In the Moment (Featuring Llamas and Dresses)
February 27, 2015
It was midday Thursday when my thought process for this weekly exercise in talking to myself got derailed by llamas. I admit it: The moment I saw a tweet about llamas on the loose in Sun City, I went right for the ABC 15 live feed and followed all the tweets. Because llamas.
And then it was over, and things calmed down, and then came The Dress. I'd better not have to explain what THAT was all about, but it took over all social media conversation for a few hours. And then it was over, too. By the time I started work at 3 am Friday morning, there were practically no mentions of llamas on Twitter, and just some stragglers about The Dress. Most people had moved on, and those who were still in the dark about llamas and dress colors probably remain oblivious still.
And this is to say that while we've always known that the public's collective attention span is short -- we've programmed to it with tricks (okay, "formatics") designed to string people along into listening longer -- and we've always competed with other distractions for their attention, the advent of social media has made that even more critical. You're on the air talking about whatever, and your audience is all OMG LLAMAS or #whiteandgold.
So, what do you do to rope them back in? One thing to do is to be aware of stuff like that. No, llamas aren't in and of themselves a topic, and you do run the risk of sending your listeners off to the Web to look for video, but you already assume that risk with everything you talk about. If you know there's something dominating people's social media posts, that's where their heads are at right now, and you probably should be on top of that. It doesn't mean that your shows have to be ruled by Twitter, but you need to know what's going on and you need to react if and when something becomes pervasive enough to indicate that people are actually actively interested in it. This means that while traditional show prep is still necessary, your show prep is now going to continue throughout your show, because you should be monitoring what's going on out there and be ready to dump your prepared topics and go with whatever's hot.
What would I have done Thursday? If it were my show, I'd have done play-by-play of the llamas and I'd have put the dress color debate on the air. Even people who aren't llama fans or who haven't seen The Dress will follow along if you make it entertaining. You talk about what's happening now. There'll be time for serious issues later.
Which is another thing. The natural reaction of you serious news types is to say, well, this is the fall of society right here, people obsessing over llamas running around the greater Sun City-Peoria-Surprise metropolitan area when there are Greater Issues to be debated, like ISIS and poverty and Net neutrality. A couple of thoughts: Self-righteousness is not a good look. And if you're going to do nothing but debate Greater Issues, good luck with that. Successful news-talk outfits like, oh, NPR and WTOP aren't all-deadly-serious, all-the-time. They cover pop culture, too. They know their audience isn't constantly pondering the Big Questions, and isn't interested in listening to nothing but deep, serious information. And if you're in commercial talk radio, your business is to entertain (and sell stuff for your advertisers), and if your audience is telling you they like llama chases, well, give them llama chases.
Besides, llama chases rule. I'd watch an all-llama chase channel. Not sure I'd bother with an all what-color-is-this-dress channel, though. I kinda burned out on optical puzzles back when Magic Eye was a thing.
One place to find out what's going on is at All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, where we have hundreds of items and ideas to make your show better, plus kicker stories you won't see anywhere else, as well as serious stuff. Find it by clicking here. And the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics has every story individually linked to the appropriate item.
Full Disclosure: I also serve as Director of Programming for Nerdist Industries (a division of Legendary Pictures), which includes the Nerdist Podcast Network, one of your major podcast entities.
I'd leave you with a llama joke, but llamas are so Thursday at 1 pm Pacific. Can't you keep up?
Perry Michael Simon Vice President/Editor, News-Talk-Sports AllAccess.com