There's never been an event like the current pandemic in the history of modern radio. I was working at WBCN in Boston when the planes struck the Twin Towers on 9/11. While that was a horrific and heart-wrenching experience, the event itself was a quick surprise, taking less than a day to unfold. As radio broadcasters, our job was to help people through the aftermath of that event.
But now, instead of being a surprise, this pandemic is slowly creeping towards us, with a terrible sense that the worst is still to come. As broadcasters, we aren't helping people navigate the aftermath; we're trying to help them through the “before-math.”
How do you do that?
It's hard to know, because it's not something that we've dealt with before. When I'm unsure of exactly how to proceed, I fall back on the Hippocratic Oath: “First, do no harm.” Doctor or not, this is good advice for uncertain times.
When it comes to your radio station's digital presence, now is a good time to check to make sure you aren't putting anything out into the world that you might regret later. The concern for most stations is less about saying something offensive, and more about saying something “normal” under abnormal circumstances and appearing tone deaf. In other words, you want take stock of your digital presence for the same reason that you've pulled Disturbed's “Down with the Sickness” from rotation. There's nothing wrong with the song, this just isn't the time.
Here are the things to check:
1. Have a social media policy in place.
It's always a good idea for radio stations to have a social media poliicies, but never more so than during an ongoing crisis. Everybody, including your airstaff, is under a lot of stress and prone to making mistakes in judgement. It's much better for everyone if you offer them guidance before they make a mistake rather than having to reprimand them afterwards. Here's a guide to writing a social media policy for your employees.
One important thing to note: In a time like this, don't just tell your employees what they shouldn't say on social media; also give them some advice on what they should say. Offering direction can be really helpful right now.
2. Review your website.
Many of you are wondering what you should put up on your website right now, but also ask yourself what you should take down. You may want to modify or pull concert calendars or event listings for the time being. Are there archives of old morning show bits — “Celebrity Death Pool” comes to mind — that should be removed? Review your website through the coronavirus lens.
3. Check any automated email campaigns.
Automation is very handy for an industry that is perpetually understaffed, but in times like this it can be problematic. While I am a big fan of using automated email campaigns to recycle your radio station's evergreen content, now would be a good time to check those messages, and look for any verbiage that might cause issues: Is it encouraging people to go out? Is it phrased in a way that diminishes the seriousness of the moment? Are you asking people for money when they're worried about getting laid off? When in doubt, turn these campaigns off; you can always relaunch them later.
4. Check any software that auto-posts to social media.
By the same token, if you're using any type of service to automatically share content to social media, take a look to see if it could do or say anything that you might regret later. In particular, watch out for social media posts that might not age well as the pandemic gets worse. Again, when in doubt, it's safest to turn these tools off.
5. Review your mobile app.
Just as you're reviewing your station's website, also take a moment to look at your station's mobile app with a fresh pair of eyes. Are there any sections that you want to modify or remove for the time being?
I'd love to tell you that I have all the answers, but I don't. What I can tell you is this: When the question, “What should we do?” starts to feel overwhelming, pause, take a deep breath, and ask yourself, “What should we stop doing?” Starting small can boost your confidence.