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Blogging and radio – a match made in heaven?

“By harnessing new technologies that drive social networking such as blogging, East Coast Radio is putting these social drivers to good use, to such an extent that it is fundamentally changing the way listeners engage with the brand and jocks.” So says Anice Hassim, internet strategist and internet architect of immedia, the agency responsible for the development of East Coast Radio's website
Adds Paulette Holmes, ECR's marketing director. “It is essential to understand and engage new communications mediums and how they are impacting on social culture. In terms of the learning constructs of blogging, we are seeing how it influences the nature of and ability of people to interact with each other and the station.

“Radio has rapidly evolved over the last five years and today it is more dynamic and influential than ever before mostly because of the symbiotic relationship it has with the new technologies. Blogging gives us the chance to take each show outside of the constraints of time slots and give listeners the chance to air their views and thoughts and engage with the station's key personalities – this is an unbelievably effective CRM tool and opportunity to engage personally with your consumer that most brand managers only get to dream about.”

No longer staid

According to Hassim, radio is not the staid, one-way medium that it used to be where dialogue was one directional and that only engaged with its listeners with the odd studio interview or competition phone-in. New technology such as mobile media, blogging, SMS and so-on, have infused it with new and immediate relevancy. “A good example of this is the impact PVR has on TV viewership – once you have a PVR your entire viewing habits change, never again will you be dictated to by time slots. This kind of time shifting is breaking our relationships with traditional media,” he adds. “People want to engage with the ‘when and how' factors on their own terms.”

“In this new space, the only traditional medium that successfully co-exists and benefits is radio. It is the centrifugal force around a constellation of new media platforms that take traditional media and energise it with new interactive content – blogging is the perfect example of this. Now you can listen to your favourite jock, SMS votes through for radio polls, blog, surf the station website, engage with other listeners and the presenter in real time – all this makes for incredibly exciting radio content. Try applying that to a magazine or newspaper. It also means that the Big Breakfast show, as just one example, is no longer limited to 6-9am and Wendy Knowler's Consumer Watch is fighting for consumer rights 24/7. “

New maturity

But embracing blogging as a powerful brand building tool requires a new maturity on behalf of brand owners and marketers.

“Not everyone is going to have good things to say about you. Jocks had to learn that not everyone is a fan. Devotees however are always on hand to defend their icons and there could be no marketing more powerful than this,” he explains

“What has been interesting to note is that the overwhelming majority of bloggers are very well behaved with well composed messages – they put a great deal of effort into creating relevant and topical dialogue.”

To endure a blog needs to be relevant and add value to remain sustainable. If not, your audience will find other sites to spend their precious time and loyalty on.

“We have been able to create new touch points with our audience that we simply did not have before. Although the functionality is still relatively new in terms of our website, it has taken years of planning, practice and learning to get it right and everyday we're seeing new consumption trends emerging that constantly challenge us to go to the next level,” adds Holmes.

Overseas not necessarily relevant locally

As for the future impact of blogging on brand-consumer relationships, Hassim is quick to point out that what happens overseas is not necessarily relevant locally. “South Africans do not live in a ubiquitous broadband world such as in the US. For our listeners, online and mobile media are still new concepts; however, East Coast Radio took a decision to drive the trend so that by the time technologies such as blogging become an integral part of the marketing process, we will already have the key learnings under our belt.”

But the burning question remains, where is this all going and what does it mean for the future of radio programming? “New communications technologies are creating a platform for local content like never before. Your audience can interact in real time and communicate with other listeners to share opinions and views. They have a real and vested stake in the debate because they are actually participating in it, not just listening.

“You don't think of traditional radio having this kind of impact. But then again East Coast Radio is no longer traditional radio – it's multifaceted and very real in the lives of its listeners,” concludes Hassim.

East Coast Radio's four blogs were launched four months ago.

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