Interview2020: Ken George, New Media Production Manager at WBUR

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(@ericguerin and Laura of drinkboston.com listen to @kengeorge ramble. Photo Courtesy of WBUR.)

I’ve had the privilege of striking up an online friendship with Ken George, WBUR’s New Media Production Manager in Boston. You may recall that I posted about his efforts at the station as an example for stations everywhere. With that in mind, I managed to twist his arm into an online interview about social media in the context of his radio work.

The results? Some excellent perspective and some terrific advice.  Tune in to this:

Radio2020: So, as the New Media Production Manager for WBUR, what social platform have you been most excited about implementing? Which one seems to be the most vital part of your strategy?

Ken George, WBUR: A gentleman far more knowledgeable about radio than I could ever realistically aspire to be recently posted on his blog that radio is now in the “relationship business.” When put that way, then the value of social media is self-evident.

But simply slathering on social media varnish without an underlying attitudinal shift on the part of the organization will doom the effort (and justifiably so). What is vital? I think, an open mind, a willingness to engage listeners on their terms, to listen, and to stop thinking that the world revolves around those of us inside the studio.

This is going to sound like a cop-out, but I feel it is far too early for me to answer your questions regarding platform. I have observed a hefty response to our Twitter initiative. And our Facebook page has accrued a large number of “fans.”

But it is those conversations in almost real time that Twitter enabled, that has, for me, fostered a deeper connection with our listeners. Individuals have emerged from that mass of quantified data. Names and faces have supplanted anonymous listeners.

Radio2020: I see that WBUR is everywhere. Flickr, Twitter, Utterz, YouTube, Gather, MySpace and Facebook all have a WBUR presence. Tell our readers a bit about the strategy underlying the station’s use of these social media. How has it enhanced community participation, for instance?

Ken George, WBUR: We have only been seriously engaged in the social media space for under a year, so our strategy is still very much in its infancy. A lot of what we do I’d classify as listening. We solicit feedback from users, specifically through the use of blogs and Twitter, about how to leverage the digital space to more effectively serve their needs.

A powerful component of our community building strategy (are) our monthly “meet-ups.” These events inevitably evolve into intelligence-gathering bull sessions on everything from the public radio business model, to hyper-localism to user-generated content. Another issue that has arisen is the desire of some users for micro-pledging applications, something we are now actively considering for the next fund drive.

I am obsessed with this notion of radio as convener of community. Our most recent initiative, The Public Radio Kitchen, leverages the “Web 2.0” space to convene a community of pubic radio foodies. We have the brand, they have the knowledge, so why not bring the two together online and in the real world?

Radio2020: What sort of metrics do you use to measure success with social media? Do you use a “software as a service” (SaaS) like Radian6, Google Analytics, conversation monitoring, or some other approach?

Ken George, WBUR: We love geeking out over metrics. We obsessively keep track of the number of followers social media is attracting as well as (the) sites’ traffic. Google analytics is a must.

Sadly though, too many organizations get hung up on ROI (Return on Investment) at the expense of the bigger picture. I am well aware of the issue. I am also fully cognizant of the fact that the folks most responsive to 90.9’s social media forays do not represent our average listener.

That said, our average listener won’t be average forever. Yes, I have doubts about the efficacy of all of our social media initiatives. But the world is changing, and at a rapid clip at that, a fact most saliently brought to my attention each Tuesday night in an undergraduate course I attend, in which I am in the unenviable position of being the “old man” in the classroom. Talk about a wake-up call. If radio managers could only listen as these kids talk media. It’s a salutary antidote to any of my self-doubts regarding social media.

Radio2020: What advice would you give to other stations just starting on their social media journey? What tools or applications do you advise them to embrace?

Ken George, WBUR: The best way to get something done is (to) begin. Don’t obsess about tools. It’s not about technology, it’s about attitude.

Most of the stuff if not free is very low cost. Station managers: Open up an account on Blogger and WordPress. Encourage your staff to do the same. Experiment with Facebook. Start Tweeting. Host a Tweet-Up! How about a listener photo project hosted on Flickr?

Radio2020: After eight years of doing this, what would you say are the most valuable lessons learned about the use of social media in the radio arena?

Ken George, WBUR: As I mentioned above, social media involves an attitudinal shift. Engaging listeners requires an authentic, consistent dialogue with them. Throw up a Flickr photo gallery and think you are doing social media, and you are only fooling yourself.

Listeners and users are smarter then generally given credit. Try to fake it with them and you lose.

Be prepared to spend a considerable chunk of your time doing this. That said, it is a helluva lot of fun.

Radio2020: And, as always, our traditional ending question: Ken, what is your favorite thing about radio and why is it important to you?

Ken George, WBUR: I spent much of my childhood in the shadow of the great WGY, then the “50,000 Watt Flagship Station of the General Electric Broadcasting Company.” That I still remember that tag line is indicative of my hours listening as a kid.

Then, the station was invested in the community. It covered the mayor’s race, and school board. On-air hosts appeared at grocery store openings and school events. Yet listening was a deeply personal experience. It was though those speakers where speaking to me. That childhood experience sums up what I like best about radio.

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