The SPI Files: Ashley Barcum, OETA

By Amy Baroch, Station Products & Innovation

Last week we took a hiatus from The SPI Files so we could eat some turkey. This week we are recharged and raring to go with a visit to Oklahoma where we catch up with Ashley Barcum at The Oklahoma Network (OETA).

Who are you and what do you do at OETA?
I am Ashley Barcum, Director of Communications at OETA. I started as the public information manager, but my role has grown to include marketing/promotions, media/public relations, brand management, web services, legislative outreach, community engagement, print design... And I just started producing a local show. So, I get to wear many different, creative, challenging and (typically) fun hats.

How long have you been at OETA?
Six lovely years!

Before OETA, what did you do?
PR for the Oklahoma Society of CPAs – the perfect warm up to a career in public media, right?

If you didn't work in public media, what would you be doing?
Certainly a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. Or a kindergarten teacher.

Explain OETA in Twitter-style, 140 characters or less.
Oklahoma’s statewide public media network provides engaging educational content that enables all ages to discover and explore the world around them.

We noticed that OETA currently has a survey link posted to the station's home page. We love that you are asking your users what they want and how OETA can "meet their online needs." What was your strategy around the survey and have you learned anything surprising?
It [has] been a couple of years since we launched our current site and over the last year it became clear that there are certain front end services/features and backend solutions that needed to either be developed and integrated into our current site, or included in a new overall web strategy and site. Plus, with all of the solutions PBS Interactive (PBSi) has been rolling out, we wanted to maximize the benefits of integrating with PBSi products and services, something our current web structure does not allow. We put an internal committee together to begin rethinking our web presence. During committee meetings, I realized that staff wanted many different things for many different reasons. But really, it comes down to what external users want, what they expect and need from us online. How can we make a compelling and useful web experience? We wanted to learn how/why people are using the site, what they want from OETA online, what do they not want – we want to streamline, yet expand our services and our users should define that. When asked what service or functionality they would like added to the site, a majority of users requested a live stream of our programming. I knew the desire was out there, but I didn’t know it topped our users’ wish list.

OETA also does a good job promoting social media. Any best practices you want to share with the system so that other stations can have the same success?
Because I don’t have a paid media budget, I rely heavily on social media. I like to use links so I can track if the posts are hitting the mark with our followers. I’m a big fan of Facebook tagging and retweeting – especially when it comes to pushing local content and initiatives, it seems to compel our partners to do the same for us, plus we get instant access to more social media users. I also love the recommended posts that PBS sends out each week. These are incredibly helpful, especially in a time crunch. It helps keep our promotional priorities inline with the system, plus they usually provide great upfront content that I believe gets our followers pumped and drives tune-in. When in doubt, I always look to see what PBS is saying on Facebook and Twitter. Then I respectfully, gratefully steal it. :)

Editor Note: "Like" OETA on Facebook and follow on Twitter at @OETAOK

What is the next big thing for OETA?
The past year has been quite a transition, with many changes required to absorb pretty severe state budget cuts. But, we’ve continued to put out excellent, award-winning local content and our quality has not faltered – however tight the purse strings have become. I think the next big thing for us will be beyond the broadcast – embracing the multi-platform world and maximizing the opportunities that lie in reaching media consumers on as many platforms as possible. We have the content, now it’s time to dive deep into the ever-evolving media landscape.

What do you see as the future for public media and how does OETA fit into that vision?
I love that content is becoming more and more integrated across the system. I see the local-national content integration beyond the broadcast as an incredibly powerful service to viewers/users. We are already seeing how powerful this system-wide content partnership can be with the launch of PBS Learning Media. I think it has great potential to grow into THE go-to resource for K-16 educators. I know in our state, as budget cuts continue to chip away at the classroom, these tools and services can fill a dire need. OETA has a wealth of Oklahoma arts, history and news and public affairs content that we hope to pair with lesson plans and post to the site, then get into the hands of our teachers. Although some in the media industry fear the cluttered landscape and how it affects their bottom line, we know public media can only benefit from these new opportunities and our content and services are well-suited to engage any user, regardless of how they consume content. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

And – just for fun – a few quick-fire questions:

iPhone or Android? iPhone
Dogs or cats? Pugs!
Blog platform of choice? Blogspot
Elmo or Grover? My Dad’s name (although he goes by Michael) is Grover, so I have to go with that furry blue monster.
I am currently listening to… Otis Redding
I am currently reading… Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
I’m currently watching… When I’m not watching PBS, all things Bill Murray.
Most overused phrase: “Brilliant!”

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