfo, radio needs to get among its communities and allow them to share their lives and their interests to find out what makes them click.

One caveat is that while the current age and gender-style demographic listener is fading away, the present potential audience engages in media. Networks wanting an audience to access their space face the challenge of serving those with traditional expectations and technology; engaging the clusters who have embraced social media and accept its time-consuming interface and; planning for a less labour-intensive interface.

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John Patkin is a regular contributor to Asia Radio Today and radioinfo. He is a Hong Kong-based Australian media researcher.