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Live from Living Rooms, Live from Los Angeles: How iHeartMedia Pivoted to Virtual Events

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“Don’t go dark because you can’t figure out a way to connect. Just try.” — Michelle Lin, Digital Programming Director, iHeartMedia Los Angeles

Join us for #SMWONE May 5 - 28, 2020 and hear from 300+ speakers across 150 sessions.


Among the core values that iHeartMedia aims to address with their programming are connection, community, and experiences. So seeing a tweet from a virtual prom attendee, gushing over the fact that she got added to a new group chat at the end of the night, had to make their Los Angeles Digital Programming Director Michelle Lin feel good.

“[We’re trying to] make it so we don’t miss out in the community to celebrate,” Lin said, as she talked about the massive task of rethinking events and engagement in the wake of COVID-19. Alongside Netbase Quid’s Robyn Lindars, Lin shared with #SMWONE attendees what it’s looked like to reimagine the role of radio stations in the community, in a digital space.

Here are the primary insights and takeaways:

  • Don’t go dark because you can’t figure out a way to connect.
  • Amplifying key information is key to forging online communities
  • Dats is important to adapting thoughtfully and responsibly

Data-Driven Adaptation

In Los Angeles, which recently extended its shelter-in-place orders to late summer, Lin has had to focus her team’s digital work to address four goals:

  • Providing news, entertainment, discussion and interaction daily;
  • Demonstrating sensitivity toward their audience and providing comfort;
  • Filling voids that have presented themselves in the wake of the pandemic; and
  • Creating consistent and sponsorable content that drives engagement.

These are tall orders to achieve, all while transitioning a team that was accustomed to in-person engagement and collaboration to working from home, but it was a challenge that Lin’s former life as a biologist equipped her for. “Whether it’s biology or entertainment, data is important.” Armed with the data that NetbaseQuid’s Brand Pulse provided, she was able to adapt thoughtfully.

From Chaos to Community Building

Lin cited a comparison of frequently used terms from iHeart LA’s target audience, and pointed out a clear shift from fear and chaos, to one of adaptation and community. The tone and scale of programming, she said, were heavily informed by how people were posting online. “This,” she said, referring to the lockdown and its impact on daily life, “is becoming normal in a way. This has become our life, until it’s not.” With that in mind, outreach went from amplifying key information to finding ways for listeners to gather online. Their guiding question: what is the need, and how can we fill it?

They filled it with virtual interviews to replace the frequent in-studio interviews that would take place under normal circumstances, created happy hours and game nights to meet listeners where they’re quickly learning to gather, and used existing talent to craft branded DJ mixes on Instagram a la DJ DNice. Manageable successes in these arenas paved the way for big wins in programming efforts to follow.

Live in Your Living Room: The Concert for America and Virtual Prom

On April 6th, FOX broadcast of iHeart Radio’s Living Room Concerts for America, one of the first efforts to create nationwide live programming – and has built up the confidence for countless other offerings from other networks. Lim’s team played a part in bringing this event to life, not only to replace the normally in-person iHeart Awards, but also as a heartfelt opportunity to generate giving to Feeding America and the First Responders Children’s Fund. The success of this event drove them to seek opportunities for similar event programming on a local level.

The result? 102.7’s KIIS Virtual Prom, held under #KIISVirtualProm and featuring appearances from Dillon Francis, Joe Jonas, Lewis Capaldi, and host Ryan Seacrest. The metrics from this event were encouraging: over 2000 social posts, nearly 34,000 engagements, and 212 million potential impressions. The highly positive reception for the event is giving Lim and her team hope that later efforts, including a forthcoming event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Pride, will yield an engaged and appreciative audience.

Both Lim and Lindars are encouraged by what has come from paying close attention to these insights. And both insist that these sorts of virtual events, while at times intimidating, are worth trying. “The worst thing would be to not do any kind of virtual event,” Lim shared. “Don’t go dark because you can’t figure out a way to connect. Just try.” As we learned in the session from the KIIS prom tweet showing a connection made in an otherwise lonely time, you never know who might gain something invaluable from your effort.

There’s still time to register for #SMWONE at smwone.com. Save 20% throughout the rest of the month!

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