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Mary Nikkel Interview

Mary Nikkel
Digital Content Creator
Colorado Springs

Career Capsule: I am a freelance writer, photographer, and digital content creator with nearly ten years of experience in the music industry. In addition to work helping bands and brands tell their stories better through digital mediums, I also am the founder and editor of Christian rock website rockonpurpose.live


Mary… tell us what’s new with you … news, changes, etc?

For a long time, I’ve been trying to figure out how to take some of what I’ve learned about digital communication (and specifically social media) and offer it to others who might be able to benefit from it. The strange era of the global pandemic has been the perfect time to do this by offering consulting sessions via zoom or the phone, finally formalizing something that I’ve done informally for years. It’s been so exciting to talk to bands, brands, and professionals across this industry about how to tell their story better on social media!


Christian Radio has become very competitive… what do you do to stand out from the crowd in social marketing?

I think a key thing is to identify what makes you “you,” what services or concepts or callings really define who you are– and specifically, what you are bringing to the market that maybe nobody else is. Identifying those core values and identity markers of your brand can be challenging, but once you have those written down in really clear and defined terms, it becomes a lot easier to build a marketing strategy that serves those values. Part of what I do is work with others to help identify some aspects of their identity. 

For example: if a radio station is really passionate about reaching a younger audience, then that would drive us to focus a lot more on developing a strong Instagram presence while maybe spending less time on Facebook (since the demographic on Instagram skews younger). Whenever anyone, whether a brand or an individual, removes the burden of having to be something they are not from their shoulders, it makes it so much easier for what they are to truly shine.


What is the best social marketing advice you’ve been given? The worst?

A great piece of advice that’s coming to mind for me now is that there is value in letting silence speak for you. It can be tempting to jump into comments sections on posts to defend or argue a point. It can be tempting to need to publicly respond to controversy or criticism. But I learned early that grace always takes the high road, and there is nothing to lose and everything to gain by choosing to engage with the gold instead of wasting time and energy on the straw.

The worst advice I’ve ever been given is to focus only on catering to demographics with the most money to spend. I understand the basic principles of business. I also believe that in the work we do in Christian media, integrity and authenticity is key, and sometimes the audience who most needs to resonate with what you’re sharing is not going to be the audience that offers the biggest return on investment on paper. I will take true engagement over any other metric, any day.


What are some of the biggest mistakes you see people doing regarding their social marketing? (Radio stations or otherwise)

One of the biggest mistakes I see consistently is very simple: posting an image or a poster that is covered wall to wall in text, with a very short or non-existent image caption. Whether this happens on Facebook or Instagram, images that are more than 20% covered by text perform less well in social media platforms’ algorithms. It also can unintentionally hide information from your followers, depending on how the image crops on different devices. In some cases, it also ends up providing an unintentional barrier to anyone who is blind and using a screen reader, or to anyone with poor signal where images aren’t loading. 

It’s always best to have as little information as possible in text overlaid on an image. The caption is where details should be to make sure it’s accessible to everyone!


What is the ONE thing you must have everyday to do your job?

Choosing one is hard! My tongue-in-cheek answer would be a good cup of coffee, without which I tend to be more or less non-functional. But a more serious answer would be my iPhone. 

As more apps are developed and existing apps are updated to more detailed and powerful user interfaces, I find myself relying less on my laptop and more on my phone– which is the platform that the majority of users will be seeing social media content on anyway (according to recent data published on statista.com, 78% of Facebook users only use it on their mobile phones).


What are the hottest trends you see in social marketing for radio?

There’s been a trend to really embrace content created specifically for social media itself, totally apart from what happens on the airwaves. That could be a game or unconventional interview recorded with the artist before they’re on air. That could be a video that teases part of a full length radio show or interview. It’s often quick and quirky, and it’s always shareable. 

I believe that what that really reflects is a shift towards thinking about radio stations as a trusted source for content in general, rather than a source for broadcast content only. Stations seem to be shifting towards functioning more as media brands now as a way to work themselves into the digital space. It’s not enough to just have excellent programming on air anymore. A lot of stations are thinking about how they can fulfill the same kinds of content goals in the social media space as well. 


Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Social Marketing for Christian radio?

There is certainly a challenge and learning curve involved in having to excel at not just traditional radio marketing, but also with the rules of an entirely new digital world as well. This means that radio professionals have to be more flexible and utilize a wider range of skills than ever before. You used to be able to do one job really well, and that was enough. Now, you might have to do five jobs.

Often, they’re having to learn that new skill set while pushing back against preconceived ideas that Christian radio is by default an outdated and irrelevant concept– an idea that is definitely not telling the whole story. Sometimes the biggest challenge is simply rewriting the stereotypes. I have so much respect for everyone who is working to do just that, especially in the face of a constantly shifting landscape.  


Who are your marketing heroes and influences? And why?

This question was a great opportunity for me to reflect on who has had the most impact on how I’ve developed my own skills (as well as my own website rockonpurpose.live and its associated social media pages). One of the first names that came to mind is Switchfoot. They have really mastered the ability to create a whole experience with the way they market each album cycle. I think back to Hello Hurricane days, where the album cover tied into the stage design on the supporting tour. Or more recently, their Fantastic Traveling Music Show had incredible digital content created to market it, with tons of video, a distinct visual brand, and an incredible overall coherency between every part of the tour experience (from ticket buying to the Facebook event pages to finally sitting in your seat).

A second name that comes to mind is the charity To Write Love On Her Arms. They have also consistently offered a really striking visual brand, and all of it is purpose-driven. That really resonates with how I want to help build brands as well: all the bells and whistles of creative content exists to serve the story, and the stories that matter are the ones I want to be telling. They’ve also impressed me with their constant communications agility, morphing from MySpace days to Facebook to recent Instagram live broadcasts. That adaptability is something I want to always have in the front of my mind as a storytelling professional. 

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