Slut Spring?

March 14, 2012
By

Sometimes storms just appear out of nowhere, despite all the sophisticated radar at our disposal.  That was the case last year in what was known as “Arab Spring,” as first Egypt, and then other Middle East countries experienced that groundswell of change, led by gangs of people using Facebook, Twitter, and digital messaging platforms.

In the case of Rush Limbaugh, the same thing may be happening.  Digital armies have organized seemingly overnight to draw attention to Limbaugh’s comments, to directly contact his advertisers via social media, and to stir up the pot.  Now Saturday Night Live has weighed in with their Rush takeoff, and you can just ask Sarah Palin how that changes the game.

>EMAIL RECIPIENTS: CLICK HERE TO WATCH SNL RUSH LIMBAUGH VIDEO<

Yet, if you read the industry trades last week – as well as many news commentators and columnists – most were singing out of the same hymnal:

Rush loves this stuff.

His ratings will go up.

This will blow over.

He’ll come back bigger than ever.

All of these comments scream at me that none of these people understand what has happened to our culture in just the past three years when it comes to social media and the changing role of the consumer as power broker.

After getting screwed by banks, politicians, mortgage companies, and other institutions, regular folks are realizing there is power in their thumbs or by moving a mouse that can mobilize huge friend and follower networks of like minded people.  Whether it’s an auto mechanic who screws you, a drywall guy who doesn’t get the job done, or a restaurant that provides crappy service, consumers now have an outlet and, more importantly, a means of fighting back.

We have long discussed that the power of a personal recommendation (or its opposite) trumps all the advertising and marketing a brand may do.  Social media amplifies the relationship between a business, a celebrity, or an institution and the people who patronize them.  It can work both ways – Facebook and Twitter can make or break a company or a star.  And how many big names – from Anthony Weiner to J.C. Corcoran – have lost their jobs due to social media faux pas over the past year?

In Limbaugh’s case, he’s been on the edge for years now, riding that controversial line that fuels his ratings but incenses large portions of the rest of the population.  “Slutgate” has literally opened up the floodgates.  And remember that the most offended in this affair are women – no small group of influential consumers who are by the way, the most active and savvy when it comes to social media.

As for the Cumulus “opportunity” that you may have read about, you can bet your old cart machines they were going to slot in Huckabee anyway, well before Rush insulted Sandra Fluke.  Limbaugh’s verbal flogging simply provides Cumulus with cover and excuses for both advertisers and listeners as to why they’re removing an insulting, controversial host, and replacing him with a more religious, civil version.  Now instead of cavalierly disappointing hundreds of thousands of audience members, they can rationalize their decision by blaming it all on Limbaugh.

We shouldn’t be surprised by anything that happens here.  Rush could still survive this social onslaught, or he might take his millions and just leave the radio casino, or the advertiser (actually consumer) backlash could force Premiere to take him off the air.

If you’re thinking that he simply waits this out and wins, you may be showing a lack of understanding and respect for the impact of social media – and the new power of the audience.  The relationship between consumer and media outlet has been forever changed whether broadcasters acknowledge their loss of control or not.

It may turn out to be a Slut Spring after all.

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17 Responses to Slut Spring?

  1. Michael Seltzer on March 14, 2012 at 10:27 AM

    I for one hope it blows over. What Rush said was wrong and he apologized. However, there are so many examples of other commentators, comedians and the like – who have made similarly obnoxious and inflammatory comments and the left is particularly guilty and there’s rarely any backlash. I do believe that social media has changed the game and they can keep the heat on and force Premier or Rush to a place where there’s little choice. However, freedom of speech prevails here and Rush is a big target simply because he’s on the right and because his ratings and popularity make him attractive. Imus and others have suffered similarly and very short-term. However, I hope Rush can manage without a hiatus and I hope Premier can withstand the onslaught.

    • Fred Jacobs
      Fred Jacobs on March 14, 2012 at 11:37 AM

      We will see, Mike. But I believe that in 2012, history is less important than ever. The social tools that consumers have available have given them a powerful voice. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Crash on March 14, 2012 at 1:04 PM

    Ask Gilbert how he feels about the impact of social media and his former Aflac duck gig. We are months away from those silent, shy types waking up to the authority and power they now have with a little creativity and perseverance on Facebook, etc. The ‘we know best’ management mentality died in 1996. Man, when will we bow to the obvious?

    • Fred Jacobs
      Fred Jacobs on March 14, 2012 at 1:43 PM

      Crash, the keyword is “disruptive.” The audience has a social voice and they’re using it. Are broadcasters listening? (Advertisers apparently are.) thanks for commenting.

  3. Dick Taylor on March 14, 2012 at 1:10 PM

    Freedom of Speech is not the same as Freedom of Ad Supported Speech. Bill Maher was kicked off of ad supported television and has found a home on paid TV. George Carlin (when he was alive)did not make his income with ad supported free speech, but through paid concert venues, paid recordings and HBO type appearances. Let us not confuse them. Advertisers have the right to spend their dollars where they feel they will get the best return on their investment. And Rush has the right to say what he feels. Let’s not confuse things.

    • Fred Jacobs
      Fred Jacobs on March 14, 2012 at 1:48 PM

      Dick, your premise is correct. Rush is using the public airwaves and the public is making itself heard. How advertisers and broadcasters react to this rapidly changing reality is at the heart of this controversy. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

  4. Gil Peters on March 15, 2012 at 11:27 AM

    I am a very late comer to the social media. But my opinion is pretty much the same. Yes, there is power in social media, but there are no restraints, no editors, no responsibility. People can get on social media and destroy people with a concerted campaign of hate. Just ask the parents of teenage girls who have killed themselves over this stuff.
    So, before we get all agog over what people say on social media, we need to be a little more concerned about the truth.
    Yes, Rush is on the “public airwaves”. He does not, however, own any radio stations. Whether or not to run his program is strictly the decision of the station owners. Rush brings in advertisers to their stations, and if some of them cancel their ads because of the ridiculous slut tirade, they’ll have others who want the exposure.
    Where is the outcry over Howard Stern asking women to take off their shirts and “show em”? Oh, that’s right. That’s why he’s on satellite where no one listens.
    the marketplace will decide. But before we go in over our heads about social media, lets ride this out for a while, and see if it becomes a balanced social media or just the tool of those who can rally the emotionally charged texters and tweeters.

    • Fred Jacobs
      Fred Jacobs on March 15, 2012 at 11:39 AM

      Gil, points all well taken. I was not defending the social media zealots but pointing out that it’s different this time. In the past (and yes, this includes Stern and others), disputes and misunderstandings were solved by station managers meeting with offended parties. It’s all public now, and social media allows consumers to have a seat at the table. How this plays out remains to be seen, but I see a sense of fairness eventually rise to the top in social – both parties and idealogies are well represented there as you know. Appreciate you taking the time to comment and read our blog.

  5. Rick Brancadora on March 15, 2012 at 7:07 PM

    Rush will do just fine. As a matter of fact, the Establishment press is
    attempting to feed this flame. Its not working. I suggest that most people
    in America see through the left-right paradigm and suggest that the puppetmasters above all of this realize that the real power of social
    media is exposing “The Order” for whom they are and what they are about.
    They established the “left-right paradigm” as a playtoy for the little people.
    However social media has exposed their schemes. Doubtless those on the left would vouch to admit sizeable “editorial control and editing polcies” when
    creating different meanings for the spoken word. As a matter of fact, the more the Establishment left fans the Rush discourse, the more they are driving the independents into the conservative camp. They’re in a tizz because they’re feeling the “blowback” effect.

    • Fred Jacobs
      Fred Jacobs on March 15, 2012 at 7:42 PM

      These things have a way of sorting themselves out. Thanks for taking the time to chime in, Rick.

  6. Michael Dalfonzo on March 17, 2012 at 11:50 AM

    This is another example of many broadcasters putting their collective heads in the sand and hoping that things will go back to the way they were before social media, streaming audio and mobile devices started taking over their listeners time and attention. There is no way to put the genie back in the bottle. As an industry we need to wake up and embrace the brave new world or risk being left in the past. Look at the newspaper business, they realized, perhaps too late, that they needed to jump on the digital bandwagon. It took the loss of most of their classified ad business to wake them up. What will it take to wake radio up?

    • Crash on March 17, 2012 at 12:06 PM

      Amen! The leaders in the radio industry are doing their best to figure it out. But some of the old blood is a few years away from retiring, just marking time with no real vested interest in traditional radio’s future. But they won’t admit it aloud.

      • Fred Jacobs
        Fred Jacobs on March 17, 2012 at 1:57 PM

        These are tough, transition times for all of us. We are challenged every day to keep up and understand how change impacts us. Radio needs to be more proactive rather than reactive but yes, we’re getting there. Thanks, Andy.

    • Fred Jacobs
      Fred Jacobs on March 17, 2012 at 1:58 PM

      Spot-on, Michael. We often point to the newsppaper industry has radio’s canary in the coal mine. What mistakes have they made? What seems to be working? And what can we learn? But as you so aptly point out, there’s no going back. Appreciate you taking the time to comment.

  7. Steve Burgess on March 19, 2012 at 9:08 AM

    And – why on earth would anyone want to go back? These are very exciting times to be involved in media – things are changing on a daily basis.

    Embrace the change!

    • Fred Jacobs
      Fred Jacobs on March 19, 2012 at 9:57 AM

      We do indeed live in interesting times! Thanks for commenting.

  8. Rush To Tweet? | jacoBLOG on March 20, 2012 at 6:12 AM

    [...] Rush To Tweet? March 20, 2012By Fred Jacobs Tweet In the midst of the maelstrom of the Rush Limbaugh controversy, there has been a lot of back and forth about some of the tactics employed by the “Boycott Rush” movement, and other groups that have used the power of social media to mount an attack on the embattled host… and his advertisers.  We examined the impact of this campaign in a well-read post this past Wednesday (“Slut Spring?”). [...]

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