Melvin, BBC Three Counties Radio and social media

Editor, Digital, Radio 2, 6 Music and Asian Network

Editor's note: Brett was previously the interactive editor of 5 live before becoming the managing editor at Three Counties Radio. I asked him for his thoughts on the role of social networks in local radio. (PM)

Last July I left BBC Radio 5 live after six years and drove north to Luton. I hadn't worked in local radio since the early nineties, but the chance to run my nearest radio station was too good an opportunity to pass up.

The 5 Live newsroom I left was fully engaged with social media, with a variety of Facebook and Twitter accounts, presenters engaging with the audience and audio and video shared and distributed daily.

At BBC Three Counties Radio I quickly found that social media was not really on the agenda. So as we set about putting together a new schedule and defining how we were going to re-shape the programming, I thought it was important to get the station working in digital spaces at the same time.

Working with the brilliant Claire Wardle and Sue Llewellyn we designed two days to talk to everyone in the station about what could be achieved. Every producer and presenter spent 2 hours learning the essentials. There was a clear message: if we do this, it will increase the reach of our radio content.

But it's not just about teaching people what to do. Integrating social media into the radio station needs support from the very top. The management needs to be engaged and actively involved. It's not enough to have a lone person in the newsroom responsible for social media, it's everybody's job.

At 3CR the two news editors that cover the broadcast day now have it as part of their job description to update social media, share content and engage with the listeners. We created time in their day to do this. Just as crucially the journalists are using it as a newsgathering tool.

In just a few weeks we found on Twitter a gamer addicted to playing 18 hours a day that tied into a Panorama programme, friends of a murder victim and a local man who was designing a space mission to name just three. We uncovered local stories, new guests and shared masses of content. When we tweeted and engaged on Facebook about a local park being closed in Bushey, the callers that rang in were keen to point out that they had never listened to 3CR - and didn't know it covered their area. We found an 18 year old dancer from Hertfordshire waiting in a queue outside the Hammersmith Apollo to audition for Britain's Got Talent.

Additionally, and just as importantly, the presenters are connecting with the listeners in digital spaces for the first time. Social media is being used to extend the reach of the radio station and bring new ears to 3CR content. Just a couple of weeks ago, there was Melvin, a caller ranting about how much he hated the Royal Wedding. He was on air at 0920. Laura Miller, who produces the mid-morning show, had this on Audioboo and in the Twittersphere by 0935, as she continued to output the show. To date, as a result of social media, it's been played 115,000 times, that's greater than the weekly reach of some stations. Melvin may have called his local station in Luton, but the next day he could hear his call being played and talked about on WNYC in New York.

So has this strategy it worked? Well admittedly it's difficult to equate social media activity directly to gains in listeners. But last week BBC Three Counties Radio had its best Rajar for six years. I would like to think the two are connected.

Brett Spencer is currently working on social media innovation projects for BBC English Regions. Follow his personal account on Twitter @brettsr

  • Follow BBC Three Counties Radio on Twitter at @bbc3cr
  • Read radio and new media consultant Matt Deegan's blog post on radio and Twitter ("...Overall, Twitter is a great resource and platform to help grow audience and engagement. Remember though that the vast majority of your listeners probably don't care..."): Radio's Twitter Obsession

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