Programs/Publications

Eleven (Unpretentious) Ways to Promote Your Radio Story with Social Media

by Will Coley

Securing a broadcast is now just a step along the way in spreading a radio story. How can producers plug into online networks to hook new listeners? Social media strategist and AIR member Will Coley discovered his zest for radio at the first Transom Radio Story Workshop, and in 2012 developed the Working Now project as a SoundCloud Community Fellow. His stories have broadcast on KCRW’s UnFictional, Transom.org, and Georgia Public Broadcasting, among others. Here he shares his top tips.

For many broadcast journalists, social media can seem like a time-sucking procrastination tool that others use to boast. I’d like to suggest that it offers fruitful ways to increase the impact of your stories without seeming like a huckster.

After working for many years in nonprofits, I’ve learned that digital stories rarely have their own legs. As a new radio producer, I’ve discovered that I can apply many of the lessons I’ve learned to promoting stories. In much the same way, AIR’s experience with the Localore projects proved that it’s important to use an array of digital tools to engage new audiences (see “What’s Outside”).

We need to help people find what we make. Even if you work for a station or production company that has its own robust social media strategy, you still have a role in getting your work to new audiences.

Below you’ll find 11 ways to promote your radio story, complete with pro tips to refine your strategy. For example: online readers love numbered lists, and odd numbers provoke more clicks.


1.    Determine your goals.

“Everyone is on Twitter” shouldn’t be the primary reason for using social media. Knowing why you’re using these digital tools will help you focus your limited time. For example, you might use social media to inform a particular audience or interest group about your story.

When I made my radio story about the plane crash that took my father’s life, I wanted to share it with the family members of other plane crash victims, and specialists on grieving and loss. My hope was that they would find it somehow useful — and worth sharing. After alerting the audience I had identified, I was amazed by their numerous tweets, Facebook shares, emails, and blog comments.

Audio is in the midst of a renaissance online — see “Audio: Digital Drives Listener Experience” in Pew Research’s State of the News Media 2013. A related goal could be promoting audio-based media online to new audiences. By spreading the “radio gospel,” we help others discover the unique qualities of our medium, so another social media goal for independent producers could be getting more work. The more traffic that you can help drive to your work, the easier it is to prove to editors that you should make other popular radio stories for them.


2.    Follow the Social Media Golden Rule:

“Share other people’s work as you’d like yours to be shared.” No one likes to engage with folks who only talk about themselves. Post other radio stories, videos, or articles that you find interesting or inspiring. Technologist Deanna Zandt recommends a 30-70 mix: “Of everything you share online, 30 percent about you and 70 percent about others.”


3.    Tell your Facebook friends about your process.

Rather than waiting until the story is broadcast, update your friends about what it takes to make it. No need to give away too much — share a few choice tidbits, like photos from the field. Ask for help or suggestions. If your friends feel included in the production process, they’re more likely to feel invested in the final result. Alert them when the story will be broadcast and online, and don’t be afraid to ask for their help in sharing it. Keep it conversational, and remember, if people care about your topic (or you), this won’t read as boasting. Looking for more tips on doing your making out loud? See the recent book from Austin Kleon, Show Your Work!

Pro tip: If you connect your Instagram and Facebook accounts, consider sharing your “work in progress” photos first with Instagram and posting them to Facebook from there.


4.    Use a URL shortener like Bitly.

To track the number of people that you’re sending to your online radio story, it helps to use a Web address shortener. Your broadcaster may use analytics tools for their website but might not share this info with you. If you start an account with bitly.com (or a similar site) and generate your own links, you can track clicks. With bit.ly you can also customize a link to make it easy for people to type or remember, especially when they can’t click on it on apps like Instagram. For example, I used bit.ly/southern242 for my piece on Transom.

Pro tips: Use all lowercase letters to make links easier to retype. Wherever live, clickable links aren’t possible, leave off the http://. Rather than sharing the direct Web link on your personal Facebook profile, I’d recommend uploading a related photo and, in the description, pasting the shortened URL.


5.    Tweet with various hashtags.

You can cram a lot into Twitter’s 140-character messages. Tweets about your story should have a compelling headline, a link to the piece, and relevant hashtags (categorizations for tweets). To find them, search online for organizations that are already tweeting about the same subject and see which tags they’re using. Append tags such as #pubradio and #AIRster so other radio producers see your piece. Some I’ve used in my campaign work include #racialjustice and #latism (Latinos in Social Media), etc.

Besides writing your own tweets, you can draft a few for your broadcaster to use. For example, radio lovers are using #YSLTF (You Should Listen to This Friday). It’s best for these tweets to come from someone else. Even so, there’s no harm in drafting suggested tweets for others. Also keep in mind that Twitter users with a large network can help to amplify a piece that their followers will care about — so reach out to them.

Pro tips: Double-check that the tweets you suggest to the broadcaster and interest groups clock in under the 140-character limit, so that you leave enough space for others to retweet. It’s also a good idea to tweet multiple times at different times of the day with slightly different messages.


6.    Create a text overlay image to share on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Social media users love inspiring quotes with images. Choose an intriguing statement from someone in your radio story and combine it with a photo you took of him or her (take your own photos or get permission to use the photo you select). Andrew Norton created several of these images for his “This Is Radio” video series, like this and this. “At a glance, you can get a quick hit of storytelling goodness that you can pass along,” says Norton.

Pro tips: There are optimal image sizes for each Web tool: For Instagram, the image should be at least 612 x 612 pixels, while Twitter images should be 506 x 253 pixels. If you don’t have Photoshop or Illustrator, there are free online tools like PicMonkey and Canva. Hashtags are also important on Instagram, especially for quotes. Try #instaquote, #quote, #pubradio, #radiostory, as well as topical hashtags.


7.    Optimize SoundCloud tracks.

If your distributor (i.e., broadcaster or podcast) uses SoundCloud, make sure they post your story with descriptive tags to ensure that others find it. These tags might be the same as the topical hashtags that are being used on Twitter.

Ideally your story should be on its own track and then grouped into a set for the show (see Snap Judgment and Latino USA). Glynn Washington of Snap Judgment explains: “Since people are unlikely to listen to an entire episode from a Facebook or social media posting, we designed the show itself so that individual stories can stand on their own. On the Web, each story has a chance at achieving ‘virality’ separately, instead of being locked into the whole episode.”

Pro tips: If the story isn’t on its own track, you can share your portion of the track using the time code. You can also repost the track on your own SoundCloud account.


8.    Ask others to embed it.

You can pitch your story to blogs that focus on the same subject as your radio story. Many blogs embed videos, so why not audio?

For example, not long ago the progressive-minded site Upworthy embedded Luke Malone’s recent This American Life (TAL) piece. Adrianne Mathiowetz, TAL’s Web manager, explains that this was a collaborative experiment between TAL and Upworthy: Upworthy wanted to send its readers directly to the story and TAL usually posts entire shows within a single SoundCloud track. To date, Luke’s story has more than 300,000 plays on SoundCloud. “Of course, the majority of our listeners don’t sit and listen through the embedded SoundCloud player on Facebook and Twitter — they subscribe to the podcast, or they stream it directly from our site, or they listen terrestrially,” says Mathiowetz. “But we also got an increase in site traffic overall when the Upworthy article hit, and an increase in social media followers as well.”

The lesson? When you start your own hunt for blogs, Tumblrs, or websites that might be interested in embedding your radio story, make sure that they’re already vibrant. Check that the site was updated recently, that they’ve embedded others’ video or audio in the past, and that they have lots of commenting or a substantial following on Facebook or Twitter. Using this method, I connected with the website Good Therapy to embed my radio story “Southern Flight 242” and they asked me to write a short post about it.


9.    Make and share a micro-video.

Video editing can take lots of time but super-short video clips on Vine or Instagram can be an easy way to promote the backstory of your radio piece. Vine videos are only six seconds and, since you can’t upload pre-edited videos, it’s better for recording action while you’re working on the story. On Instagram, PRI’s The World routinely experiments with micro-videos like this audio slide show and this interesting behind-the-scenes video. Vine and Instagram videos are also embeddable on other websites.

Pro tips: Instagram videos can be up to 15 seconds and you can upload edited videos. The easiest way I’ve discovered to do this is to upload the edited video clip to Dropbox and then use the Dropbox app to download it to your phone. Then it’s possible to upload to Instagram. Just make sure the subject of the video is centered since Instagram uses a square aspect ratio.


10.    Decide if you — or your distributor — want to “pay to play” with Facebook page “boosts.”

With recent changes to the Facebook News Feed algorithm, it’s harder for page updates from organizations and companies to be seen. Facebook now wants pages to pay to “boost” their posts to fans or anyone with similar interests, although you can set spending limits so it’s not that expensive. There is skepticism that it’s worth the investment, and many organizations are diversifying their social media outreach, as I’ve suggested above.


11.    Ask for help from your sources and their networks.

Once you’ve finished your story, you probably want to alert the people you interviewed. This might seem like the first thing to do, but wait until you’ve done some of the steps above. Instead of sharing the direct link to the story, share the links to the social media shares (i.e., to get the URL, click on the dates on your tweets, Facebook, and Instagram posts). That will make it easier for your sources to share the posts.

For example, AIR member Lana Straub (@Lanawrites) does this all the time (i.e., here and here). “I’m still experimenting with ways to word the tweets to get them to [retweet] — I try to include as many interviewees as I can in a single tweet. Maybe I should give everyone a tweet of their own,” she writes in an email.

Another AIR member, Lauren Ober, also tweets her own stories and alerts sources like this and this. “I don’t specifically tweet, ‘Hey, here’s the story I interviewed you for,’ but I tweet about the story and always include the subject’s handle in the tweet. And I send them an email as well alerting them to the story. And I tell them that if they tweet, my handle is @oberandout and WAMU’s handle is @wamumetro.”


Final thoughts

At first, this list might look daunting, but bear in mind that the time investment decreases as this all becomes routine.

More than anything, audio producers should understand that making a story doesn’t necessarily end when you export the finished file and send it to the distributor. At the end of the day, you want people to listen to your work. Why not help them find it?


Will Coley is a new radio producer as well as a social media strategist, trainer, and media maker with experience in a variety of social justice campaigns. He has been an advocate and organizer with immigrants and refugees in Charlotte, New York/Newark, and Los Angeles, as well as in Zimbabwe and Great Britain. Through Aquifer Media, Will now designs social media strategies and digital storytelling for funders, national nonprofit networks, and local nonprofits. He has a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University and completed the Refugee Studies certificate program at the University of Oxford. A native of North Carolina, Will lived in Los Angeles for several years, but recently relocated to Queens, New York.


AIR welcomes inquiries about republishing this feature article in its entirety or in part. Please contact us at airblast@airmedia.org.