It is quite a few months now since I mentioned the issue of social network sites and how they are increasingly used to promote shows on Community radio stations. Some of the content in posts I see are entirely acceptable and ‘on message’. Others simply are not. Let’s look at this again in light of some more recent stuff that is still getting through your ‘editorial control’ net.
It seems to me that presenters use entries on
social sites to do any number of things. Promoting an upcoming show or feature
or promoting a feature elsewhere on the station you represent on air. Most of
the entries I see are quite innocent, informative or funny and that’s fine. The
confusion happens when a personal comment you make could be seen as comment
made by the station your represent and, even though you don’t see it that way,
the reader does. The line between what is clearly a personal comment or one
that you write as part of your job as a presenter on a radio station is so
blurred it is barely visible.
Before I go any further I would like to outline the general definition of libel and it would be worth remembering for future reference. Libel is a) a false publication, as in writing, print, signs, or pictures that damages a person’s reputation and b) the act of presenting such material to the public. You cannot write and publish anything that is rude, nasty, abusive, racist or derogatory about any person. Correct me if I am wrong, I believe social network sites are public forums, the public have access to them because presenters actively use them to promote what they do on air.
Other people can read comments made by the presenter including anything that may be libelous in nature even if they just see it as a personal viewpoint. If you place a comment that represents your personal view or opinion on any of the social network sites that is offensive, derogatory or abusive about any individual in any way, you also need to be aware of the fact that it is a written statement made by you that has been placed in the public domain by you. It could be interpreted as libelous if the person who is the subject of your of your comment sees it and feels it damages his or her reputation.
If you also promote your show by using the same site, you instantly make the connection between the personal comments made by you and the station you work for. Why is this? Readers of the abusive comment do not see any separation between the promotion of your show and the abusive comments made because there is no separation between them. I have seen some of those personal comments and the content is at the very least, questionable and could be interpreted as outside of the law. I am aware of one recent comment that was definitely over the line but will not refer to what it said as I could be accused of libel too. If you are a manager of a community radio station you need to be acutely aware of the content that is associated with a show on your station.You may be very surprised at what you see and how your station is portrayed in that particular forum. I guarantee that some of what you see will not make you a very happy person.
The marketing mix
There is the mistaken belief in community radio that social networks are the best way to promote your station. They should be part of the marketing mix but they are not the answer to selling your station locally. The amount of people who listen to community radio online is still smaller compared to those who listen locally on a radio. Funnily enough, most community radio stations will have, at some point broadcast online only and may have done so for some time. I hear stations with an ‘online promotion’ habit that is dated and simply does not apply to a community radio station broadcasting to a much wider local audience on FM. Of course, social media has a part to play in what you do but if you want social media to be part of the station marketing mix you must manage it and not allow it to manage you. It is worth remembering that Community Radio is a social network in itself and was around long before that term was ever invented and is still one of the most powerful interactive media there is.
My advice is to stop presenters using social media sites to promote themselves in an uncontrolled ways because there is no separation between what is written on behalf of your station and what is not. Your listeners can read both and believe me; all it will take is for one individual to take offence at a comment made by one of your team and you could find yourself apologising financially to OFCOM after a complaint was made and upheld.
Create instead a strong radio station identity on social networks that presenters can work within and promote on air. But it must be monitored in the same way as you are monitoring the output of your station on a daily basis. You do monitor the output of your station daily… don’t you?