Connecting Without Touching

“What’s going on?”

“What are you hearing?”

“What are they saying about it?”


I don’t have to tell you that we are in uncharted waters right now. Self-quarantines, restrictions on gatherings of more than a handful of people, social distancing, remote workspaces. Make no mistake, we WILL come out on the other side of all of this. At the moment, however, the reality is setting in that the best way to take care of each other… is to be separate from each other.

Two things are unsettling right now: we haven’t been here before, and the situation is changing literally by the minute. In any communication, the single most important mission should always be the addressing of a need. Right now, more than at any time I can remember, we all need to know the answer to a simple question:

“What’s going on?”

Social Media, as we all knew already, is a double-edged sword. It’s so immediate, and the information is often so unverified, that platforms like Facebook and Twitter tend only to muddy the information waters. And while there is no shortage of hard news to be found online, the sheer volume of alarming updates about COVID-19 at any moment on any given news site is, frankly, overwhelming (I speak from personal experience).

This is one of those times that you realize the huge importance of local radio.

We’ve talked before about radio as a “companion”. While journalists and news anchors are the providers of data, local radio personalities are more equipped to provide personal connections with the audience, while at the same time providing the answer to the question that is on everyone’s mind: “what’s going on?”

In the best of times, the on-air staff of the local radio station has cultivated what we call a “para-social relationship” with its listeners. This is the phenomenon that occurs when one party (the listener) has never actually met the other party (the on-air personality) but nonetheless assigns trust and even affection to them. The DJ is doing more than playing songs. The DJ is a friend.

There is a potent communication cocktail being mixed here. Its ingredients are accessibility, trust, comfort, and information. Everyone is craving an update about what’s going on in their town, their state, their country—and that information is so much better received coming from a trusted friend, a “companion”.

Let’s talk business for a second.

I have a lot of marketing partners who are actively deciding what to do with their radio messaging. There is often a knee-jerk reaction to simply stop advertising, but that’s not the only (or often, the best) course of action.

I see two strategies, depending on the situation:

  • Maintain the current message. If you are communicating a long-term branding message that isn’t tied to a specific date and doesn’t require immediate action on the consumer’s part, you are still building a foundation. Just as it is at any other time, the listener might not need a plumber this week… but at some point they will. Stay the course. In some ways, the routine-ness of your message will actually be a sixty-second oasis of normalcy.
  • Change your messaging. What do your customers need to hear right now? If it’s not a direct offer, maybe it should become a message about what your business is doing to keep its employees and customers safe. Or maybe simply a promise that “when we get through this—and we will get through it—we’ll still be here for you.”

For those marketing a specific event that has been cancelled, of course, neither option will serve. In most other instances, however, this is simply not the time to be silent.

Our families, friends, and communities need information from someone they feel they can trust—and they need it more than at any time in recent memory. Local radio will be one of the primary places to which they turn.

Everyone is trying to maintain “social distance” while still remaining connected.

Everyone is asking, “what’s going on?”

What we tell them is more important than ever.