BBC Radio 1: 60,000 Twitter followers doesn't guarantee engagement!

12th Nov 2010

This week is Internet Week Europe and as part of the initiative BBC Radio is getting involved by holding lunchtime Twitter chats with key people. Being a tweetgeek, I of course immediately wanted to take part. First up was Ben Chapman, interactive editor at Radio 1. 

Now I have to admit that I'm not a Radio 1 listener (is Bruno Brookes still on?) so it was the first time I'd looked at the Radio 1 Twitter account. It has 60,000+ followers which you would have thought would have meant lots of people tweeting questions at Chapman using the #bbciweek hashtag. Unfortunately not.

Only six questions were asked in the hour the chat ran; two of them from me and two from Jono Read who works with Radio 1 presenter Scott Mills. 

So what are the lessons?

The BBC learnt today that social media is not about numbers. You can have thousands, if not millions of followers, but if you're not engaging with them very little will happen. 

Taking a look at the Radio 1 Twitter account, it is very much about broadcast and retweeting of presenters' tweets. Ben Chapman answered my question about that saying they would like to respond more but "resources" are an issue. That's a common answer. However, if you want to make the most of social media, you need to throw yourself at it.

Given that 60,000 people follow the account, most people are clearly interested in social media and Radio 1 so you would have thought a chance to talk directly the man who runs the station's social media presence would have been popular.

Chapman pointed out that many of its presenters do interact with listeners via their personal accounts so maybe because of that and as the main account has so many followers, Radio 1 assumed people would take part with little promotion. I'm afraid it doesn't work like that. You need to engage and communicate as because the modern internet user is bombarded with so many messages each day, it's very easy for yours to slip through.

So if you're a business looking to engage with your customers or clients through social media, learn a lesson from Radio 1 and forget about trying to beat Stephen Fry on follower numbers and concentrate on developing a core, engaged and loyal community. 

Jem Stone, executive producer, social media at BBC Radio and Music, subsequently responded to my original post with the following:

"Hi Dan.

"Yes. The twitter chat with Ben was fairly quiet. Thanks for your 2 questions though.

"This was an experimental event as part of a business/corporate related week very much targeted at industry themes.

"The promotion was fairly limited on our part and I wasn't that surprised at having so few questions. We certainly weren't arrogant enough to  assume that a large audience was a given.

"However to then conclude that "The BBC learnt today that social media is not about numbers." and that "R1 very much about broadcast"

"Last month there were over 200K + replies, retweets and mentions surrounding the accounts listed here: with 15K of those tweets outgoing: ie: sent from DJ accounts or accounts like @1xtra or @bbcr1. R1,1xtra, like much of the BBC radio now, spends a lot of time on Twitter listening to what listeners are saying and yes, replying and talking to them every day as that is what listeners rightfully expect.  With projects like for example Bullyproof, Reading Presents, UCTRL Katy, and the 65+ video clips posted  last week (all questions sourced online) for Access All Areas then R1 / 1xtra also devotes a lot of time / effort working with its  listeners to use digital platforms to make what we hope is better radio. Our Facebook pages for R1, 1xtra, for example, are even livelier with hundreds of thousands of active users and plenty of communication with Radio 1 people, guests and DJs.

"Its a shame the chat with Ben wasn't busier. Fair play but to conflate this single one off event with R1/1xtra, & BBC Radio's overall approach in this area is unfair.

"Bruno Brookes left Radio 1 in 1995."

Dan Martin is editor of, and moderates the Web 2.0 discussion group. Follow Dan on Twitter.

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