You have to hand it to NPR and the New York Times. Whatever you may think of them as journalism platforms, they are both incredibly transparent when it comes to explaining their strategies and decision-making processes. For all of us learning on the job as the media world twists and turns, gaining a better understanding of how decisions are being made at the highest levels provides us with great insights about our own brands.
Yesterday was a case in point. The Times’ editorial director of its Reader Center, Hanna Ingber, wrote a story that helps identify the various platforms and sources the newspaper uses to collect feedback and story ideas from its readers.
Newspapers have come a long way since those “denial days” when Groupon, Craigslist, Bloomberg, Google News, YouTube, and other web platforms ate their lunch while they sat by and just wringed their hands.
Today, it’s lessons learned – often the hard way. Print instituions now know social media is a viable and effective feedback tool. For Ingber, it’s an essential for tracking her audience, along with Facebook Live. And she notes, “While journalists are on Twitter, the bulk of our readers on Facebook. At The Times, we regularly use Facebook to reach our readers and ask them to participate in our coverage.”
And the ways in which The Times now tells its stories is noteworthy. They’re using more than word processors, web pages, and printed ink. Ingber tells the story of a reporter who was on one of the buses with students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida on their way to D.C. She chronicled their entire journey via Twitter, capturing a vibe and view unavailable from The Times’ traditional coverage outlets.
And that tells you there’s a keen awareness of exactly what their readership is doing – their distribution outlets of choice, and the places they habituate to express themselves. The staff at the Reader Center checks them all – from email to snail mail to Slack – to ensure they’re got the their digital fingers on the pulse of their audience.
In fact, if you asked Ingber what her job would be like without this factual knowledge detailing where her readers are, and their preferred gadgets and outlets, she’d probably tell you it would be a hopeless, confusing maze.
Yet, that’s what we’re asking programmers and air talent to do every day as they attempt to build, shape, and distribute their content in all the right places.
Of course, it varies by format and by brand, in much the same way readers of Mother Jones, the Wall Street Journal, and BuzzFeed differ from those consuming The Times’ content.
And that’s why at Jacobs Media, we’re spending these spring days building pyramids – our Media Usage and Brand Pyramids that we extract from the mountains of data generated by this year’s Techsurvey 2018. They pyramids are aggregations of key findings that tell the larger story of how audiences use the media, gadgets, brands, and platforms that have transformed our industry – and our world.
The study is already the biggest we’ve ever pulled together – more than 560 stations from across North America wanted to be a part of the largest media research study on the planet. They helped us generate more than 64,000 completed surveys – a statistical schematic that helps us understand the perceptions and usage patterns of radio listeners of all stripes.
From Boomers to high school kids, fans of Urban AC to Sports Radio, cord cutters to podcast listeners, TS2018 has it all. The size of the spreadsheet may be daunting, with a seemingly infinite number of columns, but the truth is out there. Or in this case, in there. We just have to go in and dig it out.
In the same way, we wouldn’t think of asking programmers at great stations to put their music architectures together solely on gut instinct, research that helps define the audience – who they are, how they spend their time, and the distribution outlets they prefer – isn’t just helpful.
It’s the data radar that helps shape our thinking, our perceptions, our strategies and tactics. It’s also how smart brands manage their expenses – their human and financial resources. There’s not a dollar to waste on spending time populating distribution outlets that don’t matter. And brands missstep when they’re unaware of where their audience hangs out to talk about their views and their attitudes.
Radio strategists need to know more than “hot zips” information. It’s rudimentary, at best, and only skims the surface of who’s out there, what they’re thinking, and what they’re dong.
We’re already leaking out nuggets from TS2018 to AllAccess, but the big stuff – the pyramids – will have to wait until our stakeholders see them late this month. Then it’s onto the Worldwide Radio Summit in L.A. in May.
We’re excited to show you what we’re learning. For 14 years now, we’ve helped educate radio across North America about what their audiences are doing in the digital ecosphere.
And along the way, we’ve learned an awful lot about our own businesses – Jacobs Media and jacapps.
The latter wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for these studies. Our early intel on mobile phones was the gateway that caused Tim Davis – our digital guru back in those days – to consider how broadcast radio could benefit from the coming mobile revolution. As Walkman-type devices have become extinct, mobile streaming has become a key conduit for radio, jumpstarting the medium’s portability. Believe me, it wasn’t obvious a decade ago.
And our parent company’s forays into the “connected car,” podcasting, and smart speaker spaces have been digital adventures and ininovations largely driven by the data that lets us peek around the corner to see what’s next.
If you think about it, audience research has helped brands from NPR to the New York Times transform themselves from a public radio network and a local newspaper respectively into the media behemoths and influencers they’ve become. Without the data, decision making about content and distribution models would be as murky, confusing, and convoluted as operating that switchboard you see pictured at the top of this post.
Notably, as both the newspaper and public radio industries face challenges galore in the new media world, they’re not just surviving. They’re thriving – enjoying record successes in the most of tumultuous times.
It’s not just by driven by the chaotic news cycle. If that was the case, everyone would be winning. A major component in their successes is knowing the whereabouts and media choices of their audiences, shaping content for those outlets, and knowing where to go to determine what they’re talking about.
No matter what millennium you’re living in, knowledge is power.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,000 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.