Arbitron To Radio: Don't Boast And Post
March 27, 2012
It's not known how the following tweet was discovered and handed over to Arbitron but as you may have read here on All Access last week, someone "related to the Regular Guys show" on Cumulus Classic Rock WNNX-FM (ROCK 100.5)/ATLANTA got the station flagged for the (not so) fine art of tweeting:
Ironically, it happened the same exact week that Oprah got her hand slapped for tweeting too close to the "potential for ratings bias" line:
Both Arbitron and Nielsen's policy is to tag attempts by people associated with a monitored brand that single out panel members to influence their listening/viewing habits.
So just as Arbitron inserted a note for the bias/distortion attempt by WNNX in the printed ratings for the Atlanta market during the week of Feb. 12, 2012, Nielsen also attached an asterisk to OWN's ratings during that time.
Over the years, it has been made clear by Arbitron that we are not allowed to appeal to diary holders/PPM panelists directly (whether it's over the air or face to face) to "fix" the ratings.
But do the same rules apply for the social space? And if so – who's monitoring this? How do you identify when a Facebook post or tweet has led to a "possible biasing effect?"
In light of protecting the integrity of audience estimates, Arbitron created a basic one sheet of "Social Media's Do's And Don'ts."
Dave Willinski, Arbitron's Senior Principal Policy Analyst and Chairman, Special Station Activities Committee, spoke exclusively with me on the key points of this policy and while you'll find similarities to what we've always known when it comes to potential ratings bias – there's one area that's very different and is critical to a team understanding.
Here is what constitutes Rating Bias or Rating Distortion if posted by a station or by anyone identifiable as associated to the station:
- PPM Rating Bias example: "If you have a PPM, be sure to carry it whenever you listen to our show."
- PPM Rating Distortion example: "Let me know if you've got a PPM meter."
- Diary Rating Bias example: "If Arbitron asks you to become a diary keeper, say "Yes.'"
- Diary Rating Distortion example: "If you have an Arbitron diary, be sure to write down that you listen all day long."
Pretty obvious stuff to most of us but think of the younger types coming up in radio – especially those without a traditional background and are heavier social users. Communicate this from top down.
Where the conversation really got interesting is when "boasting" came up.
Radio has always been allowed to use the airwaves to brag that we are "Arbitron Rated Number One" -but can we also do this socially?
Willinski said, "Arbitron discourages stations from referring to successful ratings results via social media -- even though such references are generally not treated as Rating Bias if made on-air.
Arbitron feels that because of the interactive nature of social media, references to Arbitron or ratings success may prompt loyal listeners who are diary keepers or panelists to [reach out to you socially and] identify themselves - which would result in Arbitron respondents being eliminated from the sample."
It makes sense. Even though panelists/diary holders are told not to reveal themselves socially – seeing a station "brag" about ratings and thinking they had a little part in the station's success might prompt them to forget the rules, comment back and ultimately be removed from the sample.
Arbitron does monitor social media sites for a number of reasons. Willinski wouldn't offer up the keywords they monitor (you can probably guess what they are) but he did share that they seek to "identify instances of Rating Bias or Rating Distortion and to help preserve the anonymity of Arbitron participants."
The repercussions vary in regards to Arbitron's response to activities with Rating Bias or Rating Distortion potential. Willinski said, "They can include: special notices, flagging of a station's estimates, "below-the-line" listing (placing the estimates out of alphabetical sequence below a special distinguishing line), to delistment, or a combination of those responses."
Bottom line, there are responsibilities we all must accept when we are the voice of any brand - codes of conduct and basic fundamentals.
Managing chaos (like the case of WNNX) is all we set ourselves up for when we haven't created parameters and expectations of who's doing what and where socially. Create guidelines for effective social communication; this allows the staff to manage what is expected from them. Re-visit this quarterly.
While it's best to create a policy before an initiative starts, in reality your staff is probably already somewhere socially. Be sensitive about the tone you're seeking, as many people view social sites as unrestricted playgrounds and may view guidelines more as "Big Brother" policies.
Reach out to me anytime on Twitter @lorilewis.
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