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Programmed Content Kills Community

By: Guest | January 8, 2013 | 
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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