Executive editor Megan Effertz takes the podcast challenge — here’s what she learned in the process
A: This is a great question. Podcasts are extremely popular, and more people are tuning into them each day. Edison Research’s Infinite Dial study reported that 44% of Americans have listened to a podcast with an increase of 12 million new listeners in the past year. This isn’t a one-time thing either. Twenty-six percent of Americans listen to a podcast on a monthly basis, and that number is growing.
These listeners are loyal too; they are listening to an average of seven podcasts a week, and 80% listen to almost all, if not all, of the episode. Talk about engagement — it’s a marketer’s dream. With a growing audience base that is tuned in wouldn’t every brand want to do a podcast?
We decided to take the podcast challenge with the goal of launching by the time this article was published. Man did we learn a lot! Creating a podcast is a lot like producing a magazine: It takes time, effort and resources to do it right.
Although you could just start recording on a device or an online tool like zencastr.com you should first develop a content strategy plan as you would for any other content marketing campaign. Start by asking yourself these questions.
What’s the purpose of your podcast?
There are many reasons to do a podcast: It could be for entertainment value, to share industry information or to teach your audience something they want to learn. One reason you shouldn’t do a podcast, however, is to sell product. No one wants to tune in to one long commercial.
That doesn’t mean a podcast can’t be part of your sales pipeline. In fact, audiences have better recall of a podcast than they do of other mediums such as video because it takes more focus to listen, and they are generally listening longer to a podcast than watching a video.
It took us a while to determine the purpose of our podcast and ultimately decided we wanted to bring together business owners, leaders and influencers to talk about critical social issues that impact business — we wanted to look at “the human side of the bottom line.”
Who’s your audience, and what do they care about?
Once you know what you want to do, make sure you know who will want to listen. Who is your target audience? Do they listen to podcasts already? What type of content do they like to listen to?
Edison Research found that 32% of Americans age 25–54 listen monthly to a podcast while 30% of Americans age 12–24 do. Only 13% of listeners are 55 and older. What age group are you targeting?
The podcast audience is growing, and you can target audiences based on the specific content you want to share. It’s better to have a smaller engaged audience listening on a regular basis than a broad audience that listens to a couple of episodes and moves on. Don’t try to capture everyone's attention. Instead, focus on your message and tailor it to your specific audience.
The audience we are targeting is the same as the guests we are interviewing: business leaders and owners who understand that humans work in their businesses not just boxes on an organization chart.
How much do you have to say?
There is no set format length for podcasts. Episodes can range from a few minutes to a few hours. You need to approximate how long you want each episode to last so that you know how much content you need to fill the time. This will help you develop your story outline and questions for guests.
Today, 69% of listeners use a mobile, device with 49% listening at home and 23% in the car. With the average commute lasting 25 minutes (unless you’re stuck in a snowstorm) it’s ideal to keep podcasts within that time period, but ultimately it depends on your audience and subject matter.
How often do you want to engage your audience?
You also need to think about how often you want to release an episode. To gain momentum and build an audience you should be releasing episodes weekly or creating a season that a listener can consume at their convenience or perhaps even binge on. Let your listeners know when they can expect the next episode or season. Create a mail list to let them know when it is live.
For efficiency, we decided to record an entire season over the course of a few weeks. Although we were able to focus scheduling, recording and research within a short period of time, we won't be able to adjust on the fly based on feedback we get for each episode. We'll have to wait until the next season to course correct.
Who’s the host?
Ok, now you know what you want to focus on, who you want as your listeners and how long you want them to listen. The next big question is who is delivering your message? You need to think long-term about who you want to develop as the voice of your brand. You can hire voice talent, but make sure you have a budget, and they have the time to commit. If your podcast is a success, you may need them for the next few years.
Your host can also be a business owner or an employee. Although the average length of a podcast is around 30 minutes it takes a lot more time than that to research topics, prep guests, record an episode and edit it. Whoever you select will need the bandwidth to do this on a weekly basis or a larger chunk of time to record a season.
You also need to decide if this is going to be a single host telling a story, multiple hosts creating a program or an interview-style show with multiple guests.
We chose to have me as the host interviewing a single guest each episode. In my experience, it took a lot more work to produce the podcast than it does to write an article. Maybe with time I’ll get faster.
Is the host/guest prepared?
After all the work you put into creating a content strategy for your podcast you still need to do the research and prep work for each episode. If the host is telling a story, they should practice it before jumping on the mic. If it’s an interview, your host needs to know enough about the topic and the guest to ask interesting questions. Have a rough outline of the show but don’t script it because you want the podcast to sound like a natural, not planned, conversation.
I also recommend getting to know your guests a bit either on a prep call or in a conversation before you start to record. This will help put everyone at ease and create a natural rapport.
How will you promote it?
You should also spend time thinking about what you’ll do with the podcast once it’s produced. You may find you want to do a little extra work during the recording so you have promotional clips to help build your audience. You should also extend your podcast by creating supporting content, such as blog posts, video clips and social teasers that will link to the episodes. These are also great tools to attract new listeners.
Our podcast team had the foresight to film each of our podcast recordings. This gave use video clips and social teasers to help spread the word and share with our guests to promote to their networks. Although a podcast is audio, people still can find you through visual mediums like YouTube and Facebook.
How do you define success?
This is different for every podcast and brand. For some it may be brand awareness, for others, it may be creating a fun customer experience or solving a problem through education. Whatever your goal, make sure you have metrics to define success. As you can see, there is a lot of work that goes into a podcast so make sure you know how to measure if the effort is worth the output. Remember, smaller engaged audiences are better than larger unengaged audiences, and podcasts are not meant to sell a product. Monetization shouldn't be a goal either as very few sites make enough money to cover all the costs involved. Pick metrics that correlate to your content strategy.
For us, success is creating a more profound conversation in the business community around the "human side of the bottom line.” There are plenty of people talking about how to improve margins, cut costs or create the next best product. We’d like to hear more about the needs of the employees behind those margins, costs and innovative products.
Now you’re ready to record
Ian Levitt at Studio Americana describes podcasting as the Wild West. There’s no right or way wrong way to record, and there are many options for hosting and building audiences. We explored the do-it-yourself option and were overwhelmed with technical product choices (microphones, editing equipment and software, etc.). We talked to podcasters that set up their own studios — some converted closets to help control sound while others used blankets over their heads. In the end, Sarah Zanger, vice president of business development at N401 Studios rescued us and put together a great team — director Miki Mosman, producer Alex Stadnik, and production assistant Marge Pearson — to guide us through the process. N401 Studios was a one-stop shop for directing, recording, editing and producing our show: The Business Gist.
We are hosting it at Libsyn (which stands for liberated syndication) and pushing it out on our social channels @thebizgist and our podcast website www.thebusinessgist.com. Check us out and let us know what you think.