Bill Haenel

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Posted by Bill Haenel on 30-Oct-10

Iíve been watching web traffic from my desk here at North Country Public Radio this week. I do this most weeks, but what makes this week different is our Fall fundraiser. Thatís right, this is that time, the time when we get on the air and on the web and ask for money to continue running our ďshowĒ.

Most weeks, when I survey our web traffic, I am watching a trend based on visitorsí desires to consume news content. This is the richest part of our online offering, and itís the most used part as well. So on Monday through Friday, Iím thinking about how to provide a better service to our news consumers that will encourage them to visit more frequently and to share their love of NCPR.org with their friends.

However, there is a disturbing pattern that occurs for nearly every public media website that exists, and it relates to weekend traffic. When you look at weekday vs. weekend traffic for most public media websites, itís a little like looking at the profile of a crinkle-cut french-fry. Weekdays are up, weekends down. In fact, itís not unusual for weekend traffic to drop down to half or less than weekdays.

So on weekends, when nobody is here at the station, whatís the most important content? Whatís the most used content? To be honest, we here at NCPR spend very little time thinking about weekends and how they are different for our visitors. We assume that weekend visitors are the same as weekday visitors, just visiting in their PJís.

Iím thinking this might be wrong, and it took our fundraiser to put it in front of my face.

As it turns out, Saturday is a big day for us during fundraiser week, and I guess itís like this at other stations as well. Lots of research has been done into why this might be, but I get the idea that it has something to do with folks waiting until the last day to make their donation, the urgency and excitement of a deadline, folks who want the special gifts that are offered on the weekends, etc. But the one thing that stands out for me is, there are quite possibly lots of folks listening on the weekends who either donít have time to call and pledge during the week, or else they donít really listen much during the week.

Either way, itís obvious to me as I listen to our Saturday fundraiser pitches that there are LOTS of folks listening on Saturdays. Honestly, if I had to base my observations on the number of folks calling in, I would say there are even more listening on weekends than on weekdays. This really isnít true, but it seems that way based on the ringing phones. Again, this doesnít really matter because in the end the important point is the number of people who are not only listening on weekends, but they are also willing to engage with the station.

So if we have that much engagement on-air on an average Saturday afternoon, and that many people listening, why is our web traffic dropping to 50% or less in that same time?

I can think of a couple of reasons for this phenomenon, and they relate mostly to the nature of our programming on weekdays vs. weekends. Our programming on the air is completely different on weekends than on weekdays.

Saturdays and Sundays, as every listener knows, is all about that ďquality programmingĒ that everyone talks about. Itís filled with great voices telling great stories, music that you donít hear anywhere else, stuff thatís both fun AND funny, art, culture, and people sharing their hearts with the world.

Weekdays are mostly about news and information; Solid, reliable and consistent.

All week long, we focus on making that solid, reliable and consistent news and info available to as many eyeballs as possible via our website. People count on us for that, and NCPR is known for having a good web presence for regional news. I think it works out pretty well. We have some ideas on how it can be improved to offer visitors a more relevant and engaging online news experience, but in general itís not too bad.

Our approach to building a better weekend operation has, so far, been related to re-heating our weekday-only news operation so it fits the weekend audience who may not have visited us between Monday and Friday. But I have to wonder if this makes sense. After all, the listeners on weekends are not tuning in for news. Leastwise if they are, theyíre going to be disappointed.

The weekend listener wants to be entertained, so they dial in our station to hear the most entertaining and fulfilling radio programs that have ever existed on the air. Doesnít it make sense to think that the weekend web visitor might be looking for the same thing? Isnít it likely that most people would like to ďswitch offĒ on weekends, without the constant delivery of information and issues? And isnít it also likely that this idea applies to online content viewing just as it does on-air content listening/viewing?

Assuming that all of these crackpot theories are true, I have a potential solution. We must approach our weekend web offerings in the same way that prime-time network TV approaches theirs. A fair chunk of money and effort has gone into figuring out how TV networks and programs can use their website to drive visitors to the television and viewers to the web. It has something to do with offering TV content online and offering web content on TV, and it has something to do with being entertaining on both platforms, sometimes in the same ways, sometimes in different ways. I really donít have the formula for that, as I am not one of the unlucky people who have had to figure it out. But Iím willing to give it a shot.

For public media orgs, especially the ones that specialize in news and information, the weekend crowd may always be a bust, unless we find a way to make it appealing for our visitors to visit our web properties in their t-shirts on Saturday evenings and in their PJís Sunday mornings. We may have the best news operation available, but on weekends, maybe we can do something more fun and be more successful. Theyíre standing outside our place. We just have to give them a reason to be our guests for Sunday brunch.

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