Audience vs. Community: Which Way Are Your Chairs Pointing?

One of Social Media’s most prolific writers, Chris Brogan, posted a very interesting article today on Audience vs. Community. The distinction of the two continues to confound many. From PR firms,to agencies, to businesses to your Mom and Dad, are still trying to figure out the difference. And though Chris speaks from the standpoint of social media, that difference has been with us for years! He sums it up quite eloquently with this sentence:

The only difference between an audience and a community is which direction the chairs are pointing.

No longer are the chairs all neatly arranged in a row all facing a stage, on which stands a speaker. Nope, this new form of media has allowed those “butts in seats” to stand up and rearrange those chairs and talk with each other…while the speaker continues to talk from the stage. And that’s the issue we have faced for years as we address our audience or customer.Are we talking at them or with them?

This is not a new concept by any means. Humans would rather be social. Which would you rather do, play solitaire or poker? Go to a party or sit at home and drink? (If it’s the later, you may need to make a call or two.) Dine alone or have a barbecue? You get the idea. It’s the advent of better social communication, especially through internet technology and our always connected culture, that has brought it to the forefront for businesses, brands and people.

As Brogan points out, the importance of community to a successful music career has always been paramount. The fan is the thing! His analogy, “Think Britney Spears vs the Grateful Dead.” Fans, talking to other fans and together converting new fans, kept an entire legion of music consumers on the road for years…some even after the band stopped touring. Harley-Davidson has done the same, so much so that they were able to keep their community together through a period when the product turned to crap. Their “community” helped them survive, demanded a better product, and because HD listened, grew even bigger.

So which way are your chairs facing? Are you still standing on he stage talking at the audience or are you walking around the community and participating in the conversation…which is mostly about you? you? Most importantly are you listening to what they say to each other as well as what they say to you.

Amber Naslund points out in her comment to Brogan’s piece, “…you cannot *create* a community. It creates itself.” It should also be noted that community can fold up it’s chairs (destroy itself), or worse, throw the chairs at you (turn against you).

Road trip! From MXMW to SXSW

I’ll be taking a break from the sunny climes of Minnesota (-4 as of this writing…sheesh!) to head to South By Southwest Interactive.

Through my involvement in radio I’ve known about the SXSW Music Festival for years, but never had the chance to “make the scene.” (Yep, channeling Linc form Mod Squad again.) Before the birth of RemainComm and the founding of Localtone Systems, I had never known there was an interactive festival as well. So the lure of interactive, a huge music scene, and some warmer weather, has inspired me to load up the laptop and head south.

Look for posts, pictures and video from the event throughout the coming week, both here and at Minnov8. I’l pass along some of the highlights and share what I find during my first full on trip into one of the epic events in geekdom (I say that lovingly.) and perhaps some fun along the way!

If you’re headed to SXSW yourself, let me know with a tweet to @philson.

Patience Is Relative or “Give it a second!”

I have often commented to friends (maybe you’re one of them) about my patience with the speed of the technology I use. I often catch myself in front of the computer, on my cell phone, or standing in line thinking, “C’mon already!” only to stop and think to myself, “Relax, remember the typewriter, pay phones, carbon paper, car trips for the love of Pete!”

Well, my friend Mark Swift forwarded me this vid from Conan featuring Louis CK, who brings it all into perspective. I knew I wasn’t the only one…

Change Is Inevitable

I recently presented a webinar to a group of radio broadcasters. Entitled The Social Hour: Joining the Online Conversation, it was designed as a general overview of social media and it’s ability to allow radio, a medium that has mastered the art of talking, to start listening to and participating with it’s audience.

I’m happy to say that those that joined the webinar stayed for the duration and asked some good questions at the end, one of the best of which came from a public broadcaster in Wisconsin. He asked if I thought radio would have to change the content of their programming to better serve a population that has increasingly more choice and control of what they hear.

Though I hope I diplomatically answered the question during the session (After all, this was a webinar about social media not radio programming), the answer would have to be a resounding yes. To think that any business model can continue to function as it always has in light of growing user control and competition would be folly. And, though the question was raised by a group of radio folks, it could just as easily be raised by retailers, service providers, or any number of businesses. If we were to simply look at the history of electronic media we’d see that this is not a new phenomenon.

Lives were changed when the radio was first invented. Here was a medium that could reach many with the human voice, not just with words on a page.The medium was all about long form programming. From news, to live music, to serial programming, there was suddenly another outlet other than newspaper to get information. When television joined the fray, radio and movie theaters for that matter, adjusted what they were providing. Serials gave way to short form programming and focused music formats.

In addition, the rise of localized content became paramount. The large networks that provided programming for the individual stations was slowly replaced with locally focused content. You could still count on national information, but depending on where you were, you were provided information that catered to your local area. Being a midwesterner, the example that leaps to mind is the proliferation of agricultural information. (I still don’t know what the hell a pork belly is?)

Only recently (the last 12 years) has radio moved back to a national model. Not because of the need of the listener but because of the requirements of the business plan to consolidate costs.

Therein lies the trap. In a time where user control is reaching new heights, the need to provide a more tailored, focused, and unique product continues to grow. In a time where the generic can be easily avoided some businesses, radio included, look to provide the opposite of what is being sought. Even on the web, which is after all “world-wide”, content producers are finding that localization and specialization are where it’s at.

Just like community relations and customer service has been impacted by the rise of the online generation, the way we provide goods and services, as well as the business models that drive them, will need to adapt. Traditional media will be with us for years to come, the business of that traditional media will continue to change…and we all have ideas of what the change should look like. But that’s another discussion…or discussions.

Virtual Aircheck Is a Virtual Mystery

 At first blush, this may look like a post that is of interest only to radio people. In reality, though it caught my attention as a ‘radio guy’, it highlights lessons that can be learned by any business on the web.

Because of my love of radio, especially as it could be, and through my active participation with The Conclave, I’m always looking out for new resources that can lead to improving content and the talent that produces it. Hence my interest in checking out a new service called

For those not caught up in the broadcast vernacular the “aircheck” is simply a sample of on-air work like a DJ’s show or an on-air program of some kind. The practice of “airchecking” usually refers to a talent sitting down with their boss or talent coach and reviewing the recorded sample looking for ways to improve the content moving forward. I’m sorry to say, this is something that happens less and less frequently as Program Directors become responsible for an ever increasing list of duties they can no longer delegate…because those to delegate to are being “downsized”.

Anyway, offers a service for talent to upload their 7 minute aircheck to the site. It is then reviewed by “a panel of PD’s with over 70 years of combined experience.” and a complete report is then sent back to the talent with comments and coaching tips. This is all done for the low, low price of $24.95…and up. On the face of it, this is a very solid idea.

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Let the Games Begin…Please.


Serious(?) journalism comes to the Twin Cities!
(Billboard inbound from the MSP airport courtesy of Greg Swan)

As Minneapolis/St. Paul, where I live, gets set for the pending Republican National Convention it will be fun to see how “the media” will make it’s presence felt.

As expected, all of our “traditional” news outlets (TV, newspaper, and radio) are posturing themselves as the place for the most complete coverage…as they should. The “new” media outlets (Citizen journalists, blogs, etc.) are also gearing up to make an impact.

So far though, there is very little tie-in to the “big event” beyond the news outlets. Okay, the “Minnesota get-together” or State Fair as it is better known, is a big deal each year. So that’s where everybody is spending their time.  However if you want to get noticed on the world stage, this might be the year to downplay the corndogs and bacon on a stick and literally hop on the political bandwagon. Kudos to Comedy Central!

My, hasn’t the FCC been busy…

Wow, the FCC turned up in the news allot over the past 10 days. This could lead to displacing the latest news from Brangelina…nah! The impact will be felt across all media. Well, maybe not print…but they have enough to worry about.

Satellite Radio.
Big surprise, they approved the merger of XM and Sirius with very few stipulations attached. Much to the chagrin of the NAB, MPR, NPR, PRI, and many other letters of the alphabet except MEL. Mel Karmazin has successfully gotten his wish and, once he fights off the inevitable appeals, will oversee one unprofitable satellite radio service instead of two. So far the only way this business has made any money at all is from investors who keep hoping that the promises made to them that “it will be profitable” actually come true.

To be fair, this was inevitable. To deploy that many birds, maintain studios and staff, keep up with operating expenses, pay content fees and royalties, as well as create new content while patiently waiting for enough subscribers to make it all profitable is no simple task for one company, let alone two.

In it’s July 20th Notice of Proposed Rulemaking the FCC is looking to mandate filters “That filters or blocks images and text that constitute obscenity or pornography…” on free broadband. It’s a bit of a slippery slope, especially when you come across the infamous “as measured by contemporary community standards” line. This has to do with the new spectrum that the FCC is auctioning off known as the Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) Spectrum. Does this start us down the road of censorship of internet content? Take note: this talks about filtering services that make internet content available to the public for free, not the removal of content from the internet. Like I said a slippery slope. Info here and here.

I remember distinctly the day Janet Jackson’s nipple became half-time entertainment because of that “wardrobe malfunction”. I’m still trying to figure out if the way I explained it to my kids was even close to effective. I also remember the half million dollar fine the FCC threw at CBS for airing it. Keep in mind a 30 second ad costs 2.7 million clams so really, the fine was chump change. No matter, it all got overturned on July 21. Look for more nipples coming soon to half-time shows near you. Now if we can get somebody to tell the N(nipple)FL to lighten up on the use of the words Super Bowl. C’mon guys, don’t make everyone in media say “the big game.” For the love of Pete…why would you want to limit someone from using your brand by name. Find something else for your lawyers to do. But I digress…

Radio. All of the above.

At the Crossroads with the Conclave

I’ll be spending the next 4 days at the Conclave Learning Conference in downtown Minneapolis. This 33rdConclave08atthecrossr_medium2

annual event has nothing to do with electing the Pope and everything to do with educating broadcasters.

The agenda committee has adopted a “track” agenda focusing on Promotion, Management & Programming, Formatics, Life Skills and Tech. I’m looking forward to many sessions including those in Tech from Jerry Del Colliano, Richard Rene, and Lee Abrams. These folks are among those broadcasters who are greeting the opportunities to connect with audience that new and social media offers.   

I’m also really interested to hear from the NAB’s David Rehr about what the radio lobby is doing these days…clearly, it hasn’t been convincing Steve Jobs to include a radio receiver on the iPod. The session addressing performance royalties and licensing fees pitting both sides against…um…I mean…featuring representatives from the radio industry, Sound Exchange and NARAS is also on my list. The debate should produce some interesting comments, if not a high body count.

See the agenda here and look for my comments on Twitter over the weekend and, of course, a post or two next week.

Of course, the weekend won’t be complete without me and my radio buds getting together and to eat an entire cow at Lindey’s in Arden Hills. Mooo!

Today’s post…blah, blah, blah…

Any question in anyone’s mind that we are all stressed for time? If there is consider the “blah, blah, blah” or, as Seinfeld made famous, the “yada-yada”, or one I hear more and more, the “da-di-da-di-da”.

Blah-Blah is defined by Webster’s as “silly or pretentious chatter or nonsense” and yada-yada, it’s first use tracked to 1948, is defined by the Urban Dictionary as “Conversation glosser-over, similar to blah, blah, blah” These are a “stop me if you’ve heard this” for any discussion, story, or joke.

In the online world there are a ton of sites and applications reducing the blah, blah. Just look what Sony is doing with Minisodes. If you can reduce a 30 minute TV show to 5 minutes, there’s some blah, blah, blah, plenty of yada-yada and a smidgen of da-di-da-di-da.

Of course, you can’t forget about the likes of Twitter or Utterz. Their sole mission is to eliminate yada-yada. Even much of online advertising is getting shorter. Wha-hoo!

I’ve always been a big believer in editing. In fact, when editing I prescribe to the “cut it in half” mentality. Too often we get caught up in hearing ourselves talk or reading what we have written. If you hold true to being merciless, (something allot of Hollywood producers seem to lack these days) you’ll never need the blah, blah, or the yada-yada or worry about somebody doing it when they quote you…or playback your presentation.

The down side is that we could eliminate much of the art, the character development, the storytelling that makes any form of communication richer. Knowing not only what to edit but when to edit is crucial.
Whether you’re strapped for time or catering to technology make sure you are cutting out the real yadda-yadda, the genuine blah-blah. Not the good stuff that makes the content compelling.

(Extra: While looking back at the Seinfeld Yada-Yada episode I came across this great exchange…

Elaine: …Anyway, guess what? Beth Lookner called me.
Jerry: Ooh. Beth Lookner, still waitin’ out that marriage.
Elaine: What are you talking about? That marriage ended six months ago. She’s already  remarried.
I gotta get on that internet. I’m late on everything.

…I had to share. What great writing…and no blah, blah, blah.)

New Mediarati or New Yorkers?

I enjoyed a great article by New Yorker staff writer Joan Acocella in the latest issue of Smithsonian magazine. Her subject was her experience with New Yorkers and why they many believe they are smarter (and per chance more rude) than other Americans. Though I’m sure she didn’t realize it, I think she may very well have also been describing characteristics of those active in the on-line world.

Here are some of those things that Ms. Acocella points out differentiate New Yorkers from the rest of the population that also apply to New Mediarati (Nice made up word, huh?).

New Yorkers are people who left another place to come to New York, “looking for something, which suggests that the population is preselected for higher energy and ambition. Who on the web is not from somewhere else? Okay, maybe a few that have become far too involved in Second Life think they are from the web, but most who are really into this space are very ambitious and entrepreneurial. Just follow a few sites like Mashable and TechCrunch and you’ll see you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a startup. My experience with these folks in-person has proven to me that they are incredibly high energy.

The article points out that New Yorkers are willing to forgo basic comforts, instead willing to share the the amenities. Again, you can’t be more into sharing than the open source movement. Many New Mediarati will choose to live on Raman noodles as long as they have a smokin’ laptop…so they can share online.

According to Ms. Acocella, it’s possible that New Yorkers just appear smarter because they make less separation between private and public life.  Bingo! Is this true of those online geeks we all know or what? Face it, we’re willing to spill our guts out in blogs, a Facebook page, or the odd tweet on Twitter, something we would have never done as little as 5 years ago. All of this to share knowledge with anyone willing to listen or read. Just like New Yorkers, Mediarati like to be experts. And as, Aocella points out, “all people like to be experts.”

Why do these two groups, who share so much, behave this way? Why, as pointed out in this Smithsonian article, do they go against psychological principles, the ones that say being bombarded by so much stimuli causes most to recede into themselves and ignore others? Well, there are some of “those” people in both camps, most however share a sense of common cause. For New Yorkers it manifests it self on the street, for Mediarati it happens online.

To me, the similarities are striking and really emphasizes how the online world really is a community…a big ol’ mother of a community…but one that brings so many different types together in one world.

Now You Know…ACT!

A great post from Mark Ramsey today at Hear2.0. Mark is brilliant and has always lead the way in giving a collective smack on the backside of the broadcast industry to stay on top of changing communication. In fact, to be honest, I sometime worry about how much he smacks them. The fact is though…he’s right. Be sure and listen to his presentation here.

Now that you’ve listened, act! Broadcast, The New Radio is out there waiting, but you can’t get there on the cheap and you can’t do it by making your “stick” a second thought. There needs to be understanding, a strategy, resources, real people to make it all work, and above all, a relationship with your clients…both listeners/users and clients.

On-air to On-line

I caught the live meeting online from Arbitron and Edison Media Research. The title; The Infinite Dial 2008: Radio’s Digital Future.  The topic: AM/FM, Online, Satellite, HD Radio, Podcasting, and a splash of social media.

Tom Webster, the presenter, is someone I count as a friend and I always look forward to whatever he has to say. At the appointed hour, after the attendee count climbed past 1000, he did not disappoint…me anyway. Others in radio…not so much. You can see and hear the presentation for yourself here. A few of my takeaways…

  1. Broadband access is proliferating. 8 in 10 Americans have access to the net with 76% of them having broadband service. So how about we ditch the mp3 and use a larger file (WAV) for audio. We have the bandwidth now.
  2. As far as the age breakout of online listeners, it’s fairly well distributed and surprisingly, the 35-44 year olds make up 27% of the audience. Take that you whacky millennials.
  3. Satellite Radio, which shows similar demographics as online radio, has leveled off in growth. Something you might expect in light of the XM-Sirius merger and the consumer uncertainty that goes with it. In addition, with no big talent “gets” or development of some other press worthy announcements, the word of mouth is not helping in the marketing efforts for either service. There are only so many Howard Sterns out there.

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