What a local rezoning fight can tell you about the challenges of listening to listeners.
Recently, I got involved in a hotly-debated rezoning issue in my town. (The proposal would replace old strip malls with multi-story mixed use development.) While it was the sudden onslaught of middle age that turned me into a responsible citizen, what fascinated the media researcher in me was where supporters and opponents chose to voice their opinions: Had you only tracked people who spoke in person at town council meetings, you’d conclude that 90% of residents opposed the rezoning plan. Had you only read the local newspaper, you’d think 70% of residents were against it. However, if you tracked the issue on Twitter, you’d conclude almost everyone in town supported the rezoning plan.
For radio, this discrepancy highlights the danger in gauging the opinions of your listeners only in one place. How many times has a station been trashed on Facebook for changing formats, only to see its ratings improve after the change? How often do an artist’s rabid fans call and text to request a new song that never catches on in callout? There have never been more ways to stay in contact with listeners and make your relationship with them a two way connection. The challenge, however, is making sure you don’t take what you hear only in one place as representative of your entire audience, whether it’s on social media, from request lines or at live remotes.
As for that rezoning issue, in the ratings book of politics, every candidate who campaigned against new development lost hardily in the last election. With that knowledge of their audience, our town council approved the plan six-to-three.