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Smile 90.4FM becomes a trusted source for information in the midst of a global pandemic

As the scale and severity of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to escalate across the world, we are all being inundated with fake news and misinformation on social media and private groups, sending fear and panic rippling through communities who desperately need a reliable, credible source of news.

Smile 90.4FM’s programming style of positivity and hope in the ‘Mother City’ and their positioning as the ‘amplifying the good news’ station means that the Cape Town-based radio station are uniquely positioned and already geared to provide comfort and clarity to their community during a daunting period. This offers them the opportunity to cut through the noise and quickly establish themselves as a trusted voice at a time when the need is crucial.

A new status quo calls for new approaches

Empowered by the Fabrik suite of software applications since 2016, the station had provided their closest listeners with a mobile app in which they could send and receive direct messages with the station, as well as listen to podcasts and the live broadcast – wherever they were.

Since launch, the platform’s direct messaging functionality has helped the station become closer with their audience. With a broadcast message, all app members receive a push notification immediately alerting them about a new competition, survey or call-to-action – leading to rapid response and healthy engagement from Smile 90.4FM’s most loyal listeners. And by empowering listeners to send the station voice notes and text messages, the app gives every listener a fair shot at having their opinion heard without the burden of a big phone bill for SMSes or phone calls.

The messaging functionality within Smile’s mobile app keeps the station close to their audience
The messaging functionality within Smile’s mobile app keeps the station close to their audience

During this particular phase of uncertainty, Smile stepped up to the opportunity of being of service to their audience.

Through a dedicated messaging channel within their mobile app, they supplement news broadcasts with timely, relevant and factual COVID-19 updates that contain an added focus on the Western Cape province.

The dedicated COVID-19 channel within Smile’s mobile app
The dedicated COVID-19 channel within Smile’s mobile app

“It was imperative that we provided a credible, relevant, succinct and immediate update to the pandemic,” says Naveen Singh, Programming Manager at Smile 90.4FM. “Our main role was to ensure that we engaged, informed, entertained, and emphathised with our audience across all platforms.”

Powered by Fabrik’s secure, private platform, each registered member of the app is automatically added to this channel and flagged to be notified whenever a new announcement is received about the COVID-19 pandemic. Individual members are able to exit the channel of their own accord, or mute the channel if they prefer not to receive notifications.

By setting the channel as ‘read-only,’ the station can post streams of news-related updates and links to useful resources, while keeping the noise of well-meaning community members forwarding other types of info that may not have been fact-checked prior to posting.

Examples of messaging from the station via the COVID-19 channel
Examples of messaging from the station via the COVID-19 channel

To get the content out rapidly to the audiences across their various digital properties – the app, Facebook and Twitter – the News team make use of Fabrik’s Smashboard member engagement dashboard to easily disseminate breaking news or share pertinent announcements from live national addresses in real-time.

A key iteration in Smile’s live on-air programming is the broadcast of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s nationwide addresses which are also streamed live via the Fabrik-enabled app an website streams, as well as interesting daily segments on Coronavirus-related issues that may affect their listeners. Those segments are made available immediately after broadcast as podcasts in the app and on the website.

In addition, the station has incorporated daily on-air calls to action into every half-hourly news bulletin as well as daily promotions prompting listeners to subscribe to the new COVID-19 channel along with information about the COVID-19 hotline and hygiene practices.

And to bring as much awareness as possible to how their audience can stay safe, the advertising billboards that appear when listeners first open the app are being dedicated to educating their community about protective measures related to the virus.

Does being ‘of service’ improve engagement?

To monitor how the consistent app-based COVID-19 updates are being received, the station has been tracking their audience’s response in real time via Fabrik’s Metrics dashboard – a reporting and analytics tool that empowers radio stations to view and monitor live engagement data.

What Smile observed is that more of the station’s existing app members are opening the app more often, drawn in by the need to be kept informed by a trusted voice in their own community.

Since the COVID-19 Updates channel was launched on the 12th of March, an average of 5 updates have been sent to members of the channel every day, keeping them informed on the effects of the pandemic on local communities and health authorities without becoming a source of spam.

Over the course of the ensuing weeks, the team noticed interesting correlations between the ongoing updates and the frequency with which new and existing members have been engaging with the app.

In March, the app was used almost 4 times more than in the same month a year ago by more than twice the number of members and, notably, the number of individuals who opened the app over 100 times – the station’s most loyal app-based audience - increased by 57%.

The overall app audience continues to increase by hundreds of new members every week since the commencement of the amplified COVID-19 coverage – demonstrating a sustained appetite for quality, factual, real-time news notifications.

A graph indicating the increase in the station’s daily app audience over the last 90 days
A graph indicating the increase in the station’s daily app audience over the last 90 days

What this could imply is that new app members are responding to an increase in on-air or social media calls-to-action or that the station’s existing app membership are sharing the app with their friends and family specifically to receive trusted, consistent COVID-19 updates.

Come for the news, stay for the community

In correlation with the increase in app engagement, stats show that the number of live stream plays increased over this period.

It seems that, while reading up on the latest COVID-19 news, more people are digitally ‘tuning in’ to what’s being played on-air – a significant outtake.

A graph indicating the increase in the station’s daily live-streaming plays via their app over the last 90 days
A graph indicating the increase in the station’s daily live-streaming plays via their app over the last 90 days

It’s undeniable that the global COVID-19 pandemic the world faces with has left many disheartened and searching for clarity in a confusing landscape of misinformation and fake news.

Smile 90.4FM’s early investment in a multi-channel approach has empowered the station to rapidly surround their community with accurate, verified news and educational information about the pandemic, supported by the effective but simple-to-use messaging and audience engagement functionality within their Fabrik suite of services.

What’s more, the station was able to track the impact of their ongoing COVID-19 updates in real time using Fabrik’s data visualising tools, which provided them a glimpse into the effectiveness of their initiatives as well as the impetus they needed to pull the community together through this challenging period.


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