What Radio Brands Can Learn From …. Pandora

This is one in a series of blog posts where we look at what radio brands can learn from big digital success stories.

We’ve looked at Coke and Amazon and others.  Today, we’ll hit closer to home with Pandora.

Radio folks, as a group, have a certain level of hostility and suspicion towards Pandora.  I think it’s an impressive product, serving a whole new niche of listeners.  However, when I hear radio folks talk about Pandora, it’s usually to defend everything we do on the air that they don’t do.  We have personalities!  We’re local!  All they are is music!

Truth is, if KINK/Portland hadn’t already owned the phrase, “True to the Music,” Pandora could have used it.  It would really mean something for them.

Pandora’s been in the news lately, too.  They’re being made available in new BMWs, and they also now offer comedy along with music.  Plus, their planned IPO is expected to raise over a gazillion or so dollars.

So here’s what there is to point out about their social media.  First of all … there’s Aaron.

Aaron is Pandora’s Community Manager.  That’s more like customer service than it is like digital content.  Pandora makes very few typical brand-type updates on Facebook or Twitter.  Instead, if you scroll down their list of tweets, you see that Pandora is using Twitter as their prime social media instrument.  They’re doing so to stay in personal, one-to-one contact with people.

Pandora posts on Facebook only once every few days to every few weeks, when they have something newsworthy to say.  They are using social media as part of a clear policy to respond to questions and comments they get.  I don’t know if Aaron is really just one guy doing all this, or if there’s a bunch of people who post as “Aaron.”  They have photos online of Aaron, so if he doesn’t exist, they’re doing a good job with creating and keeping up this character.

No matter how they’re doing it, this is an area that Pandora is putting radio to shame.  There are major stations who, on their website, post contact numbers that never get answered.  There are radio brands who have created online email forms that won’t get you a response.  Meanwhile, here’s Pandora … now, a huge international brand … who is using these new digital tools that so many radio people resist.  They’re using them to create stronger one-on-one bonds with their listeners in a very old-fashioned way.

Here’s some of what they’re posting on Facebook:

Anyone else having Arbitron diary flashbacks?

It may be that radio has a lot going for it that Pandora doesn’t … but Pandora is turning that into positives for their brand.  Watch the video that goes along with the above article; you can see that Tim Westergren is, without trashing radio, talking directly to people for whom music is important.

You can just sense, listening to him, that there is a segment of music listeners who really appreciate the lack of extra “stuff” on Pandora, and the usability and control you get with it that you don’t have with radio.  Let’s face it … for them, it’s a relief that they don’t have personality, localism, contesting … and long stopsets.  It’s similar to the difference, 35 years ago, between AM and FM.  And the radio industry is now AM.

Is this tough for radio to face?  I’m sure it is.  Has radio kept up with the challenges?  No.  Does any station have a special stream with their regular music and fewer interrruptions?  Not that I know of; most of us are covering stopsets on our stream with depressing PSAs and bad songs.  Pandora is celebrating it’s ten billionth “thumbs up,” while radio hasn’t figured out any real way for listeners to enjoy the music with any way to enjoy a digital response or take part in a digital community.

Pandora is setting the agenda on how to enjoy radio music in the 21st century.  Meanwhile, in the digital world, music tends to be a low-level priority.  Don’t believe it?  Just look at most radio stations’ websites.  Where’s the content that says, “We LOVE this music we play?”

The good news is that internet listeners have not yet given up on radio brands, nor do they feel negatively about radio.  So there is still time to quit seeing this as being a broadcasting-vs-digital issue.  As with any other good brand in any other product category, there are a few things that your fans love about you, and that drives your entire success.

So I’ll leave you with practical action to take, that you don’t need new technology to do.

  • Make sure there is always something easy to find from your online front page that is just about how you freakin’ LOVE the music on your station … a new video to see, a chance to rate different songs, a way to listen to a new song before it hits the air, etc.
  • Talk with your streaming provider about putting a “Rate It” option on your streaming box if you don’t already have one.
  • Clean up your stream.  Seriously.  Take off the depressing PSAs.  When it comes to covering stopsets with music … what music would your biggest fans like to be treated to online?  Don’t just play “fill music.”  Create streaming promos about special stuff happening on the station.  Make it one person’s job to keep those fresh.  Then, promote listening online as something special to do because … because you hear the new music that’s just bubbling up, you hear about contests before everyone else, you hear fewer commercials, whatever.
Let’s strategize what YOU can do to get your digital strategy in top-notch shape, and build your brand in doing so.  Click my name to contact me!
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