close up photography of females hands holding phone with orange icons of social media brands floating upwards

Lessons from the Original Social Media

Before Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or LinkedIn, there was the original social media: radio. This month I’m sharing a story, an observation and a little project you may be interested in.

The Story

Back in the day, everyone in radio broadcasting wanted to get into a “rated market.” This was a chance to get your talent judged, rated and compared through the most important lens—the opinions of the people!

The judge was a service called Arbitron. Twice a year, a small group of consumers received a diary from Arbitron. They were instructed to fill it out every day, describing what radio station they listened to in 15-minute increments through the entire week. (You can imagine the level of accuracy this produced.)

It was a big deal! Millions of advertising dollars were riding on the results. Stations hired special gurus to help them get more people to write your call letters in that diary. 

“Say this!” 

“Don’t say that!” 

“Say the station name exactly this way!” 

“Pump your slogan!”

“Tease your next segment!”

“Run contests!”

“Build cume! Stretch your P1s and grow your P2s! It’s all about TSL!” (Honestly, I was never exactly sure what that last sentence meant, but when a consultant is shouting it in a meeting, you just keep your head down and keep writing.)

The goal was numbers, which were supposed to convey impact. The higher the numbers, the better you were. 

And we believed it. Which was the sad part.

When the numbers were released (big excitement, closed doors, hands shaking with dread/anticipation) I was always last, maybe second to last. No, my name was never mentioned—only the station call letters—but I knew the truth. It was my fault. The numbers said I was bad, and I believed the numbers.

The Observation

That was over 25 years ago and over time strange things kept happening.

People would come up to me (still do) and say, “Hey do you remember when…?” And then they will describe in detail something I said on the radio, some interaction they were a part of, some story I told, some routine of listenership like a ride home or college days where I was their companion for the 45-minute drive. One man stopped and stared at me thunderstruck. “You are Jeff Gould!” I had to admit it. “You were the MC of the WSN Quiz Kids Contest!” True. “I won it!! When I was in 6th grade!!” 

I’d hear stories like that, large and small, a memory for both of us. I’d shake their hand and thank them for the story and then they would say something like, “I used to love to listen to you.”

Initially, my comment was usually something like, “Well, not according to the ratings!” But eventually, I realized that maybe the numbers weren’t entirely right. Maybe influence is beyond TSL (okay, a little jargon—Time Spent Listening) and is deeper than that.

I’m telling you this because there is a huge false narrative in the social media world and I need to correct it right now.

Social media is an oxymoron. Media is hardly ever social. Genuine social is handshakes, smiles and conversations.

It is not about the clicks or likes or followers. Now everyone can be their own media outlet, chasing impact and influence. But influence is never about clicks.

It is always about relationships. 

The Project

I have decided to launch my own social campaign for March and to leave media out of it (well, mostly; I’ll get to that later).

My campaign means I’ll smile at somebody I pass in the grocery store. It means I’ll say, “Nice day” to the person in the next car over when I’m pumping gas. It means I’ll nod at the person with the sports cap and say “go (whatever the team is).”

Part of my campaign will be holding the door for the person who walks into the store behind me. It will include taking out the earbuds, knowing that the best story I will hear today won’t be on a podcast, but from the stranger standing next to me.

Maybe it’ll be a note in the mail; maybe a pause next to the fence to call out something to the neighbor.

And maybe you’d like to join me! You will see no Google Analytics. You won’t be able to measure reposts, shares, like or comments. You won’t have the metrics to post on your page and claim that you are, “Now a Social Influencer!”

But I think you will find something more meaningful and definitely more real. Something it took me 25 years to realize.