Four ways NPR is bringing radio to Facebook news feeds

March 16, 2017

Written by NewsWhip

We look at how leading US radio station NPR is engaging its Facebook audience with audio. 

Scrolling through any social platform, you’re unlikely to find much in the way of audio clips going viral.
Stories, videos and images, yes, but audio clips of interviews or documentaries are few and far between.
In a 2014 article, writer Stan Alcorn outlined two major blockers to audio going viral. First, the ‘structural’ way that people listen to things, in their car or while working, does not typically encourage sharing. The second is that it’s hard to ‘skim’ audio content, like it is with text or video, social media’s most successful viral content formats.

“An instant of video is a still, a window into the action that you can drag through time at will. An instant of audio, on the other hand, is nothing.”

Apart from the BBC, which also has a huge TV operation, NPR is the only radio station that featured in our top 25 Facebook publisher list for January 2017. The rest are mainly newspaper brands, TV networks and digital native sites, all arguably better-placed to adapt their existing content for a social audience.

For radio stations that deal with vast quantities of the format every day, audio’s lack of shareability can be frustrating. There is a wealth of content from the main part of their business, but unlike video, ease of distribution isn’t there. While auto-playing native video took off to great effect on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter in the last two years, a large part of its success lay with audio being muted by default.

Despite this, NPR have managed to grow their share of Facebook engagement on their own web content significantly in the last year. NewsWhip data shows that increased engagements with its total web content on Facebook. Here’s how the site grew their Facebook engagements throughout 2016 and into early this year, shown in NewsWhip Analytics:

It’s been a case of sustained growth in engagement for NPR, who went from 5.4 million engagements in February 2016 to 11.9 million in February 2017 – an increase of 121%.

In a recent blogpost, NPR digital metrics analyst Dan Frohlich outlined some of the ways that NPR’s social media team has been trying to get readers to engage with their audio content on Facebook. He explained that the station had tried a number of different experiments over a 40 day period last year, looking to try and boost engagement with their podcasts and audio archive.

One of the biggest problems that the experiment ran into was the lack of success in getting people to actually turn up the volume and listen to the NPR clips. Only 15% of Facebook Live viewers watched with the sound turned on (that figure doubled after 10 seconds of viewing), a figure that is mirrored for other publishers on Facebook.

There’s no doubt that the vast majority of engagements with content came from their web content, on news articles posted from the main NPR Facebook page, which has almost 6 million fans.

Despite the challenges, there were some interesting social experiments from the NPR team in the last few months. We looked in NewsWhip Spike to find out how they have experimented with making audio content seem appealing to their Facebook fans.

1. Promoting web app links to listen more

This is a simple but effective method of signalling that there is an audio element to a Facebook post. NPR’s social media team signal to users that there’s something to listen to as part of the story, off Facebook.
These Facebook posts linked directly to the audio stream, and encouraged readers to listen for the full story. There’s little text, but enough detail in the link preview to signal to the reader that there’s something to listen to here. 

2. Live streaming the newscast

NPR is famous for its radio news at the top of the hour. How do you transfer that to a social setting?
NPR often broadcast the readings through Facebook Live, giving the viewer a behind-the-scenes look at something that will sound very familiar to many. 

Generally, one of the most promising features on Facebook for radio stations is Facebook Live. In December, Facebook announced a new feature aimed at promoting live audio on Facebook. Radio stations will likely be the most eager users of the format, which will allow listeners to add their comments and questions in real times, just like with live video.

3. Audiograms: Waveform video

NPR have experimented with audiograms, which are audio sound waves in video format. They are simple to make, and put visuals to sound where there’s a quick audio clip that might perform well in news feeds.

These are typically for short, interesting audio segments that listeners would be willing to turn up the volume for. While the audio makes the post worth clicking and devoting time to, visuals are still very important in getting listeners’ attention and prompting engagement.

This was another experiment from NPR’s 40 day trial, which faced the issue of not enough people turning on their audio while watching.

4. Highlighting interview quotes

One of NPR’s many experiments include turning highlights from their broadcast content into
Using adaptable quote cards, the NPR social media team can pull out interesting quotes from the audio of interviews on the radio. This has the added benefit of being extremely easy to create, while we’ve seen data to say that average engagement rates with images are higher than for regular link posts. 

While an ‘Instant Articles for audio’ might still be a bit off, there is interest in innovating in the area. One example is the Anchor app, which looks to break radio into more digestible chunks for a mobile listenership.

Overall however, the likelihood that a social media user will engage with audio content is still fairly low, and challenges remain for radio stations looking to make use of their audio content, and not just through video. As Dan Frohlich ended his recent blogpost: “It’s important we keep the environment of our users in mind as we continue to experiment with audio in the social space.”

Have you made use of audio on Facebook or other social channels? Let us know in the comments below.

See the videos, stories and Facebook posts getting audience attention with NewsWhip Spike. 


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