Programmed Content Kills Community

By: Guest | January 8, 2013 | 

Today’s guest post is by Kary Delaria.

A few weeks ago I watched “Airplay: The Rise and Fall of Rock Radio.”

The documentary on the history of rock radio was told from the perspective of radio deejays – the community managers of the airwaves.

The best deejays of their time had such a clear understanding of their content and their community and were able to select the precise playlists to elicit emotion and build a lasting connection not only between deejay and listener, but among the listeners themselves.

Curated content, combined with the deejay’s authentic personality and original content, built communities of listeners.

One deejay describes what it was like to play the Beatles on the radio for the first time and having the phone lines light up – instant feedback from his community.

And another anecdote, after the death of John Lennon, a community shared their grief with one another on the airways.

Then…the downfall.

Slowly but surely, government and big-business interests began to make a play for controlling the content played by radio deejays. Enter the “program director” whose job it is to shape and dictate the content that deejays were to play. The community was no longer at the center.

The lights on the phone and the comments shared took a lesser priority over distributing content that would appease advertisers, record labels, and political agendas.

Sound familiar?

Killer Content

Companies have been programming their content for decades – television commercials, news releases, print ads, annual reports – all programmed content delivered on brand, and on schedule. Most add social media to the mix and apply the same practice, missing that authentic blend of elements that radio deejays of the early days understood and even fought the system to protect.

In social media, programmed content can kill a brand’s social community.

And it can take several forms:

  • Rigid editorial calendars. As I’m writing this post, Matt Ridings just had this to say about editorial calendars, “Editorial calendars are must-haves!” Editorial calendars create crap content!” Yes, and yes. A social media calendar needs to be broad and flexible. Sticking to a rigid calendar of pre-approved posts drafted 30 days in advance and not being allowed to deviate from that is a sure-fire way to neglect your community and miss out on opportunity for real conversation.
  • Automated content curation tools. Take a lesson from the radio deejays. Yes, they were curating content, but did so in a very deliberate, very specific way and delivered it as a gift to their community to enjoy. The pieces went well together. They followed a purposeful sequence, one programming directors didn’t understand. Curation is an art and a science. Entering a few keywords into a curation tool that automatically posts what it finds to your streams is a disservice to your community. Instead, identify the information your community will find interesting, relevant, funny, or thought-provoking and present it to them through your organization’s lens, and facilitate discussion.
  • Over-reliance on automated publishing. Load your pre-approved posts into your third-party publishing app, turn on the button and voila! Automation can help to scale and manage your efforts, but if it’s all you do, you’re completely overlooking any opportunity to be present and engage with the community you are trying to build. Additionally, we’ve all seen the auto-post gone bad – such as the “Read my latest blog post!” tweets that hit when the rest of the community is discussing and reacting to breaking national news. Auto post with care and know when to stop it if you need to or you risk losing a great deal of credibility with your community.
  • Not knowing how (or not being able) to engage authentically and effectively. It never ceases to amaze me how difficult it is for companies to just…talk. And, to be ok with their community managers having unscripted conversations online. The radio program directors wanted safe, sterile programming to appease record labels and advertisers, leaving the deejays with very little room to speak and play what they (or the audience) was looking for, thus, the ultimate downfall. The same is true in social media. To be successful, community managers need to understand – and be empowered to – speak the human voice of the company. The greater the engagement, the stronger the community.

Community engagement happens in the moment. The most successful community managers understand their community because, they themselves are a part of that community, sharing similar passions*. They understand exactly what kind of emotion they will spark with each piece of content they share, and they listen to the feedback as it happens to understand what the community is thinking, feeling and experiencing in that moment.

Great community management is a commitment. A commitment between people. There isn’t a programmable script for that.

*Mack Collier describes this in his How To Think Like A Rockstar presentations. Using examples of rock stars themselves, he points out, because these individuals know what it’s like to be a fan, they do well at cultivating fans. 

Kary Delaria is a communications strategist, community manager, and social media analyst. She can be found on Twitter @KaryD and you can read her blog posts here

  • belllindsay

    Great post Kary. How many times have you seen brands ‘auto-posting’ after some horrible tragedy (Sandy Hook comes to mind). It’s just looks so bad. Or the ubiquitous “ten tweets in a row from the same company!!” – another of my faves. 😉 Automation has its place, but it can *never* replace good old fashioned human common sense and smarts.

    • KaryD

      I always say if you’re going to auto post, don’t do so more than 24 hours in advance, and know where and how to cancel if need be. National news trumps all, and yes, pimping your post after tragedy is in poor taste. I agree. It does have its place, but relying on it too much, or before you’ve put in time in the trenches to build your community authentically, is not a recipe for success.

    • @belllindsay I’ve thought about that so often Lindsay, and the reason it happens is because the Comm. Mg(s) aren’t connected 24/7…   You HAVE to be connected enough to know that you MAY have to drop everything when something HUGE happens.  I guess I feel the same way about Calendars as I do Automation and Geoff’s post on that ( came to the same result: automation = useful, rigid automation = doesn’t work.Sorry, that’s as articulate as I can be this early in the am.

  • LaurenVargas

    Spot on. We need to build a foundational framework for content to exist. I do not believe automation is all bad. I use it and implement a content calendar. But we cannot forget moderation and context are the key pillars to successfully use automation tools.

    • @LaurenVargas Exactly! Automation and curation tools ensure that social outreach can scale easily within the enterprise.  If I spent all blasted day on social, my client work suffers. That’s bad.

      • @jasonkonopinski  @LaurenVargas Jason, You do client work? How quaint. How do you find the time?

    • KaryD

      @LaurenVargas You are exactly right. (And, my go-to, community management expert I admire most, I might add. 🙂  Content calendars are essential. It’s the framework on which they are built that will shape their ultimate success. Great point on moderation and context, too. Biggies that are oft overlooked. Many thanks for stopping by to share your insight.

  • I want to marry this post.
    I’ll have to get a divorce first.
    Calling my lawyer in the morning.

    • KaryD

      @Sean McGinnis This, quite simply, is my favorite comment in the history of ever. You win.

      • @KaryD I aim to please.
        But it has to be “legal” first…. 😉

  • Jessica Hume

    It’s killing me. I love the article and the advice but isn’t it rigid (not ridged)? or am I going crazy?

    • KaryD

      @Jessica Hume Ha! Many thanks for the catch and we’ve got it fixed, now!

      • @KaryD  @Jessica Hume I blame your Canadian editor.

        • belllindsay

          @Sean McGinnis  @KaryD  @Jessica Hume One cannot be 100% perfect 100% of the time. Though one tries. *weeping*

  • amysbryant

    I love the dj analogy! I’m a talk radio junkie, and when I think of a great radio program – be it A Prairie Home Companion, This American Life or a local drive-time show, they all have a general blueprint they follow each time that establishes consistency & gets people feeling comfy. Then within that framework, the talent delivers great content. In social media marketing, ideally,a company has a good strategy that allows for a fair amount of freedom in tactics. But I suspect what is more often the case is either there is no strategy, or the company hired the talent (Community Manager) on the cheap so they don’t trust them to have the wisdom and creativity to improvise on the fly – thus, pre-approved, scheduled posts.

    • @amysbryant I love A Prairie Home Companion. I also loved the post and the DJ analogy.  I think many companies strive to do things on the cheap. I worked for a company who wanted to put in a new mainframe system twenty years ago, because the one from 1976 was supposed to be temporary. It was going to cost 5 million, the CEO wanted to do it for four. The system never worked, so they continued to use the old one. When I worked there they were on their fifth attempt, again he chose to leave out one component that was going to cost an additional 500,000 dollars, in favor of building it in house. It never worked.
      All told, at one point five years ago, they had spent nearly 20 million and had yet to get anything to use. They still use the system from 1976 and spend millions and millions every year just to get it to creep along. Never has penny wise pound foolish been more appropriate.
      Hire quality, buy quality, do the work, and all will be fine.

      • KaryD

        @ExtremelyAvg  @amysbryant Thank you both for your insight. I agree – talk radio programing another example of programming done right, for a specific audience. Yes – quality talent, time, and hard work = success. That’s a formula that’s not going to change.

  • I really love the DJ analogy, too! It’s something Bob Lefsetz talks about all the time too…and how the music industry is being affected by this thing called the interwebz. This is actually an ongoing conversation for this blog. We do not have an editorial calendar. If I had those constraints put on me, I wouldn’t be able to be creative in my writing. But we also see the value in having an editorial calendar for our guest posts, particularly around themes and topics where we aren’t experts. So I suppose it’d be a hybrid of some sorts…if we ever get there.

    • KaryD

      @ginidietrich I have a love/hate relationship with editorial calendars. I get their purpose (and, in large orgs, even their need) but as @LaurenVargas said, they need to be used as part of a foundational framework that supports their flexibility, as well as engagement, context, etc. Thanks for letting me share my two cents over here on your fine piece of real estate. Always a pleasure. 🙂

  • Nick

    I am really disappointed in this post. Not because the content wasn’t great because it was, I just thought the title was misleading. I really thought there was someone named “Programmed Content” who offed someone named “Community.” I really wished these social media “celebrities” would be naming their kids wacko names like “Engagement” and “Tweepie.”

    • KaryD

      @Nick Don’t forget about the baby named, Hashtag! And, my apologies. I absolutely see where this is a sensationalized title that could lead readers to believe there is actual bloodshed going on.

      • Nick

        @KaryD I will pay you $100 if you have a kid and name it Hashtag. Might be the BEST idea ever.

  • StaceyHood

    Great post, Kary! Having worked in radio, I can relate to this very well. It all rings true, especially the script part. I worked with the PD and had an overnight shift…got in trouble for varying from the playlist one night. Imagine that.

    • KaryD

      @StaceyHood You caused trouble? GASP. Community managers, content creators, DJs, whatever/whomever/whichever need to have flexibility to deviate from a scrip if they want to keep the audience engaged. Keep on varying, friend.

  • Oh boy. I could really do without hearing the phrase “content curation” for a long while, even though I’ve been guilty of using it (amazebirds article on that sort of thing this morning… —>  )
    But seriously, most programmed content is useless unless it is part of a conversation you are already having with your audience/customer. Also, this is completely off topic…. but if your content does not make people ask good questions of their own it will kill your community too (unless you are moderating, that’s a whole different story. If that’s your joint than it’s less questions, more pointing and laughing). Unfortunately lots of “auto-curation” tools and whatnot are lacking that quality. Build me a robot that asks great questions and then maybe I’ll be more amenable to the automatic re-posting/publishing/curating thing. Thanks for letting me rant. I’m done.

    • KaryD

      @JoeCardillo Yeah, ok…you got me on “content curation.” Guilty as charged. 
      Absolutely! Content should inspire action – thought, discussion, etc. This is the essence of building community (hope that’s not a bad buzzword 😉 Perhaps a distinction here is “auto-curation” vs. “human planing” (trying to avoid curation, there.) As one who reads post by post when doing any sort of analysis (especially sentiment) I know that we’ve yet to find any bot that can do that. This is the SOCIAL web. Humans are social. Robots are not. 
      P.S. Any day that I can inspire a rant is a good one indeed. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and continuing the conversation.

      • @KaryD Oh I’m totally guilty on content curation. Hopefully no one looks at my web history when it comes to THAT term =P
        Point taken about planning, and sentiment is huge…’re right that at the end of the day this is about social, and everything comes secondary to that (including the algorithims)

  • Agreed. Something I’ve wrestled with and thought a lot about. And the radio geek inside me loves even more how you tied it to that documentary.

    • KaryD

      @KenMueller Thanks, Ken. And, if ou haven’t seen the documentary, I highly recommend it!