Twas the Hype Before Twilight: BlogTalkRadio Hits Bentonville

Who knew that crude and geeky online bulletin boards would breed the blog and then spawn MySpace, Facebook and the micro-blogging hub, Twitter? The explosion of social media has enabled and egged on previously-disconnected throngs eager to share opinions, pics, academic thought, and Battlestar Galactica spoilers. Most of the audio-visual content in this dynamic world has existed in a non-live, time-shifted spectrum . . . until now. Enter, BlogTalkRadio www.blogtalkradio.com, a platform that gives voice to brands and influencers while facilitating dynamic real-time interaction among those they seek to sway.

Alan Levy, founder of BlogTalkRadio, presented his evolutionary application here in Bentonville this week as part of the Bentonville Chamber’s ongoing vendor-focused education www.bbvchamber.com. It wasn’t always bleeding-edge for Mr. Levy, whose vision started coming into focus two years ago, when he began “broadcasting” to a devoted audience of two (Mom and Sis). Not everyone was enamored of his holding forth; however (according to Levy, his wife has continued to boycott his radio programs to this day). Undeterred, he went on to forge an entirely new way to publish, consume, and share information through live interviews with everyone from industry experts to the occasional Sasquatch devotee (yes – Sasquatch shows are apparently alive, well and now stalking through the virtual “forest”)!

The upshot is that BlogTalkRadio’s platform takes information sharing from static podcasting to interactive conversations requiring only a phone and computer. The key criteria that Mr. Levy’s set forth early-on for the application were 1) anyone would be able to do it; 2)you could participate without downloading anything (I found this most novel, though not until he pointed it out); 3)people would be able to call into hosts with questions. Easy!

BlogTalkRadio now boasts more than 10,000 active hosts (thankfully, Mr. Levy didn’t mind passing the mic) and, a far cry from that first audience, more than two million visitors, one million unique, join every month to listen in. More listeners means more content . . . BTR feeds the monster via the 150-200 new shows in 75 categories that pop up every day.  Mr. Levy characterized his network as “the long tail at work” and the stats bear this out (we know that the long tail doesn’t ALWAYS work; sometimes it just stays long, thin and unprofitable!).

Major brands, such as Pepsico, Century 21 and Walmart (more on that later) have discovered the value of these live online conversations and are quickly leveraging their own branded channels on the network. There they can engage consumers, test new products, and build loyalty, all in the hope of achieving social media’s Holy Grail: going viral. 

Just as many have touted examples of Twitter’s truly useful application as an information lifeline during natural disasters, according to Mr. Levy, BlogTalkRadio is being used by a young Army soldier embedded in Afghanistan to broadcast his daily experiences . . . and by his bosses at the Pentagon who see it as a vital link for disseminating medical information. The reach is unlimited and certainly leaves plenty of room for creativity.

We’ve blogged and tweeted before about Walmart’s serious plays in emerging media (they aren’t dabbling, folks) . . . the retailer’s recent partnership with BTR to promote its Twilight DVD launch serves as a riveting case study on bringing promotional potential to full fruition at retail (and the movie and retail biz could use a bit of that right about now, doncha think?).

Whether you liked the movie or not, it is a bona fide sensation with the tween/teen set (and their guilty pleasured parents) with fandom unmatched by any property in recent years. Not leaving anything to chance (who? Walmart?), the BTR/Walmart duo turned the heat up on Twitter www.twitter.com, Facebook www.facebook.com fan Nings www.ning.com, and even the Walmart Elevenmoms www.elevenmoms.com to get the word out to any warm blooded connected teen and their mother about the live March 9th interview with one of the move’s stars, Taylor Lautner (that would be Jake . . . duh!). A mind-blowing 27,000 listeners around the world logged into the show and more than 46,000 additional listeners have accessed the program since (BTR projects that totals will eventually exceed 100,000). Industry pubs report that preorders for the Twilight DVD have set new records and Walmart claims a 250% increase in traffic to its website in the wake of the blitz. Um, probably not a stretch to assume that Walmart’s DVD sales for the movie have exceeded expectations and that those higher margin licensed product sales will provide a most pleasant afterglow. I’m thinking hotter than Robert Pattison (k . . . for those of you on the space station . . . that’s Edward Cullen…the movie’s hottie hero).

On the heels of the Twilight event, you can bet that Mr. Levy and his crew will be fielding calls from retailers and brands seeking mega-boosts for the shrinking number of properties they are willing to get behind in a big way.  In the meantime, look for more from from the Walmart/BlogTalkRadio partnership, and other BTR branded networks by visiting the site http://www.blogtalkradio.com/stations.aspx

P.S.  Do I hear the sound of NMB sharing our retail ramblings and edu-events to more masses? Stay tuned to a BlogTalkRadio channel near you.
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