May 19, 2015
It's taken a while for corporate radio to fully comprehend the potential and necessity of social media, but it's something Lori Lewis recognized seven years ago, when the longtime radio vet took her first social media gig in Green Bay. As social media's presence grew, so did Lewis' acumen, as she offered her growing insight to Jacobs Media and, most recently, to Cumulus -- and its Westwood One and NASH properties -- as the company's new VP/Social Media. Here, she describes how she rode the social media learning curve and what radio needs to do to optimize it.
What got you into radio in the first place? Was it love at first mic?
That's funny. I have always been drawn to radio. To have the ability to move people with music or spoken word fascinated me. I would love listening to Casey Kasem's "Long Distance Dedications." I would imagine the people in the dedications were listening to their story over the radio and probably feeling not so alone because he acknowledged them.
Deep for a kid, I know. But that's what drew me in to our great industry. I saw radio as a means to make people feel better.
How did your views of this business evolve the longer you were in it?
My views remain the same today as when I was 13, listening to WIXX/Green Bay. Radio is an extraordinary platform. We have the opportunity every day to make someone feel like they matter -- to lift moods and create a connected feeling to our communities.
Before we get into the social media world, you also worked with a high-profile morning star in Bubba The Love Sponge. What was that like, and what did you learn from the experience?
I am honored to have been a part of Bubba's show during his successful run at WXTB/Tampa. I was in my 20s, so naturally the experience was outrageous. Never felt like work and we raised a lot of eyebrows.
But what people didn't always see is the attention he gave his audience, off-air. He made time for listeners, and often, just a minute of our time means more than maybe we understand. Because of how he made people feel, he built an active fan base that is still alive and well today. They call themselves the "Bubba Army." Brad Hardin was our Program Director then. Hardin calls that time "lightening in a bottle." It's true. That was a special time that can't be replicated.
Anita Wadd ... How do you approach your mindset when you "adopt" a handle like that?
When you are 25, it's safe to say there's not a real steady mindset. I think the extent of my thought process was, "Okay -- cool."
You evolved from a high profile on-air talent, to a decorated PD in Baltimore. And then in 2008, you left day-to-day programming to work in the digital and social space for Duke Wright's Midwest Communication. What brought that on?
As a PD, I found myself more interested in what moves people digitally and socially. So, I took the leap in 2008 and purposely chose my hometown, Green Bay, WI. to move to -- to see if I could do it. I felt that if I had failed, at least I would be home, surrounded by people who know me and I wouldn't feel so bad for at least trying.
I began studying these new platforms that were popping up like Facebook, You Tube and Twitter. I was intrigued. I just inherently knew social would be a whole new way for radio to interact with its audience, to continue to prove our worth in a very distracted world, and to create another revenue stream through dynamic partnerships.
Back in 2008, I would imagine that most radio operators were suspicious of social media's potential? How did you help them see the proverbial light?
Nobody wanted me in their office. People would tell me, "I have a radio station to run; don't talk to me about that Facebook stuff." But I never took it personally. I believed in the social space. And I knew they would, too. I just needed to find ways to articulate why social mattered in the way they needed to hear it. And I did.
Fast forward to 2015, you recently left Jacobs Media for Cumulus. What made you take that leap?
Cumulus Pres./CEO Lew Dickey and SVP Gary Pizzati presented an opportunity I couldn't pass up. Lew is giving me - in his words - "a blank canvas to paint on."
This newly created role, VP/Social Media for Cumulus, Westwood One and the NASH brand, will allow me to work with everyone and generate real value and impact for our audiences, advertisers and affiliate partners.
Lew has made a great statement with this role. He is the first CEO in the radio industry to recognize the value of social and give it a seat at the corporate table. And for that, I will always be thankful.
What are the new or different challenges of this position?
I'm excited about the revenue piece of this position. There are partnerships with social that are being untapped by radio. There's a whole world of exciting revenue streams to explore. But it's all in the approach. This isn't about selling Facebook status updates for $50 a pop.
This is about coming at campaigns from the consumer's point of view first, creating shareable, memorable moments for fans, and capitalizing on that in dollars ... not in how many "likes" or "retweets" the content gets.
How difficult is it to optimize your social media footprint when you may not have the resources to man the social media arm as fully as you would like?
Besides the fact that she's brilliant, one reason I had Tressie Lieberman, Sr. Director, Digital and Social Marketing for Taco Bell, speak at Worldwide Radio Summit in April is because as a global brand, I wanted radio to hear something very important.
Radio has a tendency to complain about lack of manpower - and perhaps that's why social takes a back seat. Well, I asked Tressie to tell the audience how many people she has to man all of the social platforms Taco Bell communicates on.
She replied with, "Two."
If Taco Bell can be effective in the space with two people, radio can get it done, too.
When you really want to win, when you truly believe there's value in what you're doing, you'll get it done, regardless of manpower.
Generally speaking for a business that prioritizes return on investment, how do you best "sell" the value of social media?
Easy -- when you're not where your audience is socially, you're giving them permission to form loyalties with other brands. And with the abundant choices we have as consumers today, I would like to believe by now that everyone recognizes the value in serving fans socially -- as that builds on the long-term health of the brand.
In terms of maximizing a stations social media footprint, what kind of "investment" should be made in terms of usage of platforms, etc.?
There's no blanket answer for that. Every station has a different format, demo and community.
Social media is not about best practices or one-size-fits-all. Arm yourself with research. Jacobs Media does terrific work with their Techsurveys. They can tell you exactly where your hierarchy of attention should be socially and digitally.
Should a station's on-air staff maintain their own digital outreach, or should the station have oversight of everything?
Again, each station situation is different. Assess what's going on and focus on how, as a team, you can be most efficient while having a real human touch and not cutting corners socially.
How have the barometers for measuring success with social media changed over the years?
Measurement is still in its infancy. There are all kinds of people measuring all kinds of metrics.
There are only three metrics I care about. One is strategic: It's the conversion rate. How many people are you converting off of Facebook onto the actual assets you own? Another metric is emotional. I call it the "Holy Crap" metric. How are you using social each week to make people feel like they matter? And another metric is simply relevancy. How many people are talking about you, sharing your content? Just because a station has a lot of followers does not equate to having their attention.
What are the most common mistakes or misconceptions radio operators have about social media?
Many mistake social for volume - when in fact it's about differentiating. How is your station standing out in the sea of sameness and doing things that really matter?
Could you cite five stations whose social media efforts made a significant positive impact?
My proudest accomplishment is WRIF/Detroit. PD Mark Pennington brought me on board four years ago. He'll admit there were a lot of random acts of social happening. But look at them now. WRIF has earned the trust and anticipation every brand needs socially.
They are also very strategic in the space. They pull people off of Facebook onto WRIF.com every day. They have strengthened WRIF.com greatly and are able to monetize that increase in traffic, along with other features we implemented.
WNNX (Rock 100.5)/Atlanta does an awesome job in how they interact with the fans socially. They go beyond, "Thanks for listening." They are very connected to their audience.
KNDD (107.7 The End)/Seattle also puts a lot of care and treatment in the interaction they have with the fans. They have a tougher time than most. The Alternative Rock audience is all over the place when it comes to distractions. OM Dave Richards has a great team in place that really proves their worth in the audiences' social lives every day.
WQDR/Raleigh has the station tone of voice down. They never stray from the values and essence of what 'QDR is in the lives of the fans. They are committed to being the Country authority in the Triangle and they use social to elevate the already built-in excitement over the station.
KNBR/San Francisco is another station to look at. While there's always another level of learning and mastery, they are nearly flawless in how they use social to be a part of the fast-paced sports fans life.
Any prediction on where social media is going?
Lew Dickey and I talked about that when we first met. If you're not 12, you're probably not going to like where social is heading. It's all about Emojis, disappearing content, and live-streaming random life events.
But through it all, social will continue to elevate our ability to connect with one another, and tell stories as they break in our own towns, through our eyes. Social has already changed the way news is consumed and it will continue to be a major disruption for all media organizations.
Lastly, you just took over the Chair at Conclave. What are you hoping to accomplish there?
The Conclave has a 40-year history of teaching and mentoring young people in our industry, as well as serving small and medium markets. I am very excited about the first annual "Speed Mentoring Breakfast" that will take place this year.
All kinds of great radio names will be on hand to offer advice on anything you want to ask. Thought leaders such as Jim Ryan, SVP/Programming, CBS Radio; Mike McVay, SVP/ Content & Programming, Cumulus; Mary Quass, CEO, NRG Media; Ginny Morris, CEO, Hubbard Broadcasting; Tony Coles, SVP/Programming, iHeartMedia; and even your own President/Publisher, Joel Denver, will offer his time, too.
I have been humbled by the outpouring of support for Conclave this year. Radio has truly come together to celebrate this storied event. Registrations are at an all-time high. I can't wait to watch so many people, from so many different companies, just hanging out with one another, talking about why radio is the greatest industry to work in.