Part radio broadcast, part audiobook, podcasts are “episodes of a program on the internet”, according to iTunes, where many of them are accessed. A podcast generally takes one of two formats: editorial or storytelling. Editorial might put a few talking heads in a room (see Slate’s Political Gabfest) or feature an interview with a major name (tune-in to NPR’s Fresh Air). Storytelling is a more labor-intensive, narrative production.
If you haven’t gone down the Serial rabbit hole, do it. In 2014, the 12-episode true crime podcast was downloaded 60-million times, won a Peabody award (the first podcast to do so) and convinced a Baltimore Circuit Court Judge to re-open the case of its focus, Adnan Syed. How’s that for influential?
Unlike traditional radio, which broadcasts a program of passive content, downloading a podcast is an intentional act, which means listeners are actively opting in. Smart broadcasters clocked this early on and began repackaging individual programs specifically for the podcast platform (This American Life was one of the early adopters). These days, podcasts are created by people from radio land and beyond, and understand the twofold value of the medium: podcast listeners are actively engaged, and advertisers want to connect with engaged listeners. For brands, podcasts are a valuable way to build a connection and relationship with an audience, as opposed to moving units of a product.
How do you make one?
Podcasts are also relatively simple and inexpensive to create compared to other broadcast mediums. Comedian Marc Maron makes WTF from his garage, and his guests include Robin Williams, Louis CK, and President Barack Obama. Maron reportedly generates US$400,000 a year in ads, which he delivers with his own personal spin, making for engaging, if anxiety-ridden plugs for website solutions, artisinal products, and adult toys that are perfectly suited to WTF listeners.
Before you start, ask the following questions, and have a clearly defined answer before you hit record:
- A podcast must have a purpose and a target audience. How will this add value to what you do?
- Will it help you showcase an interesting and unique part of your business? Build or strengthen the relationship with your audience?
- Will audio or music add weight to the experience? If the answers are yes, you’re on the right track. As part of this process, you’ll need to decide on a theme and some topics.
- Is your podcast is going to be episodic, or a one-off?
- Will it take an editorial, or storytelling structure?
Podcasts can be recorded on smartphones, but if you want listeners tuned in for the long term you’ll need some backup. We suggest a microphone, preamp, and an editing suite such as Hindenburg or Adobe Audition. To publish and promote your podcast try platforms such as Libsyn, which plays nice with iTunes and has an exclusive agreement with Spotify, or SimpleCast, which is also friendly across the board and works well with Google Play.
The conversational and direct nature of podcasting, especially live podcasting, generally means fewer options to edit. It also means that a charismatic, articulate host and guests are a podcast’s foundations. There’s a reason Alec Baldwin has his own show, Here’s the Thing. So choose your presenter wisely. As many podcasts are downloaded via iTunes, it’s also important to ask your listeners to review. If they like what they hear, they need to say so. Once your podcast is ready to go, you’ll need to spread the word, too. Tools such as Audiogram Generator help you share audio podcast snippets via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Podcasts are freed from the time or structural constraints of traditional audio media, but this can also be a challenge. People care, but (unless you’re Serial) they won’t care for three hours. Aim to keep things concise. Another podcasting rule of thumb — Be prepared. Like a live interview or presentation, a podcast’s free-flowing format means you should know your stuff before you go on air. Hit the books and do your research. Waiting for someone to scramble for information or remember a word mid-conversation is an instant turn off. And you are far too valuable for that.
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