At WLS, Social Media Can Make the Phone Ring


Even if you’re running the top-rated television station in the nation’s third-biggest market, you can’t ignore social media. Still, there are old-fashioned ways to react to criticism that work in this electronic era.

Speaking at a Publicity Club of Chicago breakfast Thursday, WLS general manager Emily Barr said that the comments section of her station’s Website asks for the commenter’s name and phone number. When a complaint comes in, Barr calls the viewer, which is usually a disarming tactic.  “They can’t believe it,” she said. “But you’ve got to call immediately. You can’t respond a month later.”

E-mails go to those who compliment the station. With anonymous comments, she doesn’t bother to respond because “they clearly don’t want my response.”

“Whether you like it or not, social media is here to stay,” Barr told the group.

The station monitors its Facebook page and tries to make sure the facts are correct. But she said that most often when a complaint is made in social media, another viewer will step up and defend the station.

She said she got herself a Facebook page and quickly found out that all of the station’s employees were her friends. “I discovered who was spending all their time on Facebook,” she said, maybe half kidding.

She also saw that there is a demand for short, constant bursts of information and that the station had to find new-media ways to fill that need.

In its news coverage, WLS no longer waits until 6 p.m. or 10 p.m. to break stories. “You can’t think like that anymore,” Barr said.

Instead, the stories break online, via mobile, on the station’s news and weather digital channel, or as a crawl over regularly scheduled entertainment programming.

With more outlets, Barr said she believed the station was actually breaking into soap operas and other programming less frequently than in the past. She also pointed out that people continue to go to the station’s Website to find out more about stories and to check the weather, but the fastest growth–exponential, she says–is coming from digital video, especially mobile video thanks to new hardware like the iPad.