I've been a podcaster since before it became uncool, and now it's become cool again. The cultural ascendance of podcasting (a.k.a. "mainstreaming) didn't surprise me, but I didn't see the Serial phenomenon coming.
Now the mainstreaming of podcasting adds more horsepower, as "iHeartMedia," the company formerly known as Clear Channel, and the largest radio conglomerate in the U.S., has announced its entry into podcasting (billions in losses has a way of forcing minds open to new approaches).
The popularity of podcasting has been fueled not only by narrative shows like Serial, but by comedians who have found the medium to be a terrific format. But what does that mean to businesses? Should enterprises by paying attention? I recently found myself interviewing a couple of media experts, so I put the question to 'em.
Brian Clark of Copyblogger: doubling down on podcasts
You might think that Brian Clark, founder and CEO of Copyblogger, would be a natural podcast advocate. But in fact, podcasting has not played a central role in Copyblogger's content marketing ascendancy. But with the launch of Rainmaker, Clark has upped the podcasting ante, using Rainmaker.fm as an important part of the Rainmaker content platform, on online marketing and sales platform for Wordpress.
Clark told me he flirted with starting a podcast instead of Copyblogger in 2005. He's glad he didn't; podcasting wasn't ready yet:
That would have been a bad move. We thought podcasting would catch on with people more than it did. People didn't know how to subscribe; it was hard to do. The production side was difficult; on those early podcasts, most of the production was pretty horrible. But since then, there's been a proliferation of really great equipment, like high quality USB microphones. It's just become easier - a lot of that has to do with podcast apps and iPhones.
I don't think anyone saw "Serial" coming. But "This American Life" and a lot of the other NPR shows are just amazing to begin with. I think it was also important that they adopted the medium, because that exposed podcasts to a lot of people.
But why podcasting, when text is so immediate and video is much more immersive? Clark's answer: podcasting fits into our on-the-go lives:
Video and text require your eyes on the screen. Frankly, well-produced video, when you can find it, is still amazing. Whatever you're trying to do, tell a story, content marketing - whatever the case may be 0 video can work fine. But you have to understand the cost of production for video is pretty high.
On the flip side, audio is completely portable. It's on-demand, which is the world we live in now. In a world of Netflix and everything else, where people expect to have things when they want them and how they want them, podcasts work.Combined that with the portability of "Hey, I can learn something, or I can be entertained. And I can be doing something else. I can be riding the bus. I can be driving home. I can be working out, walking, jogging, multitasking...whatever the case may be."
Clark also likes the familiarity of podcasting; most of us grew up on radio, and it's often easier to communication verbally:
We've all been raised with radio. Not everyone writes very well, and not everyone can do video well. Video is even harder than writing for most people. From both a production standpoint and a consumption standpoint, audio is really strong. It's going to stay that way.
One mistake companies make with podcasting is assuming they must create a full-fledged, highly produced "show" to have success. Podcasting can also work as a form of consumption for interviews that are ultimately intended for text. Often, I'll kick off an article series with a Google Hangout video, which I then release as optimized audio on iTunes etc. Then those same discussions become "inventory" for future blogs.
We didn't start it as a course; we started it as a podcast. Then we added PDFs, bundled it, and added transcripts for those who wanted to read it instead. It's a very well-purposed set of content for whatever modality you really want to view it in. But for getting the ideas down - audio is great for that. Because you can talk to the owner of a business or the founder of a company who may not be a writer, but they have a story. You can coax that out of them with an interview format, and then you've got something to work with, something you can trancribe
Now all of a sudden your executive's written five articles, with the help of some freelancers who are basically communicating his ideas in a different format. Some of those ideas are also well-suited for a slide presentation on Slidshare. Once you've got the foundational story or concept or education, whatever the case may be, then you can repurpose that in multiple different ways.
Bottom line: Clark sees podcasting as an exceptional means to do the hardest thing easily: tell an appealing story in down-to-earth language. I'll add one more: if you're releasing significant video content, then not issuing an iTunes audio version is likely a mistake. My experience is that iTunes has at least 10 times the subscription traction as YouTube (meaning when you release content, 10 times more subscribers will actually see the notification/new content).
Podcasting: enterprise tips and tricks
If you're tempted by this argument, here's a few tips I compiled on podcasting for enterprises:
- When producing video content, always consider if it would make a good audio piece also (audio has big consumption and distribution advantages over bandwidth-chugging video)
- If you produce audio, create both RSS and iTunes channels for your podcasts (iTunes is key for building a subscription base over time – for examples see my RSS and iTunes feeds for my new “Busting the omnichannel #ensw series).
- Consider launching a podcast series, with preference towards a series that will NOT feature brand/product-heavy content, but instead will cover ground relevant to your IP (example: a podcast on retail and retail software trends. For enterprises, narrowcasting to a focused audience often works best).
- The best podcasts have a distinct personality and style, so choose your hosts and themes carefully.
For inspiration, here are some enterprise podcast series I enjoy:
- The Geek Whisperers, a terrific show on themes of influencer relations and community management from tech leaders who hail (originally) from places like VMWare and Cisco.
- Bill Kutik’s Radio Show, an excellent HR-themed podcast from one of the masters.
- IBM does a pretty good job with its Big Data and Analytics Hub podcast. Most episodes offer big picture views while keeping IBM plugs to an acceptable level. Some episodes do veer more into IBM-branded stuff than I'd recommend.
- From the SAP side, Steve Bogner and gang do stellar work in their frank/expert roundups of all-things-HCM. I also dig the DS Layer guys and their BI/data banter.
- Mitch Joel's Six Degrees of Separation is a masterful podcast series on digital marketing - Joel's most recent podcast debate with Andrew Keen, The Internet is Not the Answer, is a standout.
Final thoughts - do podcasts reach decision makers?
When I hear objections to podcasting, they come in three varieties:
- people don't listen to long form
- it's a huge amount of work, and
- "decision makers don't listen to podcasts"
The first objection isn't true, I can vouch for that based on the hard times my peeps give me when my podcasts don't run long enough. I get that - many of my best podcast conversations seem to reach a new level of frankness/insight, that perpetually elusive "naked conversation," at around the 20 minute mark.
But at any rate, we've already defeated points one and two by showing how podcasts fit into an overall content creation process (Bonus: here's a recent piece on some neat (affordable) podcasting tools - conferencing tools like Uberconference also offer easy recording options).
That objection about decision makers IS, however, largely valid, based on my anecdotal experience (though Kutik's show is one exception; there could be others). However: decision makers will certainly read bullet point data pulled from podcasts. And: influencers and subject matter experts thrive on podcasts, as they contain the nuanced info such experts need. Increasingly, these influencers DO directly impact purchasing decisions, a topic I've touched on before and will return to.
I did find credible concerns by way of Morris Partee, a social-media-savvy entrepreneur who, ironically enough, is a co-organizer of the Western Mass Podcamp I recently attended and presented at (despite its "Podcamp" title, Podcamp "unconference" events have long since moved past a podcasting focus). During a chat with Partee, he pointed out that podcasts still incur friction in terms of consumption. His car isn't iTunes-compatible; my Android phone is not what you'd call podcast-friendly.
Partee is correct that any barrier to ease of consumption prevents digital media from crossing a consumption threshold. Partee told me that each Podcamp has spurred interest in podcasting, but only as one possible means of reaching audiences. As he put it, "The challenge is less of "what is going to be adopted by the mainstream? what's next?" and more of "how do we best make use of these tools and platforms?"
No arguments here. Tools are made to be experimented with, and stats give us tough love lessons about what mediums work best. But once you fit podcasting into a production schedule, you may be pleasantly surprised.
Image credits: boy listening to retro radio © Nadezda Ledyaeva - Fotolia.com
Disclosure: diginomica has no financial ties to Brian Clark, Copyblogger or Morris Partee. SAP is a diginomica premier partner as of this writing.