Let A Thousand Hashtags Bloom
April 18, 2014
A word here about interviews in the social media age, coming right up. But first, a word from our sponsor, who happens to be me:
Every year, my wife Fran and I walk in the Revlon Run/Walk for Women, a cancer research/treatment fundraiser in Los Angeles, and we ask all of you to donate. You may have noticed that I didn't start the fundraising until pretty late this year -- the walk's on May 10th, and we're less than a month away. That's because I'm lazy. Also busy. And because I don't like the hard-sell heavy-pressure fundraising stuff. So I'm only going to ask from now through the walk week itself, and I hope you WILL give, because, as I've told you in the past, it's a great cause, a well-respected charity (run by the Entertainment Industry Foundation with walks in New York and L.A.), and we do this every year to celebrate another year of Fran's survival. So, if you're so inclined, please go to http://do.eifoundation.org/goto/pmsimon2014 and support the cause. Many of you have done so in the past, and we appreciate it more than I can put into words here. "Thank you" doesn't seem to suffice, but... thank you.
All right, then. So, ESPN Radio's Mike and Mike did an interview with NCAA President Mike Emmert this morning, and the show asked listeners to post questions for Emmert on Twitter with the hashtag #AskEmmert. The result was spectacular, although not as the show or Emmert might have anticipated. But they should have, because Emmert came on the show at a particularly difficult moment for the NCAA, what with the issue of student athlete exploitation making headlines.
In short, the Twitterverse torched Emmert but good. There were, of course, a ton of jokes at Emmert's expense, and Penn Staters still angry about the Sandusky-Paterno situation were out in force, but also some cogent questions -- Would he, some asked, work for room and board like he wants the athletes to do? Why can coaches move from school to school whenever they want but athletes have to sit out seasons if they transfer? Why do coaches and athletic directors get bonuses for player performance when the players themselves get nothing? There were comments about the Northwestern players' unionization move, and UConn's graduation rate, and all the other stuff that an angry populace wanted Emmert to hear. #AskEmmert was characterized as "awful (great)" by Fox Sports, while the Washington Post said it "backfired hilariously" and Deadspin called it a "mini-revolt against the NCAA."
It was, indeed, entertaining in a this-can't-really-be-happening way. I didn't get a chance to hear Emmert on the radio show, so I don't know if they asked him those questions, but it's clear by the coverage that Emmert did not make any fans today. I see some reports calling what ESPN did in doing the hashtag a mistake, yet I'm not so sure that you can say that without a caveat. I think it's wise to do social media outreach -- we're clearly in the age of social and sharing and spreading the word online, and soliciting questions via a hashtag, even when you know it'll generate jokes and insults, isn't a problem when you realize that most people would not have known about Emmert being on Mike and Mike without encountering the hashtag. I didn't, and it made me want to listen just to see if he'd address the issues, knowing that he wouldn't. It's the epitome of viral marketing, even if the interview subject got hammered with insults in the process.
There's another element, though, and it's something that I've perceived as a problem with radio interviews in general since Marconi: If you're going to solicit questions from the audience, you should use them. And if they're tough questions, you REALLY should use them. Why? Simple: The host, in an interview situation, is a surrogate for the listeners. The audience does not get to ask the President of the NCAA anything, not directly, at least. The hosts are there to get those answers for the listeners. That goes for politicians, celebrities, everyone. You're not there to make friends, you're there to get answers that your listeners want. The hashtag exercise makes that plain.
What? The guest might walk out? You don't want the publicist to get angry and deny you more guests? Then you're doing it wrong. You should never sacrifice a segment, or your listeners' trusts and desires, because you want to get MORE guests to whom you'll defer and ask softball questions, since you've established that you're afraid of the consequences. That's lousy radio, because you're focused on your own needs and not the listeners'.
So, takeaway: The hashtag thing wasn't the "bad idea" some reports say it was, not for the radio show, that is. (For the NCAA, maybe, but whatever.) But it CAN be a bad idea if you don't use those tough questions and get answers, because that's what those people posting on social media want from the exercise. You are your listeners' representative whenever you're interviewing anyone at all. Ask what they'd ask.
And when you just want to talk about something else, or you don't know WHAT you want to talk about, remember that All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics has hundreds of items and ideas for segments on your shows, plus kicker stories you won't see anywhere else. Find it by clicking here. And the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics has every story individually linked to the appropriate item.
If you're at WonderCon in Anaheim this weekend, I'll be there, too; It's one last convention for April, my fourth of the month. Do I get some sort of medal for that? Because I should. Either that or some time to sleep. Actually, I'd prefer the latter.