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Hey, Mr. DJ

March 23, 2010

About five years ago I met Tad Lemire on the back of a golf cart at the CVS Charity Classic. At the time, I was working for the American Red Cross and he was a the morning show DJ on the local country station.

I got to know Tad as a wisecracking and dedicated volunteer who helped make a gorgeous couple of days at the beautiful Rhode Island Country Club both fun and meaningful for our team. His role as a Red Cross board member intersected with my role as communications director, and we soon became friends as well. A Georgia girl at heart, I also came to love listening to my friend and his co-host banter between country songs in the morning on the way to work.

In the time since Tad and I met, traditional media like radio has been shrinking and social media has planted itself firmly in the mainstream. I remember a night a couple of years ago when we sat over sushi and talked about how he could dip his toe into social media. I’ve watched since then as he’s proceeded to dive in head first, with a blog, Twitter, Facebook and more.

Tad's current Facebook profile picture

He was motivated in part by some professional transitions, but there was more to the gusto with which this voice of traditional media embraced new media wholeheartedly. Following Tad online and talking with him further over the last several months, I’ve come to see some important parallels between a good morning show and engaging social media. Here are a few:

The Persona
Tad and I have had a lot of conversations around the difference between radio Tad and real Tad.  They’re the same person, but radio Tad is kind of like real Tad with a lot of cool things to talk about and an extra shot of espresso. He and other DJs actually put a lot of research, preparation and effort into sounding like they’re making it up as they go along.  Personal branding is an over-discussed topic, but if you are a morning show DJ or a community manager, it is important to establish a persona that allows you to balance being yourself with doing your job.

The Knowledge
I remember the first time I went to visit Tad in the studio and realized all of the expertise required behind the scenes and between the songs.  Artistry and experience are necessary – it takes technical skills and the creative juices for a flawless radio performance.  Watching him at work moving knobs and pulling out the awkward moments from a recorded interaction with a caller, I realized that what radio listeners hear is a polished version of real. It takes a lot of work and a good bit of fancy equipment to make it sound good and feel authentic.  The same is true for the “viral” content that makes up the most effective social media campaigns.

The Live Reads
As someone in the communications business, I know well how radio advertising works.  Live reads are a great way to put your message in the mouths of a voice your target audience trusts.  Like traditional commercials, you pay for airtime, but what I didn’t realize until spending some time with Tad is that there is a certain level of enthusiasm and endorsement that you can’t buy, but you can earn.

Getting influencers with their own audiences to say nice things about you may sound familiar if you’ve ever worked on social media campaigns with bloggers.  Full disclosure is required, but good relationships and truly interesting ideas mean the difference between sharing information and telling a personal story.

The Contests
I won my first radio contest around age 14 – I got my redial button into the right rhythm and was caller number 3, then 7, then 21 and, finally, I won.  Morning shows have long used contests to build loyal audiences.  Successful promotions like these offer prizes that listeners want and provide simple ways to enter that require specific actions tied to listening to the station.  Most importantly, they leverage each contest by replaying audio from enthusiastic winners over and over again to prove the benefits of not turning the dial.

Social media promotions succeed when they follow similar best practices: providing tangible value, not requiring complex or time-consuming actions, and making the most of content generated by the contest and winners.

The Material
Morning shows differ from programming the rest of the day primarily due to the level of fresh, original content that actively engages listeners.  Sound familiar?  Of course morning shows do their regular station identification spots and air commercials that we all know are core to their business model.  We keep listening, though, because they make us laugh or make us think, they make us feel part of a group of people like us, and they become part of our routine. We spend a lot of time sitting in our cars, and good radio allows us to be part of a world beyond our automobiles.  In the same way, we spend a lot of time in front of our computers, and great social media allows us to be part of a world beyond our keyboards, mouses and screens.

The Takeaway
In the end, whether you are the wake-up companion to a city of commuters, or the manager of a community on behalf of a brand, you need to build and engage an audience with content and interaction they enjoy.  Thanks, Tad, and all of you DJs out there for showing us how it’s done.

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