The click becomes radio’s new APD.
The radio industry has been using its listener click information on websites to market stations to advertisers. But the real-time metrics are increasingly also being used in the programming department to tailor online and on-air content. It’s not just music stations gauging how hot Nicki Minaj’s new single is to listeners. Radio’s news stations are using the data to gauge what the biggest hot-button stories are in their city.
When Hubbard Broadcasting’s WTOP-FM, Washington (103.5) refers to its newsroom as the “glass- enclosed nerve center,” it’s more than just theater of the mind. Radio’s most successful all-news brand uses sophisticated tools to ensure it’s sending the right signals from the nerve center. A large-screen monitor displaying a wealth of data about what’s trending on WTOP.com looms large near the newsroom. It lists the top 20 most-viewed stories from the past hour; the most Facebooked, Tweeted and emailed stories; the most searched phrases on the site; total page views and other analytics. Another tool measures how a story is performing against an historical benchmark for the specific position it occupies on the homepage.
The information is used to help determine which stories stay, go, move or get a tweak when the website is refreshed six times a day. “We use it to determine what the interest in a story is,” director of digital media John Meyer says.
But it’s just a piece of the puzzle. Human editorial judgment ultimately prevails. Still, the ability to track in real time what’s resonating among 1.4 million monthly unique visitors helps the station identify stories ripe for a follow-up, pick email headlines and know what topics to engage with listeners on via social media. “You can tell when something resonates,” Meyer says. “We use the numbers as an indicator of what’s going to give us the most traction.”
In an era of shrinking research budgets, tools like those used by Washington’s WTOP show more than just what’s trending on the station’s website. Program director Laurie Cantillo uses them as a real-time gauge of what’s hot and what’s not when making on-air programming decisions. “You may not know whether to stay on a topic for another day or two,” she says. “It’s a good canary in the coalmine.” Cantillo says the station’s editors use the web analytics tools to not only validate a story but to identify sleeper stories or something the station might have otherwise missed.
“If a story is moving up in interest hour to hour, that’s a real good barometer,” she says. But just because a dog video story is popping online doesn’t mean it will lead the top-of-the-hour newscast. “We want to be sure that we’re sticking by our primary mission which is Washington’s breaking news, traffic and weather station, and giving people information about impactful and relevant issues.” But the station may briefly mention the dog video and encourage listeners to check it out online. It also airs regular 15-second promos about what’s trending on WTOP.com.
“How many radio stations say, ‘Go check out our website’ but never give you a reason,” Cantillo says. “We’re constantly sending people to our website to see videos or get more information about stories they hear on the air.”