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IS PODCASTING FOR YOU?

A handful of marketing contrarians have been predicting a spike for podcasting for a few years. While a steep climb hasn’t materialized, audio content is rising steadily in popularity year over year. According to the Pew Research Foundation, the percent of Americans who had listened to a podcast within the previous 30 days more than doubled between 2008 and 2016 (9% to 21%). The numbers look better among younger Americans. A study by ypulse found 35% of Millennials ages 18 to 34 regularly follow at least one podcast.

Is it high time for an audio revolution? The New York Times reports that many amateur podcasters are going professional as major media companies invest in this new form of digital publishing (May 7, 2016). Advertisers are getting in on the action too: They expect to spend $35 million on podcasts in 2016 (Wall Street Journal, Feb. 18, 2016). And even a few big venture-capital deals in the space signal that the industry may be poised to grow even more.

Ready to launch a podcast?

As content-heavy brands consider new channels, podcasting should be on the table, say Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose, hosts of This Old Marketing. “Podcasting is different because it’s an extremely intimate way to interact with your audience,” says Rose, chief content adviser at Content Marketing Institute. “Joe and I share our family and personal lives on the show, and many times they are issues others struggle with. People come up to me all the time, asking about something very personal I’ve shared on the podcast. I think being in someone’s head when your voice comes through those headphones is a wonderful experience. It creates a connection that other mediums can’t make.”

All that connection, however, requires a good bit of work. It may look easy (“Hey guys, let’s record ourselves chatting about stuff and make a podcast out of it!”), but the pre- and post-production work is sizable. Pulizzi and Rose estimate that for each weekly show, they spend about four hours on research and four hours on production — or eight hours for every one-hour show.

Explains Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, “We want it to sound like we’re two guys having a conversation, but there’s a lot of background work involved. And the more care we put into it, the better the show is.”

As for measuring effectiveness, any podcaster will tell you it’s like being beamed to the earliest days of digital. Yes, you can see how many people downloaded your podcast via iTunes (the biggest aggregator by a large margin), but you won’t know how many listened or at what point they turned it off. And if you suddenly see a spike in downloads, it’s nearly impossible to tell whether the show was just that good or whether a change in iTunes algorithms was the culprit.

“The lack of podcast data is kind of shocking,” said Gina Delvac, the producer of Call Your Girlfriend, a pop-culture show for women. (Executives at Apple appear to be listening. In the spring, Apple brought seven leading podcasters to its headquarters to discuss their complaints, though the outcome of those conversations is still unknown.)

The most useful information, say Pulizzi and Rose, comes from reviews on iTunes and other player platforms, as well as tweets that begin to roll in almost immediately after a show is uploaded. The good and bad reviews, say the duo, help them improve each week.

Tools and techniques

All their efforts require the right tools to execute a quality podcast. Here’s how they do it:

Studio and production

Pulizzi and Rose both say a high-quality microphone is essential. Many of the tools they use are either free or low-cost. They record conversations via Skype, use GarageBand (Rose) and Audacity (Pulizzi) for audio editing, and Rose buys stock music online for show openings.

Hosting

This Old Marketing uses Libsyn to host and publish the show to the major players like iTunesStitcher, and SoundCloud. Libsyn also offers podcasters an RSS feed (essential to distribute the show to aggregators) and an HTML5 media player so listeners can tune in right on your website (rather than through a mobile player like iTunes). Libsyn’s competitors include BlubrrySpreakerPodOmatic, and SoundCloud.

The podcasting paradox

After scores of shows and over a thousand hours of work invested, Pulizzi and Rose say the medium is their favorite of all the ways they reach their audience. Why? Because people often listen to podcasts while they are doing something else — and paradoxically, it means you often have their undivided attention. “People listen to us while they are running, on the subway in the morning, while they are doing dishes. You capture them at a moment when they are not in front of a screen or otherwise distracted,” explains Pulizzi.

Even so, both Pulizzi and Rose warn that podcasting isn’t for content marketing beginners. “You need to have an audience first before you launch a podcast,” says Pulizzi. That’s because getting attention on podcast aggregators is too difficult for new entrants. Instead, Pulizzi and Rose say, podcasting should be a diversification strategy for brands already pumping out great content.

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