Saturday 16 May 2015

Public radio and public museums

There's some not-entirely-joined-up thinking floating around in my head about public radio (American, especially, but ours as well) and public art galleries and museums. Something about how radio is moving from broadcast, time-based listening to podcasts, and the way we're all thinking about how to maintain or increase physical visitation (upon which we are funded) whilst appealing to the online audience (which is connected to us by interest and inclination - but not necessarily geography). About how the web feels like the easiest, and most rewarding, place to be innovating. About how the ever-increasing choice of what we as consumers of culture can do with our leisure time, and the worlds upon worlds we can access online, makers us increasingly pickers and choosers - curators, if you will* - of the things we deem worth of attention, and how we can love things, but how we express love through retweets and favouriting - and not through actions that count towards the objects of our affection's bottom lines.

Like I said - it's hazy at the moment. But this afternoon my thinking has advanced a bit thanks to this article by Niemann Lab visiting fellow Melody Kramer, on her research project about public radio membership.

The concepts of membership and loyalty have a long history in the fields of social psychology and organizational behavior. In general, this research shows that people who identify with an organization describe themselves to others in terms of the organization. (For example, people who identify with public media are likely to describe themselves as NPR listeners on social networks and on dating websites.) And when people identify with an organization, they exhibit higher and longer-term levels of loyalty and are more likely to formalize their identification by becoming members through donations. 
Though membership has always been a core part of public media, over the past several years, public radio has been grappling with new questions concerning membership and listener loyalty. The traditional form of building membership and leveraging organizational loyalty — the pledge drive — has declined in effectiveness, and new conversations are beginning about how to recruit and retain members who access content off-air.

Kramer is documenting her fellowship on Github (I love the daily blow-by-blows where she struggles to stay on top of her inbox AND kickstart her residency). Most interesting so far is this thought experiment about what a public radio station would look like if she started one from scratch - because blow me down if it doesn't sound exactly like what one of my museum friends would write.

Anyway. I'll keep following Kramer and if her thinking helps mine get clearer ... well, that would be a godsend, and you all will be the first to hear it.

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