Warning: Sports Analogies Coming
When asked why he was pushing National Public Radio to embrace social media the new CEO, Gary Knell, said he was following in the footsteps of hockey great, Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky is arguably the greatest hockey player to ever strap on the skates, but when asked what made him great his reply was simple: “I go to where the puck is going.”
Gretzky is not known as ‘The Great One’ for nothing. He was great at the game, no doubt about that, but it was the way he made it all look so easy that made him seem great. The same is true of great social media marketing campaigns: They make it look so easy.
NPR is perhaps the most undervalued radio network in the world. It reaches millions of listeners with a mostly commercial-free format and provides news and information that is current and useful. However, they are faced with an ever-aging demographic of listeners and hardly scratch the surface when it comes to attracting new, younger listeners.
Knell seems to understand this. His track record as the CEO of ‘Sesame Street’ is proof of his strength in identifying ways new technology can help traditional companies expand their reach and embrace new audiences without changing their core philosophy. Under his guidance ‘Sesame Street’ ascended to great heights, pursuing strategies which used technology, specifically social media, to re-purpose their content, making it available to an ever-widening audience.
This is exactly what Knell wants to do with NPR. Like ‘Sesame Street’ NPR is a part of the American Public Broadcasting network. That means the majority of their listeners have no need to embrace the latest technology in order to access their content. Rather, they can access NPR broadcasts via a simple radio–and in fact, most of them do.
By using social media NPR has an opportunity to reach the Digital Generation; a much younger demographic than it currently reaches. This would be welcome news for NPR which has seen its audience gradually shrink away. It is possible that under Knell’s guidance NPR can reverse this trend and discover an entirely new group of listeners–and watchers and Fans, Friends, Followers and Circles.
Radio has earned a reputation for appealing to an older generation of listeners less preoccupied with social networks, newsfeeds or tweets. NPR is certainly not dropping its core programming, but Knell recognizes that social media is the realm of a younger demographic crucial to NPR’s longevity: “I think [social networks] are important not just in the sense of being cool but for connecting with a younger demographic audience which is the future of NPR,” he says.
Part of that shift has meant reverse-engineering many of the talented, albeit older, journalists in the NPR newsroom to start thinking about social media as a core tenant of NPR’s day-to-day. Knell imagines there’s been some pushback with that transition but ultimately the change is happening for a good reason. Knell has yet to fully move into his office but he’s already hanging a poster quoting General Eric Shinseky, retired Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army which reads, “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”
Change is necessary to ensure NPR’s future, especially since it’s come under fire for its federal funding and a high-profile firing. Social isn’t just a way to gain new, younger listeners but as a way to address controversy and set the record straight. Knell has already held a Twitter townhall where he answered questions from NPR fans and critics alike.
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