So who did kill Hae Min Lee?
If you’re anything like me, when you first heard about Serial your thought was “a podcast, really?” I believed podcasts to be a strangely archaic medium. One that just didn’t take off, a bit like a minidisc.
But as anyone who listened to Serial knows, podcasts become strangely addictive. They fit seamlessly into modern life. And by modern life, I mean we’re physically incapable of doing fewer than two things at once. On our tablets while watching TV. On our phones while reading a book. Watching videos while we socialise.
I listened to Serial while making dinner. I listened to Serial doing my makeup, getting dressed. I listened to Serial in the car, on the bus, on the train. I listened to Serial in my lunch break.
I waited (im)patiently for the next episode. I had meetings with my colleagues to discuss theories.
Serial opened my eyes to podcasts, and after that, I couldn’t go back to a podcast-free existence.
I am the kind of person that podcast marketers dream of. I love to read, love to absorb information. Love to multitask but hate video (sound and video? Too much concentration required). Insatiable thirst for knowledge. Addicted to my smartphone. Perpetually bored. I also love to use my “free” time effectively. I listen to This American Life while I cut up carrots for dinner. The TED Radio Hour occupies me while I fold washing.
I’m also training for my first marathon, and let me tell you, no matter how good your running playlist is, two or three hours running is mindnumbing. It’s no exaggeration to say that podcasts have changed my life, or at least my running.
I’m not alone
While there’s little data on podcast listeners in the UK, there are some impressive stats in the US, where the number of Americans tuning into podcasts has doubled since 2008 (from 7% in 2008 to 17% in January 2015), with 32 million people listening to a podcast in the last month, and 25% of podcast listeners tuning in to six or more podcasts per week.
So what can marketers learn from this?
The importance of storytelling
At their core, podcasts are no different from any other kind of content marketing - they’re essentially about storytelling.
But it’s the way podcasts tell their stories that makes them stand out. Many argue too that podcasts foster a more intimate, closer relationship - it can feel like Ira Glass or Sarah Koenig are right there in your kitchen while you’re scrambling eggs. By using real people, real experiences, real stories, you engage your audience on an emotional level. Podcasts such as This American Life and TED Radio Hour are built around a theme and each episode is made up of stories around this theme. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve begun a podcast and thought the topic didn’t interest me, only to find myself engrossed in the personal stories or experiences of the storyteller.
Your stories don’t have to be new
In my incessant need for new content, I’ve often found myself listening to progressively older and older podcasts. But because the stories are engaging and interesting, it doesn’t even matter. I noticed recently that the TED Radio Hour podcast even invites this by occasionally “re-releasing” an old podcast mixed in with the new content (for example the podcast from 8th May 2015 “Identities” states on the website - and in the podcast - “Original broadcast date: October 11, 2013”). Does this bother me as a consumer? No, not at all. In fact, I’m grateful to listen to interesting content I might ordinarily have missed.
So don’t be afraid to share older content in your emails and on social media, or even on your blog, with a disclaimer. As long as the content is still relevant and up-to-date - and doesn’t lead to duplicate content issues on your site - it doesn’t matter if it is brand new or not. This also fits with the “on-demand” nature of podcasts - if we’re used to new content every Wednesday, for example, we’d rather have some content - new or old - on a Wednesday than having to wait another week.
One of the reasons Serial was such a success (it was the first podcast in iTunes history to hit 5 million downloads) was because every week we wanted to know more. In a culture where we routinely binge-watch, Serial gave us a reason to be patient. And we were hooked.
There are two lessons here. One is for breaking content down into a series. Would Serial have been as successful if it was an one-off? Probably not. Instead of longform pieces of content, why not look into breaking content down into a series? This promotes the second lesson here - building anticipation through content. Of course, your story might not be as gripping as a potentially-falsely-accused teenager who has spent over ten years in prison, but if your content is engaging, and you leave your reader wanting more, they’ll be back.
This also leads onto the idea of shorter, snackable content...
People are busy - they will multitask
The nature of podcasts is that they assume you’re multitasking. How often do you listen to music without doing something else? Podcasts are made to be listened to while driving, commuting, or in my case, running or cooking (though not at the same time!). This might not sound immediately relevant to written or video content, but the lesson here is to assume that your audience are busy. They’re probably doing two or three other things while they consume your content. So make it easy for them to take your message in. Make it snackable. Give them the key takeaways in bullet points, or put the main ideas in a Slideshare they can click through.
Your content doesn’t have to attract everyone
Comedian and podcast producer Chris Hardwick said of podcasts:
“Our culture is so niche-oriented now, you don’t need three million people to listen to your podcast. If 10,000 people listen, which isn’t a hard number to achieve, then you can do something with that; you can build a community, and literally change the world, just recording into a recorder.”
The same can be said of any other kind of content. We all know you can only please some of the people some of the time, so why not create more niche content, that you know a small group of people will love. In the words of Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky: “It’s better to have 100 people [who] love you than finding a million who just sort of like you.”
Think outside the blog post
It doesn’t have to be podcasts, but explore the other options out there. For example, when you consider that there are half a billion English-speaking blogs and four million hours of YouTube content, but only quarter of a million podcasts, you can see the importance of exploring a non-saturated market. In the words of Loretta Lynn, “you have to be the first, the best or different”, and when it comes to a smaller form like podcasts, your chances of being the best or different are much higher if there are fewer people doing what you’re doing.