Building an online community with interactive features
As well as being a tool for telling listeners about yourself, your station website offers opportunities for more dynamic interaction such as:
- using a form to solicit feedback about the station or on community issues
- inviting opinions and votes on matters of interest to your target using polls
- allowing song requests direct to the studio via text or email
- running online surveys to find out what listeners want
These facilities not only enable you to obtain feedback to shape and develop the station but also demonstrate to the community a real interest and commitment to offering what they want, thereby strengthening the relationship.
The communications described above are however fairly one way: from users to the station and you may want to benefit from some interaction among users, including staff, volunteers and listeners. You might want to investigate some of the following:
- Originally conceived as an online diary, the blog is also used as a portfolio to showcase work or achievements. Usually written by one person, anyone can leave comments. It isn’t always possible or easy to have multiple authors of a blog. You may be able to send entries to your blog via your mobile phone. Blogs seem to breed like rabbits, but most have a shorter and less active life (ie don’t start one if you’re not going to maintain it). Take a look at http://radioteesdalecommunitystation.blogspot.com and http://www.prescap.f2s.com/pfmblog/
- Discussion forums are popular on a number of station websites, offering an opportunity to invite supporters to have their say about the station or even more specifically to offer a variety of discussion strands about different shows or matters arising in the local community. For example, see Resonance FM’s forum page for example at http://forum.resonancefm.com/ or Phoenix FM at http://www.phoenixfm.com/forum/
- A guestbooks is for people to leave (nice) comments for you, rather than for discussions. Take a look at http://www.radioteesdale.co.uk/ The guestbook is under News and Views
- A chat room invites people into a ‘real time’ form of discussion. You’re either taking a chance on who’s online or you have to arrange in advance to meet people. A live chat session can be fun and useful if people can’t meet face-to-face. Rules and a chairperson will keep a lid on potential chaos as live chat can be like being in a large family where everyone talks at once and no-one listens to anyone else. Now throw poor spelling and typos into the mix. At Cross Rhythms FM people are invited to register and enter chat-room to meet like-minded people http://www.crossrhythms.co.uk/chat/
Other interactivities you might investigate include wikis for writing shared documents, calendars, webcams [something to do if you’ve run out of paint to watch drying?], instant chat feature like Messenger, for instance to request a song.
There are probably many other more obscure facilities – new ones are developed seemingly daily. If they’re free, be brave and try them: you can always get rid of features that don’t work for you. Your best bet is to do a an internet search to see what’s available and how other people are using it.
Some words of warning!
- Beware of swamping your website visitors with too many options. You may like to have a website page devoted to interactions where you can clearly state what the different facilities offer.
- Users will be disappointed and may not return if the facilities aren’t being used – eg blog has few entries, no-one ever goes to the chat room, forums are empty. It can be time-consuming to run such facilities so delete them or put on hold if need be.
- Last but not least: moderate. Any facility that invites direct public input – such as forums, blog comments, guestbooks – will need some policing to remove inappropriate content.
For information on software available for running interactive features, have a look at the article How to build your website: Software needs and options
Visitors to your site: Tracking and analysing their experience
If you’re putting time and resources into running a station website, you’ll want to know if it’s doing its job: how many people are visiting, what resources they’re using and whether they’re getting what they want. Finding this sort of information about your website visitors is probably more straightforward than researching your listeners.
Counting and tracking your visitors
Some websites use counters to show how many visitors have been on their site, but they seem to be waning in popularity, perhaps they don’t want to show this publicly. A mind-boggling array of information about visitors to your site is available through the excellent, and free, programme Google Analytics. Once you sign up and add some code to your website pages, you can see:
- where visitors have come from, ie referrals and links from others sites
- where they are based geographically
- how many have visited
- which pages they gone to and how long they’ve spent there
- lots more if you have time to delve into it all!
Obtaining this sort of information can help you make decisions about where you might want to do some marketing to reach people you are currently missing, where you should work at getting your website linked from and so on.
Hearing from your visitors
Nothing beats actually hearing from your website users and supporters directly. Common options used on websites include invitations to email, complete forms, vote in polls, opinionate in a forum or use other means of giving feedback.
If you want to get specific feedback on your website, you could ask visitors to complete an online survey. Make sure you keep it quite short though or people make give up part way. You could offer a prize draw for all entries. Free survey software that collects and analyses results is available from Survey Monkey.
Make your website earn it’s keep
Lastly, you might want to have a Make_your_website_earn_its_keep which contains some useful advice on creating a (monetarily) sustainable website.