By Molly Hulsey
While most broadcast stations also have websites, very few have taken the steps to use multi-platform programming to engage their audience.
How can broadcasters, especially those in the non-profit public media sphere, best utilize multi-platform engagement? What purpose should their website serve? How can they connect with the community?
RJI, under the direction of Print & Graphics Editor Reuben Stern, has partnered with WILL/Illinois Public Media to design programming around the idea of engaging their audience. Illinois Public media puts a significant priority on community outreach -- so much so that a recent reorganization has both the community engagement team and the newsroom reporting up to a single person: Director of Community Content and Engagement Kimberlie Kranich. She has been the leader of the station's engagement efforts and is the driving force behind the station's experimentation.
- Before RJI’s partnership with WILL/IPM, the organization worked with the Harwood institute in a project funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
- Some of the work with Harwood included public listening sessions where they went out in the community and asked what stories people were interested in.
- Illinois Public Media was inspired by the work being done at RJI. Working with RJI, the station expanded its efforts to foster audience interaction using online chats, webstreams, and live Tweeting during special programming.
A multi-platform story: “Growing hope against hunger”
- Based on listener information, WILL decided to make “Growing Hope Against Hunger” one of their first multi-platform endeavors.
- Sean Powers, a reporter, and Celeste Quinn, WILL editor, facilitated an online discussion immediately following the "Hunger" broadcast, simultaneously engaging representatives of groups that fought hunger in the community. The WILL Connect online chat forum contributed to the overall community conversation, as well as airing the broadcast on television.
Rethinking the WILL Connect website
University of Missouri students Charesse James and Melanie Gibson were part of a capstone class challenged with the task of developing ways to improve the WILL Connect website.
What doesn’t work for a multi-platform site:
- When a site simply serves as a platform, and doesn’t engage its viewers, it isn’t a helpful part of the multi-platform system.
- The WILL Connect website, through the students’ research, often missed good opportunities for engagement.
- Simplicity and clarity is key for a website that’s part of a larger organization of media – having a clear design, links that function, and readily available multimedia is crucial.
Sites that get it right:
- The Rapidian – Self Publishing
- My City Lives – Visualizing Communities
- Creative Arts Initiative – Intuitive Events Page
- Sower of Seeds – Message-First
- Texas Tribune – Simplicity
- Brite Revolution – Organized Search
- Willamette Weekly – Font Hierarchy
- One.org – Issues Page
- Local Dirt – Simplicity
- Dishizzle – Boldness and Clarity
The capstone team used the sites linked above to inspire elements of their own revamp of the WILL Connect website, implementing several elements and techniques into their new design.
Connecting the community with WILL Connect
Student Matt Gerstner, realizing the lack of knowledge the Illinois community had about WILL Connect, conducted interviews and a survey with Columbia residents and partner organizations of
WILL Connect to develop a strategy.
Key insight: Research shows that people want to connect with their communities. Listeners want more events that are relevant to their lifestyles and attitudes, and need to be made more aware of community conversations. While IPM is a broadcasting station in itself, their website is the best platform to create these conversations.
Big idea: Citizens are often reluctant to participate in civic engagement programs because of a lack of time, mobility and expenses.
Creative strategy: Encourage the Illinois Public Media audience to use WILL Connect’s online resources, highlighting the many ways they can engage with the site. When informed of their options, consumers indicated their desire to support the public broadcasting station financially and become more involved
- Sites are productive when they are creative and visual, and can find different ways to engage people.
- Multi-platform media becomes successful when it starts a conversation with the community. When interaction occurs, people connect and stay engaged with the media.
- Public media often struggles with promoting this interactivity, because their stations are used to the audience that is automatically loyal to them. It’s important to go out and promote your brand to a new audience. While there are existing loyalists to public media, there is also a large untapped audience in the online market that must be addressed.