More than 90 percent of Americans listen to traditional radio, but these days they’re doing much more than merely listening. The newest craze in radio is … of all things, video? Stations from Tampa to Los Angeles are inviting listeners to log on to their respective websites to watch personalities live on the air. And nationwide, listeners are sending in homemade music videos or mini-movies to be featured on radio station websites. Mass communication has truly become just that—among the masses. For PR in particular, the implications of multi-directional consumer usage are paramount, as consumers actively choose their message, product, show or news, rather than a previous communication model where they passively accept messages.

Radio’s burgeoning interface is mirroring the visual and interactive offerings found on websites like MySpace and YouTube. The volume of these online communities is growing exponentially, where YouTube alone houses more than 100 million videos every day, with 65,000 videos uploaded daily. One such video exhibited John Edwards announcing his candidacy for the 2008 presidential election. Whether it was bigger news that John Edwards is running for president or that he announced his candidacy on YouTube before any other media outlet, radio reported the story in one form and another. Just log onto National Public Radio’s website to read about it, and then click on the ‘listen’ button to hear about it.

This cross-platform storytelling style suggests that video and radio are more complimentary than we may have thought. News stories consistently throw the listener to a follow-up website and, in turn, network and radio station websites post streaming video and audio of their broadcasts. As for listener and viewer feedback opportunities, blogs and streaming videos welcome thousands of online replies, just as radio host banter inspires call-in responses. The online forum meets the on-air forum with the common denominator: connecting people. Using video and radio alike, average listeners can seek out and weigh in on any topic, creating instant pundits everywhere.

With this global chat room buzzing from opinions and advice, how will public relations practitioners cut through the clutter? Duncan Wardle, vice president of global PR for Disney Parks, suggests communicators cease talking at people and begin talking with them by “leveraging the passion of brand advocates and viral communities to create buzz and convert new consumers on their behalf.”

In this age of customized media, people are unique representations of their TV, radio, and Internet ‘favorites’ button. Communicators must aim to have their message secure among that favorites list by way of social networking; and the more the merrier. A bigger group of people talking about something will be more influential than just one ‘expert’ trying to discuss it.
A new era of authenticity is approaching in communications with real people and real emotion doing the talking, with testimonials treated like currency. It is the PR industry’s challenge and opportunity to invite viewers and listeners into a fireside ‘chat room’ to discuss ideas, stories, experiences, and products, fashioning tomorrow’s ‘expert’ after a trusted best friend.

by Megan Heffernan