There’s an intriguing article on the BBC Click website that says the term “podcasting” has largely disappeared from view as attention has increasingly turned to social media, and asks: why has such a popular technology received such a small amount of attention?
It’s a good article, describing how podcasting started and looking at the medium primarily from the perspective of how it competes with mainstream radio. The article is clear in one point it emphasises – podcasting doesn’t seem to offer much that’s different to what you get on the radio:
[…] The common perception is that a podcast is just a download of something that has already been made available elsewhere. Rather than changing the traditional media landscape, many believe that it is just replicating it.
“Half of podcasting is about just another medium to deliver the same content,” says radio futurologist James Cridland.
“The other half is the real democratisation of creating new interesting audio content.
“Is it something different to normal radio? Not really. I look at quite a lot of the podcasts and the fact they are on a downloadable medium that you can listen to whenever you like doesn’t necessarily change a lot of the content.”
As a podcaster myself who started in the early days (2004/2005), I think that’s a good point, one that certainly applies in the UK but not so much in the USA where podcasting began and immediately offered attractive alternatives to “homogenized” radio.
While such comparisons with mainstream media like radio are credible, that’s not the complete picture especially when you look at how the barriers to entry are so low that anyone can create and publish a podcast, not just the mainstream media. You don’t need expensive studios nor voice talent; indeed, you can get started with podcasting for much less than £100; even next to nothing if you take advantage of the instant broadcasting services now available.
So my question would be – why hasn’t podcasting really taken off in the UK outside the mainstream, so to speak? It’s a question I asked in April 2008, focused on the business aspects, which attracted some compelling discussion. Three years on, little has really changed from what I can see.
Consider three distinct areas that comprise the origins of podcasting:
- Technological innovations that made podcasting possible.
- Cultural demands that made listening to podcasts desirable.
- The desire of individuals to create and share audio and video content.
The first one clearly has been a powerful driver thanks mostly to two individuals (Dave Winer who invented the RSS enclosure that enabled the subscription aspect of podcasting and auto-delivery of the MP3 audio files; and Adam Curry who popularized the medium and created the first podcatcher that lets you listen to those audio files and automatically manages your subscriptions) and one company (Apple when they launched iTunes with podcasting support) in 2004.
What of the other two areas, though – cultural demands and individual desire? Those two links look like the missing ones especially when you consider that podcasting has become even easier than it already was with the advent of “tap-talk-publish” tools and services such as Audioboo and iPadio. With instant broadcasting tools like these, no longer do you even need to have a computer with a microphone and recording software. Instead, with just an iPhone or Android smartphone – and, in the case of iPadio, even an ordinary landline phone – you can record your words and publish that audio content online instantly, shareable with the world.
Yet audio podcasting still hasn’t found its tipping point. Could it also be lack of quality content as James Cridland argues?
[…] The hard part is finding the quality. There are some really good podcasts but there are a load of terrible ones as well
Very true – just trawl through the thousands of podcast episodes in the iTunes podcast library or a directory like Podcast Alley and you’ll likely agree. But isn’t beauty in the (ear) of the beholder?
Still, unless you’re looking for big audiences to compete with radio, does a tipping point really matter? Isn’t this more about niche publishing where it’s economically feasible to be able to create content for ten people as it is for 10,000? Isn’t it more about developing a community and getting close to people who genuinely want your content?
What could you use a podcast for in a business context? Here are some ideas of what’s easily possible:
- Employee Engagement: A weekly 15-minute business update for employees delivered by the CEO or other leader; employees worldwide can subscribe to the podcast via the company intranet or listen directly from the CEO’s blog.
- General news of interest to everyone: The HR department produces a monthly 30-minute podcast that is a round-up of news and information on issues of interest and relevance to every employee including, for example, news about changes in employee health benefits, updates on training courses, expansion at the factory in a particular city, and a summary of company-wide job openings and where to get more information; the podcast is made available for subscription from the HR site on the company intranet and is referenced/linked to in the multiple channels used for internal communication, traditional and digital.
- Training and Education: A series of short 5-minute podcasts produced by the marketing department on key aspects about a new product that’s being launched, to help employees understand the features and benefits of that new product; the podcast series supports and complements other communication channels. Depending on communication objectives and specific content, the series could also be used in external communication and published to a service like Audioboo.
- Skills-Sharing and Team Building: The sales director records an occasional 10-minute podcast for her geographically-dispersed sales team with tips and tricks on, say, how to close deals with certain types of customers; her podcast is available from the sales intranet as a complement to formal sales materials and as one of the means through which she builds a sense of community and engagement with her team.
I came up with this concise list in 2005 when I was talking up podcasting for business with evangelical zeal (take a look at this presentation I gave at PodcastCon UK in London in September 2005). With just a bit of update-tweaking, I think they’re still valid today.
Hearing the voice of a trusted leader, or a subject-matter expert, or the sales director adds a human and informal touch to what’s too often the starched formalness of organizational communication. This can be a powerful emotional influencer on internal and external audiences alike. And emotional influence is a key factor in people engagement.
While the content is great (as listeners tell us!), that wasn’t the primary driver of listenership from the start. And listenership isn’t really what’s made FIR notable in the communication profession.
FIR is about community. While the two presenters are the foundation, it’s a network of regular reporters (in the USA and South-East Asia) and comment contributors that has given the show a sense of genuine community, and on a global level. So today, the content of a typical FIR episode is made up of at least 33 percent listener contributions and reports, and listener suggestions and recommendations drive much of the direction of the show, focused around a private community on Friendfeed. The influential listener community is one of the reasons why the show has attracted sponsors (Ragan Communications, CustomScoop and Pollstream), as is the fact that we survey listeners to find out who they are, what they like and what they want from FIR in the future, and share that information publicly (the last survey was published in May 2009; a new one is in development).
Today, FIR has grown into a series comprising six distinct podcasts including interviews, book reviews and an irregular live panel discussion on topical business communication issues.
The barriers to entry for podcasting as a tactical and complementary tool in your communication toolbox have never been lower, and the benefits never more obvious.
So what’s stopping you?
- A resource you might find useful: How To Do Everything With Podcasting, the book Shel and I produced and which was published by McGraw-Hill in the summer of 2007. The blurb says, “[…] walks you, step by step, through the process of creating, broadcasting, and promoting your own podcast. You’ll get tips for targeting your audience, refining your content, integrating various technologies, and profiting from your podcast. You’ll also discover how businesses can use podcasting as a fresh, inexpensive way to communicate with customers, investors, and employees.” There’s a Kindle edition so you can get it right now.
Update: In the comments, Dave Thackeray asked if there’s an audio version of this blog post. There is now, which I recorded at Audioboo via the website recorder not the smartphone app. Instant podcast!