What Can We Learn? Part 2: Public Radio

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A while back we examined some of the creative ways in which the Nature Conservancy uses its web presence to promote engagement with its constituents. The arts and our public radio comrades have much in common with regard to audience development and engagement challenges. In the spirit of pledge drive season, we'll take a look at what regional public radio institutions are doing online to create a stronger sense of community and participation, even without the benefit of a physical space.

1) WNYC's online feedback page New York-based news station WNYC (home station of "Radiolab") includes a listener feedback forum on their website that goes beyond the typical online "comment-box"-style form. The feedback posts are visible to the public, regardless of how positive or critical they may be. Other visitors can comment on these posts and vote in agreement with the original feedback (think Facebook "likes"). While some organizations might seek to remove the most critical ones to avoid potential bad PR situations, there is a wide range of sentiments and topics represented, suggesting that WNYC wants to create an environment of transparency.

Takeaway: Don't be afraid of letting patrons offer feedback in their own words! People appreciate knowing that  organizations value the opinions of those they serve on an individual level. Implementing a forum-style feedback page  can make it easier for an organization to figure out what issues need to be addressed most immediately: it can be as simple as looking at how many people voted in favor of a specific comment. Also, online feedback forums encourage two-way interaction between an organization and the public, as well as between constituents themselves, even without a physical venue.

2) WBEZ's CuriousCity With their CuriousCity project, Chicago's WBEZ news station (home station of "Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!" and "This American Life") takes the concept of user-contributed content a step further: users suggest questions and issues relevant to the Chicago community for the station's news team to investigate and report on. Every one to two weeks, listeners can choose from three issues that they would most like to see investigated. Users can then closely monitor the investigation status of each issue in real time on an interactive timeline, or even add to the ongoing investigation by posting their own insights on the issues.

Takeaway: Gathering ideas from your patrons is great, but actually implementing those ideas in a highly visible way is all the more meaningful in terms of giving your constituents an enriching, relevant experience. A possible equivalent strategy for the performing arts, for example, might be letting audience members suggest or select repertoire for an upcoming event.

3) WQXR's QCard WQXR, the classical music arm of New York's WNYC, offers a premium to donors and members that might be even better than a tote bag. The QCard grants online access to a restricted part of the WQXR website that offers cardholders benefits at businesses and arts organizations in the New York area and beyond. Participating organizations and benefits rotate on a monthly basis. Offering these types of external benefits creates a feeling of community and space for the station's core audience base, which can be especially challenging for an institution whose main “venue” is the radio waves rather than a concert hall or museum. By partnering with outside local organizations, the station not only provides long-term incentives to donate, but also transforms the cerebral experience of radio into something more tangible and participatory.

Takeaway: Member and donor benefits for arts organizations tend to focus on internal, venue-based perks, such as free parking for events or personalized ticketing services. The QCard suggests that there are ample opportunities for expanding the range of loyalty benefits well beyond the "bubble" of our own organizations.

Photo credit: http://www.npr.org/about-npr/177066727/visit-npr