Wednesday, April 09, 2008

WJMA, WVTF, and the weakest link

While it seems obvious to most readers of this blog (being the Internet-savvy lot that you are), the basic concepts of the web still elude many. I've written often about the website of our local radio station, WJMA. I do so primarily because it's a real-world example of the kind of mistakes businesses can make when the decision-makers don't really understand what this new medium is all about.

And what it's about are two basic things: quality content and connectivity. To make money from website traffic (either through ads or just raising brand awareness) you need something to bring the eyeballs to your site. And you need easy ways for folks to access the content once they arrive.

It's not that different from traditional retail: keep the shelves stocked with attractive merchandise, and lay out the store to encourage shopping. Yet many don't make the connection (as anyone who's tried to get any kind of online innovation approved by higher-ups baffled by e-mail can attest).

Let's take my recent flurry of posts that linked to the news pages of two radio station websites: WJMA and WVTF. Now a case can be made that this could be an unfair comparison: WJMA's a commercial station, and WVTF's public radio. WJMA has a single news reporter, and WVTF has a staff of them. Yet in both cases one news reporter was responsible for the creation and posting of the content I linked to. So let's see what happened to the folks I sent their way -- and the impact on the stations.

WJMA news site (I've also taken a screen shot of the page).
Is there anything here that invites us to stay? The local headlines still do little more than tease for stories that aren't there.
"A retired D-C police detective is running for the Culpeper Town Council."
Really? Who? What's his background? No details -- and no links. We have nowhere to go to get additional information about this cryptic piece of information. And notice the D.C. abbreviation. That's the spelling used for on-air reading to ensure the initials are pronounced correctly. Whoever posted this didn't even bother to change it to the correct form for written text.

Well, the news page is a dead end. How about the home page? From there, we can either go to the Weather Underground, or the Virginia Department of Health, but that's about it (and I'm not really sure why that's on the radio station's homepage anyway). I'm posting this in April and the scrolling banner at the top of the page is still advising me to click on Closings for the latest winter closing and cancellations.

Any traffic I send to this website is basically wasted. A visitor coming from CE Conversations sees neither quality content or relevant links, and the station derives no benefit from the visit. If the news page was a store, it would be an ill-lit dingy one with a few dusty items on mostly-empty shelves.

WVTF Captive Audio (I've taken a screen shot of this page as well)
Once again, we have a headline -- "Catching up with a member of Ol' Virginia Soul." It's just as cryptic as WJMA's, but this time there's additional information.
The stories behind the story of the Arcania record label continue. Arcania founder Brent Hosier put out a series of compact discs focusing on soul, psychedelic and garage bands that recorded around Virginia in the 1960s. WVTF's Connie Stevens has the story of Junious Bugs Hughes, featured on the Ol' Virginia Soul collection.
So now we know what Ol' Virginia Soul is, we know who's being interviewed, and we know the background of the series. Oh -- and we also know who did the story and when. Notice that the WJMA posting is anonymous (I don't think I'd want to put my name to it either), and the only clue we have about the date is a 2006 copyright notice!

Connie Stevens also provides us with a picture of Mr. Hughes, and a link so we can listen to the story. This is valuable content, with intuitive connectivity. Even though I didn't hear the segment when it was broadcast, I can still listen to it now.

The visitor who followed my link gets some useful information. And the station derives some benefit as well. The page has plenty of links to WVTF's other locally produced programs, as well as their national feeds. It also has a link so the visitor can listen online. And just reading the links gives the visitor a good overview of the station and its services (and of course ways to contribute).

Folks who click through to WJMA reach a dead end. Those who follow the links to WVTF have an entirely different experience.

And here's the other part of the equation. By linking to WVTF's Captive Audio page, we've benefited ourselves. I'm linking to this page because we're selling the CDs that are the focus of the Captive Audio series. And the Arcania International segments on WVTF started airing, sales of the discs have risen dramatically over the past month (and causing us to quickly re-press two titles). And some of those sales have come from outside WVTF's coverage area, which suggests online listening via their website.

When it's done right, the connectivity of the web can help both the linker and the object of the link. Obvious to some, but many are oblivious to it all.

- Ralph

1 comment:

  1. Ralph - some great and trenchant thoughts. Sadly, the story about "getting the web" is the same throughout public radio -- it's the exceptions that prove the rule. I love your analogy about your website being the same as your store - and the what, why, and wherefore you stock your shelves is of critical importance.

    But i have to tweak you a little bit, too....a couple of the hyperlinks to *your own site* result in 404 Not Founds...

    What gives?

    Give me a holler and let's catch up...