5 ways localgov comms is exactly like commercial radio… sorta

I love a few things a lot. My beautiful and patient wifey, along with my 2 boys. The North Melbourne Football Club (long suffering). Netflix (I rarely leave the house these days). Everything Marvel (yeah, I wanna be Iron Man) and for most of my life I have loved radio. Not just loved, but BELIEVED in radio, what it can achieve, what it means to people.

Always have. Always will. It’s been my passion and my trade for most of my adult life. So pretty much everyone I know was in absolute shock when I upped and quit radio late last year. Some had thought I’d lost my mind. Some, that I’d given up. I had my reasons, and might share them with you when we catch up over a beer…your shout.

The biggest shock came early this year once I accepted the Digital/Social Media Officer position at Greater Shepparton City Council. I was especially shocked. Not because I was moving from the private to public sector, or they had something called RDO’s, but it was the first time I’d started a new job without having to move interstate.

I got a lot of ‘Won’t you miss radio? The creativity, spontaneity, the audience?” and “How will you deal within the procedures and constraints of local government“? To be completely honest and quite egotistical, I haven’t skipped a beat. Social media and digital platforms had long been a priority for my radio network, and I’d made significant wins in social engagement and UBs to our websites. So now at GSCC, I’m essentially doing the same thing with an iPad in stead of a microphone.

After my first few weeks in Local Government, everyone started to notice a shift…I was loving the analytics.

Despite going from the largest and most popular social media community in Northern Victoria, to one of the smallest and (I’m pretty sure) the #1 “tough-to-love brand“, I love my new job. My colleagues are passionate about our community and the challenges are many! After all, how many people actually ‘like’ their local Council (LG)? Why would they on Facebook?

So when it comes to LG and FM, where are the similarities? What did I learn while talking in between the same songs over and over, pushing buttons and pushing out 150 social media impacts a week? How can it be applied you your Comms? I’m glad you asked! And am surprised you’re still reading.

Here are 5 ideas I have where the principles and circumstances of radio can be applied to the way Local Government communicates, especially via digital platforms.

#1 Content is King

It remains the catch cry from radio Content Directors! The personalities, the entertainment, news and information, songs…anything that is not a commercial; THAT is what draws people to the radio and keeps them listening for another 15 minutes. The more people, the more money you’ll bank through the sale of airtime. The same principle applied to the radio station’s monetised digital platforms. Make the content appealing, delivered in a way that’s easily consumed and you’ll get the clicks, hits and cash.

Yeah, I know. If LG wants cash from their citizens, they’ll hit em with rates, service fees, fines, registrations et al. But this ideology is completely transferable the principles of Community Engagement; our equity! An absolute priority for all of us in LG, and typically through MarComms. So, it’s simple! Our Comms need to be A Grade content! Off you go! Make ‘better’ stuff, get it out there more often and watch your engagement soar!!!!! Right? We all know it’s not that easy. So how do we get close?

#2 “Tight N Bright”

In radio, and all commercial media, careers and profits live and die by the ratings. If no one’s listening, watching or clicking, no one’s spending. Wages, bills, stockholders don’t get paid, people get sacked, it’s all bad. That’s why a lot of resources are thrown behind ongoing research to make sure what’s coming through the speakers and screens are what the majority of the target audience want to consume. Not just the talk topics and subject matter that attract and grow an audience, but the WAY it’s delivered. Announcers are told to keep their delivery ‘tight and bright‘. Word economy is everything. It’s never about what you leave in, but what you take out that will make the content shine. Edit and edit again. That way if the subject is off topic, or delivered poorly, at least we’ve moved onto the next song (hopefully) without the listener tuning out or switching over or off.

We should also keep our Comms on all social platforms tight and bright. Don’t tell the whole story, aim to capture interest. Yes, I know Dale from Finance really wants to take 500 words in a PR to explain why we’re increasing rates, and it might be necessary. If that’s the case, “sell” the story in a punchy post via social, drawing users through to the website for the compete info. That is if they actually see your post and care enough to click while they scroll past Buzzfeed lists and dash cam videos (mental note, that should be another blog I do, if Matt actually has me back)..

#3 Emotion drives behaviour

“Make them laugh, make them cry”! If you have the one radio show or station that can do this often and well, you’ve got the winner. You will attract and grow an audience that will keep coming back for more. Why? We are selfish creatures that NEED to FEEL!!! I truly believe that at the most critical times, too many businesses, politician, people, yes…especially Comms peeps, neglect to consider the emotional connection you need to create with an individual in order to manipulate their behaviour.

Most people are good people, they want to help. It makes them FEEL part of the solution. Especially when it’s as easy as sharing a meme of a stolen statue…GSCC most engaging content this year

Sinister sounding, I know…but that’s the business we’re all in. We need people to do what WE want! Eat well, buy a car, floss, keep listening past the commercial break so they can hear their favourite song, read our press release so they know when and why we’re cutting down trees in the Main Street.

I spent the best part of 2 decades on the receiving end of local government Comms and it was all about the facts and approved statements. Facts are key, but you can only cut through and achieve engagement if you dare to show a bit of emotion and personality, which leads onto…

#4 Risk, Risk, Risk, Risk Risk!

Whatever happened to “She’ll be right, mate”? It used to be enough to expect the worst, hope for  the best. In the good old days of radio (mid 00’s), I ate beer battered Bulls balls on air once (just once)! We took a bus load of winners on a weekend away to a theme park. Announcers drove in dodgy cars at high speeds around a speedway.

All without any real consideration of a worst case scenario. NO ONE can get away from that anymore, in any sector. It might surprise you to know that Risk assessments are applied widely at my last radio network. So when it comes to local council’s procedures, laws, governance, best practice ya de ya de ya ya, radio, as it should, is there too. This helped immensely during my transition from radio to MarComms; the fun had already been sucked out of me! #joke

In my short time in this sector and role, I’ve discovered how there are still some LGs who have yet to or are only just establishing a social media presence. A lot of staff don’t understand the mechanics or the potential, or those who do can’t get buy in from Exec who barely know how to sms let alone Tweet. I put such resistance down to fear; the risk of diving into a sea of angry ratepayers ready to shoot you down for everything you do, or DON’T do! “If we’re on Facebook people will slag us off! We can’t control that! We have a website, that’s enough for the interwebs!” Sorry Councillor, just because you’re not on Facey, doesn’t mean you’re not getting trolled, which brings me to my last point.

#5 People can be jerks, and that’s OK

Radio is build on (and some may say, exploits) the passion of talented creatives who go above and beyond every day to create radio for surprisingly low pay. After all, there are only 2 Golden Microphones in this country…and they weren’t awarded, they were commissioned. Questionable remuneration aside, I’ve quickly seen that local council is also full of smart, hardworking professionals who are incredibly passionate about their community. So, in both sectors, nothing sucks your energy more quickly than getting a tweet from some listener/ratepayer who hates the same song being played 5 times a day/who’s recycling bin wasn’t emptied this morning. Gawd! Don’t they know how busy we are!?!? We’re doing our best and all they can do it troll us over their piddling little gripes Try and get some perspective, champ!

Key takeaway here; you can never keep everyone happy all the time. That, and you should never let a jerk ruin your day or shake your confidence in the job you do. For every one complaint, there’s literally 1000’s of people who love what you’re doing. Most likely, you’re doing it so well they take it for granted every day. You’re invisible to them.

About the Author:

Damien Willoughby (Wil) was born a dairy farmer, discovered student radio while pretending to study Arts at LaTrobe Bundoora. In 2001, after studying Commercial Radio at Swinburne Uni, hel began his broadcast odyssey across Australia. As a Breakfast Announcer and Content Director, Will collected a wealth of content creation, communication and marketing experience (along with industry awards), in broadcast and media, and now finds himself with a few ideas about why people click, like, follow and share. Will’s passions include swearing, The Walking Dead and beer, and his idols include Mark Zuckerberg, Tony Stark and Em Rusciano. You can read more on Damien’s blog here.

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