About 15 years ago, when I was a Program Director for a radio station, I decided that I would take my programming staff on a field trip in lieu of our typical music meeting. My radio station, WBRU in Providence, made a habit of stepping out on new music. But what happened when our listeners went to music stores looking for albums by the artists we were championing?
My Music Director, my Assistant Program Director, and a few other interested staffers piled into the care and we drove around town visiting various music stores, from mom-and-pop indie shops to corporate chains. When we got to each, we would look up the artists on our playlist. Albums from the heavy hitters were in stock, but to our dismay, many of the albums from the smaller artists that we were taking a chance on were absent.
That experience was eye-opening for me. As a radio broadcaster, it's easy to become sequestered within the walls of your station and assume you know how real people are interacting with your station. But when you step out to take a closer look at the points where the rubber meets the road, you might be surprised at what you find.
With that in mind, as we emerge (fingers crossed) from the COVID-19 pandemic, it's a good time to take a look at all the different ways listeners can interact with your radio station and re-evaluate them. Take some time to review these touchpoints:
1. The Dashboard
How does your radio station present itself to listeners in the car dashboard? When answering this question, be sure to look at dashboards from different ages — from older cars with six-button presets to radios that display RDS data to cars equipped with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. If necessary, head to a dealership and take a test drive in different cars to see what the radio listening experience is like in them.
2. The Website
We look at our radio station's website so often that it's hard review it with fresh eyes. For that reason, it's best — and relatively easy — to perform a usability test on the website. But even at a glance, you can take stock of your station's website by pretending you're unfamiliar with it and asking these questions:
- What do the owners of this website want me to do when I come to this site?
- Does the verbiage on this website — especially in the main navigation — make sense if I am unfamiliar with this station?
- Can I tell what type of music this station plays?
Additionally, try various ways of experiencing your radio station's website: How does it look on a smartphone or tablet? What happens if you try to print a page or share it on social media?
3. The Stream
Test the streaming experience on your mobile app. Does your stream play smoothly or are there buffering issues? How are commercials handled by the stream and how does it impact the listening experience?
4. The Mobile App
Before you open your mobile app to review it, open both the Android and iOS app stores and try to download your station's app. Is it easy to find using different search terms? Is the description accurate? Are the screenshots up to date? What types of reviews has it gotten?
It's a little more difficult to run a usability test on a mobile app than it is on a website because phones don't have cursors, so you have to stand over the testers' shoulders to watch what they do. Nonetheless, it's worth the effort. Be sure to test both the iOS and Android versions of your app.
5. Smart Speakers
Take some time to pull up your radio station — as well as any podcasts it produces — on various different voice-activated devices, including those equipped with Alexa, Siri, Cortana, Bixby, and Google Home. Does it require different verbiage to pull your station up on different devices? Is it easy to do, or is it a frustrating experience? What other commands can you give the device once you've pulled the station up?
6. Social Media
Review your station's presence on every social media platform you can think of: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, SnapChat, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitch, Clubhouse, etc. Even if your station doesn't maintain an active presence on all of these, you'll want to register an account on each one in case you decide to do so in the future.
Examine your station's main profile on each social network. If you were unfamiliar with the station, could you tell where it is, what it plays, and what it's all about based on the profile? Are the images, bio, links, and other descriptions up to date?
Now look at your social media posts. Too often, stations post content to social media that presumes knowledge of the station and doesn't make sense out of context. Ask yourself, “If I was unfamiliar with the radio station and saw this post in my social media feed without any further context, would it make sense? Is it compelling?” If not, it's time to rethink your approach.
7. Search Engines
Google is the undisputed champion here but you may also want to look up your station in other search engines like Bing, Yahoo!, or DuckDuckGo. You'll also want to check Google's subsidiaries, such as Google Maps or Google Images. Of course, your past behavior on the web influences the results that these search engines show, so it's difficult to get a “clean” experience, but a test will still be informative.
In addition to searching for your radio station by name, look up the call letters, the names of your on-air personalities, the names of your biggest specialty shows, your music format combined with your city, and your competitors.
8. Email Inboxes
For listeners who have subscribed to your email database, how is the experience? Is your station cramming everything into one long email, or does it give listeners control? For example, can they choose which topics they want to receive emails about — such as the morning show or concerts? Can they control how often they want to receive emails?
Some email service providers allow you to preview your station's emails in different apps. How do your emails look in Gmail or Outlook or Yahoo!?
If your radio station has built apps for set-top devices such as Apple TV or Roku, review these as well.
10. Podcast Directories
If your radio station is producing podcasts, look them up in podcast directories — especially Apple Podcasts and Spotify. What happens when you search for the podcasts by name, by station call letters, and by the names of on-air personalities? What do they ratings and reviews say?
Look your radio station up in Wikipedia. Check the accuracy of the article, and look for any glaring omissions. Make corrections if necessary, but be sure to read Wikipedia's editing policy first.
These days, there are so many different ways for audiences to encounter your radio station that it's easy to lose track of them, but the user experience is incredibly important. If you haven't done so in a while, take some time to review all these different experiences with a fresh pair of eyes, and make adjustments as necessary.
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