Where the digital age has hurt many other news and data sources, it has given new birth to audio, which has experienced renewal and reinvention, making the most of new technology to deliver the podcast. What's behind its recent surge? That's a two-part answer:
- Mobile: Podcasts easier than ever to listen to on the go, and they're free. Download your favorites onto your phone (otherwise you'll be using up valuable data) and you're out the door. It's handsfree, free information straight to your ears.
- The Serial Effect: Podcasts were already on the rise when NPR's Serial broke big (2.2 million listeners per episode), but it accelerated things greatly.
Skeptical? Check out these stats: According to Edison Research, in 2015, monthly audio podcast consumption has already grown significantly from approximately 39 million monthly users in 2014 to approximately 46 million in 2015. The top ten podcasts after Serial have an average of 620,000 listeners per episode. Outside the top 200 shows, downloads and streams average about 5,000 per episode. Podcasts thrive off of niche programming, which means there's something for everyone. With the ease and convenience of mobile listening, and the incredible success of NPR's Serial, the piqued interest of these new listeners shows no signs of waning.
First things first, a definition: What is a podcast?
Digital media files (usually audio, but can be video) you can stream or download and play back on your computer or mobile device.
Simple enough, right? I like to think of it as Netflix for radio, if Netflix were free, that is. The perk of podcasts is you can listen to them whenever and wherever you want, and did I mention they're free?
Getting Started: Listen, Listen, Listen
Before you hit the mobile airwaves with your own amazing, thought-leading podcast, it's best to know what's out there. So listen up! Literally. Start listening to podcasts, if you aren't already.
- Step 1: Select your app. You can of course listen to these podcasts directly from the sites that host them, but if you're on the move, the easiest way to listen is by selecting a podcast app. I recommend starting with iTunes for desktop and its podcast app for mobile, it's free and you likely already have an account, but if you're not an Apple fan, I'd start with one of these from Tom's Guide: 10 Best Podcast Apps
- Step 2: Start listening. Find your niche and start listening. There are podcasts about EVERYTHING. Seriously, staying in the realm of business alone, you have podcasts on startups, entrepreneurs, investing, marketing, management, and more. It doesn't get nichier than this.
If you need some help finding your podcast niche, I've shared several great lists of top podcasts at the end of this post, but here are a few thoughts from my own personal podcast addiction: You can't go wrong with NPR, and NPR has podcasts on everything from art to science to business. Then Slate of course introduced its Panoply channel just a few months ago, which includes podcasts by the New York Times, Inc, as well as Slate writers and other thought leaders. More recently Buzzfeed joined the podcast crowd with a channel of its own. I can't speak to the quality of those shows, but I will say that it's a definite indicator that podcasts have gone mainstream. Now that you have a feel for what podcasts are about, and what's out there, it's time to consider adding your own voice, and that of your brand to the airwaves.
The Sound of Possibility for Brands
The world of podcasts presents opportunities for brands of all shapes and sizes:
- Original Content: Regardless of what your company's speciality is, you are experts on it, and there are other experts out there who'd love to join you. Creating an original podcast will of course be an investment in both resources (recording equipment, editing software, someone who knows how to use both of those), and time, but it can be a fresh new way to build your own brand and authority in your industry. Cisco's Future of IT podcast is a great example of this. This semi-weekly podcast covers trends, innovations, and all things IT, in a half hour or so discussion with industry experts and team members.
- Guest Appearances: Put yourself out there. You may not be ready to launch your own podcast right now, but that doesn't mean you have to rule them out completely. When considering coverage opportunities, don't overlook relevant podcasts as a place to pitch your corporate spokesperson. There are podcasts for every facet of business looking for experts to share their insider knowledge---be that expert.
- Advertisements: When Sarah Koenig, host of the hit Serial appeared on The Colbert Report to discuss her popular podcast, one of the first questions asked of her was: "Will that girl ever figure out how to pronounce Mailchimp." Yes, the ad for Mailchimp, featuring a (now famously so) tongue-tied young lady who couldn't quite wrap her mouth around the "ch" in Mailchimp, that ran before each and every episode, was just as much a part of the broadcast as the story itself.
The standard format for talking about sponsors is even less formal. Generally hosts take a minute or two to talk about the sponsors before diving into content. If they sound like very organic discussions, it's because they are. The only challenge left then is finding the podcast that fits your product.
Are you ready to start talking? I'm not saying podcasts are going to replace the blog anytime soon, but it's a great way to have a conversation with your audience that's accessible, personal, and shareable. And speaking of sharing, once you've hit the airwaves, a strong podcast promotion strategy is necessary to maximize your investment. Make sure you're on as many podcast collections as possible. Again, iTunes is one of many. Then start sharing via your social channels. Send around an announcement via email. Get the word out, and keep listening. Hear what your audience has to say and let them be a part of the process. Remember, podcasts are a conversation, just like social media. Continue that conversation and make the podcast a valuable part of your content strategy.
Some great lists of Podcasts to check out:
- VentureBeat: 10 tech podcasts you should listen to now
- Fast Company: The 8 Best Podcasts for Business-Savvy Listeners
- Slate:The 25 Best Podcast Episodes Ever
- Entrepreneur: Top 25 Business Podcasts for Entrepreneurs
Want to learn more? Check out these other great podcast resources:
- Edison Research: The Infinite Dial 2015
- Contently: Are Podcasts the Next Big Thing for Sponsored Content?
- Marketplace: Businesses tap podcasts to hone their brands
- Quartz: How MailChimp's irresistible "Serial" ad became the year's biggest marketing win
- WSJ: BuzzFeed Joins the Podcast Frenzy
- Chicago Tribune: Jump-start your entrepreneurial education with podcasts
- Forbes: Podcasts Are Doing To Advertising What Uber Has Done To Transportation
- The Baffler: VCs Take the Media
- CNNMoney: 'Serial' will make podcasts more profitable