Audio is the unsung hero of content marketing and provides businesses and organisations with significant opportunities to reach and communicate with their desired audience groups.
While the bulk of audio currently is long-form episodic podcasts people can access via their device of choice whenever and wherever they wish, there are a number of ways in which brands can tap into the power of audio-based content, including audiograms (visual audio clips) and social audio.
However, in this article, I’m just going to focus on long-form podcasting.
Podcasting is episodic audio content, usually published on a regular schedule, for example once per week or fortnight, or in the case of John Lee Dumas’s Entrepreneur On Fire podcast, daily.
Podcasting was originally named to reflect the fact episodes were listened to via the Apple iPod. The power of the medium comes from being available to 800+ million iTunes accounts. However, in recent times podcast distribution has expanded considerably to include the likes of Google Play, Stitcher Radio, audioBoom, Acast, Spotify and iHeartRadio.
Podcasting requires an audio file to first be uploaded and published to a podcast hosting platform such as Podbean, Libsyn, Omny Studio, audioBoom, Whooshkaa or Buzzsprout. You can’t publish directly to iTunes; it pulls an RSS feed from the podcast host, so whenever you publish an episode, it is automatically pushed to iTunes and other audio aggregators such as Stitcher (for which you need to set up manually) and Acast.
Successful ongoing podcasts tend to be published to a regular schedule so that subscribers know when it’s available and can plan their listening. If listening to your podcast is part of someone’s weekly, fortnightly or daily habit, it’s a very privileged position to be in, especially in today’s media-saturated world where people have infinite choice when it comes to content.
Limited run series
Some podcasters have taken to publishing a limited run of episodes in the run-up to, say, launching a new product.
Two excellent examples are Murder & Mayhem by the Australian Writers’ Centre, and Virtual Freedom by Chris Ducker. Both of these podcasts were geared around building anticipation and ultimately sales for a particular product (an online course and a book, respectively).
These podcasts are still published regularly, but only for a set period of time. Ducker’s limited run podcast only ran for 25 episodes but that was enough to kickstart interest in his new book of the same name.
GE has also produced two short-run podcasts – The Message and LifeAfter – while in Australia, the Victoria Police produced a six-episode podcast series called Unspeakable to help improve the community’s understanding of sexual crime as part of National Child Protection Week.
Podcasting has come a long way since 2004 when BBC journalist Ben Hammersley reportedly invented the term.
In the early days of the medium, it was a bit of an effort to subscribe to podcasts. Firstly you needed access to an iPod player, then you needed to connect it to your computer to access iTunes in order to subscribe to individual podcasts, plus you needed to do this every time you wanted to update episodes! It was all a bit of a pain.
Today, however, all you need is a mobile phone or tablet device and a ‘podcatcher’ app of your choice, whether it’s the free ‘Podcasts’ app for iOS or ‘Google Play Music’ for Android, or any one of a number of independently developed free or paid apps, such as:
- Pocket Casts (free)
- Overcast (paid)
- Podbay.fm (free)
- Downcast (paid)
- Castro (paid)
- Acast (free)
According to Edison Research’s The Podcast Consumer 2017 study, 67 million Americans – or 24 per cent of the population over the age of 12 – listened to a podcast “in the last month”. This figure drops to 15 per cent, or 42 million Americans, who listened to a podcast “in the last week”.
Of the US monthly podcast listeners:
- Nearly half are aged 35 and over
- 86 per cent listen to the entire podcast episode, or ‘most of the podcast’
- 45 per cent have a household income of $75,000+ (16 per cent earns $150,000+ p.a.)
I’m bullish on podcasting for a number of reasons:
SIMPLICITY AND PORTABILITY – Podcasts are super-easy to listen to ‘on the go’. Once you subscribe to a particular podcast, episodes are automatically pushed to your device (via your podcatcher app of choice) as soon as they are published. Just plug in your headphones and listen while you’re walking, working out, riding public transport, chilling out, or even cooking the evening meal.
GROWING POPULARITY – The trend is your friend! Podcasting continues to grow in terms of both listenership and production. Interestingly, this growth is not of the ‘hockey stick’ variety often seen in social media (for example, YouTube), but it is more steady and sustainable. People who listen to podcasts tend to listen to a lot of podcasts, which suggests once people discover them, there’s a good chance they become hooked. This indicates plenty of upside for the medium.
IN-CAR PRESENCE – Further to point two, car manufacturers are rolling out in-car bluetooth connectivity that allows people to tune into podcasts like they would their favourite radio shows. This has the potential to be a game-changer over the longer term.
GREAT FOR NICHES – Podcasting is perfect for individuals (personal brands), companies and NGOs that want to create a show around a particular topic. Indeed, it is probably preferable to go ‘deep’ versus ‘wide’ when it comes to subject matter as you’ll attract an audience that’s specifically interested in that topic, and if that works for a PR perspective for your brand, all good! It also means you need to be acutely aware of the qualitative versus quantitative argument; podcasting is not commercial radio, so don’t fall for the trap of comparing apples with oranges as both mediums serve different purposes.
INTIMATE EXPERIENCE – Further to the point above (as well as point one): Listening to a podcast through your headphones, week in-week out, allows the listener to build an affinity with the podcast host/s. If they’re tuning in regularly, they will over time feel as if they ‘know’ those running the show, and this connection has the potential to spill over into social media if the hosts are open and accessible on channels such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook. Again, this is where we need to think somewhat counter-intuitively. The temptation for some brands is to become super-slick like a commercial radio show. However, this process has the potential to strip away a degree of authenticity that would draw us in, in the first place. Some of the longest-running and most popular niche podcasts are quite amateurish compared to radio, but that’s part of their charm. That doesn’t mean you can’t be professional – you should always aspire to a certain level of production quality as well as provide solid, interesting content (the latter especially is a given). Personally, I have never not listened to a podcast because of the quality of the production, and it has definitely varied over the journey of me listening to podcasts. But I have tuned out when the content ceased to be interesting or relevant for me.
Interestingly, according to the RAJAR Midas Audio Survey, of the people in the UK who consume podcasts, 91 per cent of content listened to is speech-based. This statistic further highlights the advantage of podcasting in terms of providing listeners with an intimate experience and an opportunity to build affinity with a regular audience.
Powered by passion
Podcasting was once the province of passionate individuals and progressive entrepreneurs who latched on early to the medium’s not-so-insignificant potential. Some examples include:
- Tim Reid (Small Business Big Marketing)
- Mitch Joel (Six Pixels of Separation)
- Joanna Penn (The Creative Penn)
- Pat Flynn (Smart Passive Income)
- James Altucher (The James Altucher Show)
- Jay Baer’s Social Pros Podcast
Pat Flynn from Smart Passive Income podcast
In more recent times, however, a growing number of bigger businesses have waded into the virtual (air)waves, in turn providing further validation for the potential of podcasting for brands.
Some examples are:
- eBay (Open For Business)
- Umpqua Bank (Open Account)
- Slack (Work In Progress)
- The Intercontinental (Stories of the Intercontinental Life)
- Virgin Atlantic (The Venture)
- Genea (Modern Babies)
- United Technologies (Race to 9 Billion)
And here are some examples of smaller business that have produced a podcast as part of their content marketing efforts:
- So You Want to be a Writer – Valerie Khoo & Allison Tait, Australian Writers’ Centre
- The Science of Social Media – Buffer
- Flying Solo Podcast – Flying Solo
- The Bottom Line – Evolved Finance
- Brand Newsroom – Lush Digital Media
Of course, public broadcasters are doing a fine job with podcasting, including the ABC in Australia, BBC in the UK, and NPR in the US, the latter best known for its audio-on-demand hits such as This American Life, Serial and Planet Money.
Podcasting allows for numerous formats. Here are some of the most popular:
- INTERVIEW – Where a solo host interviews a guest; this is probably the most enduring of all podcast formats and can be very effective. When done well, listeners feel like they’re sitting in on a casual conversation. A great way to develop professional networks and influence through building relationships with expert guests. CLASSIC EXAMPLES – Six Pixels of Separation (Mitch Joel) and The James Altucher Show (James Altucher)
- RIFF STRAIGHT INTO MICROPHONE – This is when the host simply riffs into the microphone on a particular topic. If you’re interested in the subject – and the presenter is an expert who has interesting stories, and knowledge and insights to share – this format can work extremely well. If the goal is to build the personal brand of the presenter and position them as a genuine expert in their field, you could do worse than opt for this format. That said, it requires considerable preparation on the part of the presenter as it isn’t easy to riff into a microphone in a focused way, without waffling all over the place. CLASSIC EXAMPLES – Problogger (Darren Rowse) and Online Marketing Made Easy (Amy Porterfield).
- TWO-UP DISCUSSION – This is when two hosts discuss a particular topic. If the pair can maintain conversational banter while at the same time be able to get into some meaty discussion about a particular topic, it can make for compelling listening. If you decide to at any stage to interview an expert guest, this format also works well. CLASSIC EXAMPLES – PR Leads (featuring Dionne Lew and my good self) and Content Sells (Suzi Dafnis and Michelle Falzon)
- PANEL (3+) DISCUSSION – A little harder to produce unless the recording takes place with all three participants in the same room. If there is a bit of ‘to and fro’ between the presenters and they don’t keep tripping over each other verbally, it can be quite an effective format. The key to making it work is a solid level of chemistry between the hosts. It doesn’t mean they have to play ‘happy families’ – indeed, a bit of tension and differing of points of view keeps things interesting – but if they don’t have an conversational rapport, it can be hard to listen to. The same applies to the two-header format. CLASSIC EXAMPLES – Brand Newsroom (James Lush, Sarah Mitchell and Nic Hayes) and Inside PR (Gini Dietrich, Joseph Thornley and Martin Waxman).
- STORYTELLING – Audio content can be produced in creative ways, such as the style of narrative storytelling popularised by NPR’s This American Life. This format takes a lot of extra work in terms of writing and production, so if you were considering going down this track, it might be more appropriate to do in seasonal short-runs. CLASSIC EXAMPLES – Claim Your Fame (Andrew Davis) and StartUp (Alex Blumberg, Gimlet Media).
Podcasting requires a bit of commitment to be successful in terms of organisation and technical production. It will take time to build momentum, so don’t expect immediate results.
But the benefits – including building affinity with a growing, loyal audience – can far outweigh the effort invested.