Friday, March 16, 2007

Dealing With Negative WOM on the Airwaves

Earlier this week, we discussed the management of negative Word of Mouth. Despite the conversation mostly being about dealing with WOM on the internet, I found myself thinking a lot about the topic while listening to WFAN’s Mike and the Mad Dog radio program later that day. There is very little that generates negative Word of Mouth quite like the talk radio circuit. The show’s theme is New York sports, but the concept could readily be applied to a number of different topics.


As the two hosts, Mike Francesa and Chris Russo, railed on about their latest targets (today it was the MAAC basketball conference and New York Yankee superstar Alex Rodriguez), I couldn’t help but think back to an incident on the show from last October. On that day, the Yankees had just been eliminated from the playoffs and were, naturally, the main topic of the show. Francesa and Russo talked for hours about what an embarrassment it was that the team had been eliminated and, more particularly, how infuriated they were with comments by pitcher Cory Lidle that they felt criticized manager Joe Torre. They insulted him for a large portion of the show, questioning his dedication to the team and ridiculing his character. Many of the calls during this segment supported the hosts’ attacks on Lidle. This sort of occurrence is quite commonplace on the web. People in messageboards are constantly slamming companies or celebrities that they have a problem with. Oftentimes, others piggyback on what someone says until the entire forum has a hostile view of the situation. However, talk radio offers a completely different dynamic with different problems and different solutions.


For one, the response is controlled. The producers of the show (and the hosts themselves) are able to control who calls into the show. If they want to paint a topic in a certain light, all they have to do is put callers on air who agree with them and neglect callers who do not (or only granting air-time to the most belligerent and unintelligent segment of these fans). This puts the program in control of what WOM gets out to the public and what doesn’t, swaying the popular opinion on the topic. In this case, the callers who made it on-air for Mike and the Mad Dog were in support of their opinion while those who dissented were not given air-time or were cut off prematurely. By making it appear as though everyone shares the opinion through filtering WOM, the show can sway neutral listeners to their point of view.


Conversely, the radio also gives the subject of the attacks an opportunity to respond that does not carry the same risks as an internet-based response would. On the internet, those responding to attacks have to worry about being perceived at invasive or fake. On the radio, a response isn’t just tolerated, it’s almost expected. Before the show ended, Lidle called up the station to defend himself, saying that he care’s very much about his team, that he respects Joe Torre, and that he is simply trying to have a nice day with his family and enjoy his life. (Lidle would ironically and tragically die in a plane crash two days later.)

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