Audience Dialogue

Participative Marketing for Local Radio, Chapter 10
Internal marketing: section 1

10.1  Working with volunteers

In many countries, community stations can afford to employ only a few paid staff - sometimes, none - and have to rely on the work of volunteers. And of course volunteers are much harder to manage than staff. Because they're not paid, volunteers can work when they like, how they like, and may be unreliable. Unless you have a large pool of would-be volunteers, you may have to depend on the volunteers you already have. Managing the volunteers can be seen as a major headache - or as another aspect of marketing.

In other words, you have to market the station to volunteers - as well as to listeners and other external stakeholders. Some stations solve this problem by trying to depend on a minimum number of volunteers, all working long hours. Other stations try to encourage as many community members as possible to take part in the station's work. Depending on what you want from the volunteers, you somehow need to attract them, and clarify your mutual expectations. The best source of volunteers are existing volunteers, on-air announcements, and listeners' clubs.

Volunteers fall into two main groups: those who see this work as a stepping stone to a career, and those who are doing it because they enjoy the activity, or the social interaction.

The career-oriented volunteers are often students whose dream it is to work in television, as presenters, actors, or journalists. They are usually young and keen: they learn the technical aspects quickly, but - like anybody else - take much longer to perfect the human communication. They're good to have around, but don't expect them to stay long. Perhaps they can teach the older people a few things about how to use computers.

The other volunteers tend to be quite a bit older. If they like the activity of being involved with radio, they don't expect any particular reward in the future, but sometimes they don't want to try new things.

Each group of volunteers has something to teach the other. If you can set up a system where older volunteers teach younger ones, they'll both learn something.

Another source of volunteers, in some countries, is unemployed people who are assigned to work for a few months in local organizations, such as community radio. They are usually paid by the government, so they cost you nothing (or very little). Not many of them are interested in working in radio, but they can be taught to do useful clerical and computer work.

Roles for volunteers

For marketing purposes, the more volunteers you have, the better. They can be an important channel of communication between programs and audience.

Some of the roles that volunteers can fill are

It's useful to try to think of all the roles that volunteers could fill in a radio station. Put yourself in their shoes: why would somebody do that work for nothing, or for low pay? What are they gaining from it, if not money? And how can you motivate each volunteer, by helping them more of whatever it is that they value in their relationship with the station?

Volunteers for marketing

If your station has a group of keen volunteers, some may be interested in marketing the station. Though many people are reluctant to ask others for favours, some people enjoy doing things such as taking posters and stickers to local businesses and asking them to display these. Other labour-intensive activities that volunteers can do include...

Recruiting new listeners through volunteers

Word-of-mouth is one of the most effective forms of marketing, and if you have keen listeners who are also volunteers for the station, they can become a major means of bringing in new listeners - simply by talking to their friends.

You can make it easy for them to do this, by providing them with copies of your program guide, rate card, subscription form, stickers, and so on - whatever tangible items will encourage new listeners.

Because the volunteers are already fans of the station, there's no need to offer special rewards for them to bring in new listeners and subscribers. But recognition is a powerful reward. Thus, one station I worked with gave a special award each month to the person who brought in the most new subscribers. The award was only a piece of paper, and the competition between volunteers was low-key and friendly, but the whole method was a very effective way of bringing in new subscribers.

Keeping volunteers

A community station, which relies on volunteers to do most of the work, needs to treat them well. Unlike staff, who accept payment in return for being told what to do, volunteers are more like customers. Marketing to volunteers (and some stations have hundreds of them) means managing a different kind of exchange process. The marketing exchange between a radio station and volunteers is different from the usual buyer-seller relationship: volunteers spend only time, and receive only a feeling in return. If that feeling isn't good, they won't stay. The young volunteers who see this work as the first step in a glorious career usually don't want to stay with a local station, but they value the experience that their work brings them.

Some volunteers are not necessarily the people you'd want - for example, you may have a volunteer announcer who doesn't speak clearly, annoying many of your listeners. What can you do about this? The answer lies in managing expectations - in this case, perhaps other volunteers could convince the unclear speaker that he or she should do some different type of work on the station.

Ineffective or unreliable volunteers need to be carefully managed. As word of mouth is a very important factor in gaining listeners within a small community, if you start "sacking" volunteers, word will spread quickly, and you'll end up losing a lot of audience


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