That’s what someone said to me recently. They said I need to ‘get into’ podcasts, like it’s a big fad. Or like a nightclub. Or a taxi. Whatever happens, I will need to get into it.
But they’re not a fad at all; podcasts have been a staple part of our online diet for around a decade now, plated up, generally speaking, as downloadable, audible vol au vents – soundbites, literally. They’re typically short broadcasts that aren’t really something to ‘get into’ insofar as they’re something that just happens, in an instant, satiating an appetite for a quick listen while you’re on the bus. It’s the same principle with videos of cats playing the keyboard (is it testament to how fast all this digital stuff’s evolving that that pop culture reference is painfully outdated?).
They’re quick, satisfying, unexpectedly delectable, and moreish
The re-birth of podcasts
Many say podcasts died and have only just enjoyed a resurgence, which I guess is sort of true, though I’d argue they never really went away. Like YouTube did for TV so did podcasts for talk radio; some episodes (emphasis there on ‘some’ – not every podcast is a hit just as it’s not every cat video that goes viral) have been steadily gaining thousands of followers. But the world of podcasts just seems to go through phases. On YouTube you can often recognise a new phase by the introduction of a cat into an unexpected situation, like playing the keyboard, being grumpy or wearing a slice of white bread round its neck. Then after all that everybody started chucking ice cubes over their heads. That said, I don’t know where we are now.
The concept of serialised podcasts is nothing new either (the first podcast novel was serialised in 2005), but it’s now becoming more ‘the done thing’. Where once the podcast gave, for instance, comedians a quick bitesize promotional tool, now it’s a wholly more official affair. Clearly the onset of super smartphones has had considerable impact on the way we consume podcasts – removing that middleman between download and listen – while the ability to publish your own podcasts on iTunes resulted in the innovative iOS podcast app. In 2013 it was reported that the biggest podcast producers had seen record download numbers, passing 1 billion on iTunes, and on average, according to industry insider RawVoice, podcasts reach 65 million unique listeners per month.
Serial, the insanely popular true crime investigation series, also probably had a lot to do with the sudden need to ‘get into’ podcasts, becoming as it has the latest must-do of interwebland. And other serialised ‘casts have followed a similar line of docu-soap. An unexpected hit of recent times is StartUp, a serialised podcast of a guy ironically trying to start a podcasting company.
Keep it fresh and simple
But while people ‘get into’ podcasts, may I suggest, Mr Content Marketer, that you get slightly out of them. This is key. They are a storyteller’s dream but their niche status means they should play more of a support role to your other content marketing efforts. Also, 70% of podcast content is hosted on iTunes and, to be honest, Apple doesn’t really have much interest in making the metrics too public as it doesn’t really profit from that bit of iTunes, so as a measurable force the podcast ain’t the best.
Furthermore, for marketing purposes you’re not going to produce another Serial and it’s not worth trying.
Podcasts reach 65 million unique listeners per month
Quick, fleeting engagement
The good podcast doesn’t need to be these things – people get quickly engaged for 15 or so minutes and then become quickly disengaged again, so play to that strength. Getting back to the soundbite roots of the podcast, you realise that actually what you want is for someone to get a quick whiff of your brand story while they’re sitting at a bus stop. It’s reaching an audience that might otherwise have not given you the time of day, if nothing else through sheer convenience.
An interesting stat from Social Media Examiner last year reveals that only 6% of marketers podcast, while 33% planned to increase their audio output in 2014.
So where usually we’d tell you to be unexpected and produce something standout, truth be told, you’re already there. Podcasts are unexpected. They are a non-traditional form of online marketing and digital advertisers – currently siphoning a wave of advertising revenue away from TV – recognise that by their high conversion rates. Indeed, Erik Diehn, Business Development VP at Midroll Media, a podcast advertising network, only a couple of months ago mentioned that they were beginning to talk with Fortune 500 companies about ad options on podcasts, which is telling.
Things are on the up in the podcast world, and now is a good time try some stuff out, see what works for others and how you can emulate their model. The nice thing is you don’t really need to invest much as long as you get some decent sound recording equipment.
Only 6% of marketers podcast
Podcasts in B2B and recruitment
Simple things are just recording a conversation – say with a thought leader or someone in your industry you admire – I see this as particularly useful in the B2B space where soundbites from the experts could have serious impact and soundbites in general are few and far between. Getting your core personality and tone of voice across are easily and effectively done audibly. And if you do have a recorded conversation with an expert, what’s to say you don’t repurpose all that recorded content into blog fodder?
In recruitment marketing, the applications in terms of recording employee testimonials that burst with enthusiasm are endless.
Or how about in internal comms, where a newsletter podcast could take the form an internal radio show? Give your employees the company headlines over audio in an easy-to-digest format that took you all of 15 minutes to produce. Bang. Engagement. Done.
Podcasts aren’t being used very much, it’s not a crowded place, so now is a good time to try them out. But it’s better not to see podcasts as this all-singing, all-dancing behemoth that one must have extraordinary creative skills in order to tame.
Rather, recognise the soundbite potential of podcasts – remember that people consume them in bursts. They’re quick, satisfying, unexpectedly delectable, and moreish, just like a good vol au vent. In other words, the party you’re at might suck, but you always end up chasing the waiter around for more of “whatever those things were”.