Despite a recent external audit revealing that listenership figures for two of South Africa’s prominent online radio stations – 2oceansvibe Radio and Ballz Visual Radio – had been inflated, marketing decision makers ignore these platforms at their peril, as the potential for growth among consumers is still significantly untapped.

This is according to John Ginsberg, marketing director of international multi-channel marketing company Ensight, who says that – despite the low figures reported – there is vast multi-channel consumer engagement potential via online radio platforms.

“Many online radio stations expose their listeners to a number of channels in addition to their audio stream, including social media, e-mail and mobile,” he says. “Ballz in particular engages visually as well as through audio, with live video streaming and a dedicated YouTube channel, offering a far more immersive user experience.

“Also, the social media audience of some of these radio stations on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, including the personal social streams of presenters, far outnumber their actual listenership and presents opportunities for clever local marketers to make use of,” says Ginsberg.

He adds that, more often than not, discussions continue on social media platforms after the shows have ended and this is where marketers should be discussing their brands. “Marketers simply cannot afford to dismiss this form of consumer engagement during its period of infancy. Online radio is a growing medium globally.”

Latest international figures prove this with a recent report by TargetSpot revealing that 42% of US households with an Internet connection listen to Internet radio. They also reported a steep decline in broadcast radio listenership among adults between the ages of 18 and 24.

The report also stated that there was an increase in Internet radio usage of 87% and 22% via tablets and smartphones respectively. “Most interesting to note is that 60% of respondents reported visiting social network sites while listening to Internet radio,” says Ginsberg. “This is a trend that South African consumers are sure to follow with local Facebook and Twitter users currently sitting at 4,9-million and 1,1-million respectively – and still growing.”

Ginsberg adds that consumers enjoy freedom of choice, and Internet radio offers this luxury through the elimination of geographic location restrictions and a plethora of stations available at any given time. “With the reduction in broadband Internet costs and the rapid development of devices capable of  audio streaming, Internet radio will soon become a viable alternative to traditional radio stations.

“Most online radio stations globally service a niche consumer segment by catering to their specific interests such as sports and lifestyle, or a certain period of music such as the 80s. In doing so they also form specific communities, making these target segments particularly attractive to marketers who aim to reach today’s tech-savvy, multi-channel consumer.”

He advises marketers to carefully consider the potential impact of online radio stations and their audiences when next devising consumer engagement strategies. “Online radio can be a significant platform in a multi-channel marketing strategy whereby local companies can boost their brand awareness and create meaningful and tailored consumer engagement opportunities across channels and devices.”