Podcasts have been available in the Apple iTunes store since 2006. However, the on-demand form of audio streaming never truly penetrated public consciousness until this past year.
In October 2014, the NPR-backed â€œSerialâ€ made national headlines by revisiting the 15-year-old Baltimore murder case of Hae Min Lee. That one podcast accumulated a record-breaking 80 million plus downloads from iTunes alone.
This surge in popularity launched what is now being referred to as "the golden age of podcasts," making it an increasingly valuable digital channel for companies and organizations looking for a fresh way to connect with their target audience.
Right now, podcasts are at that sweet spot in innovative marketing where they're just popular enough to work, but not everyone is doing it.
Over the last two years:
- Apple reported toward the end of 2013 that there were over one billion subscriptions for podcasts on iTunes.
- The podcast streaming app, Stitcher, saw the number of available podcasts grow from 5,000 in 2011 to 18,000 in 2013.
- A survey conducted by Edison Research in 2014 estimated that nearly 40 million Americans have listened to a podcast in the past month.
What is a Podcast?
If you're not one of the 40 million tuning in each month, you might still be confused on what, exactly, a podcast actually is and that's okay. Basically, podcasts are digital audio files available for online streaming or downloading. Interested listeners can subscribe and listen to new installments as they're released.
Topics range from macro industry conversations such as, 500 Startups Podcast to micro conversations around the specific steps to starting a start-up such as, Seth Godin's Startup School. Think of podcasting as radio shows you can download and listen to on your own schedule.
While the majority of podcast listeners tend to be younger - the Edison Research survey pegged the average listener as younger than 34 - podcasts can be an effective way to attract people to your brand. They're easily linkable, highly shareable, and can create a social experience for your customers. Plus, podcasts can build trust in your company by allowing people to feel more involved.
Three Tips For Using Your Podcast to Boost Participation in Your Online Community
Like blogs and other social media, podcasts attract followers (often called listeners or subscribers). People listen consistently for enjoyment and education. You can then leverage the attention from your podcasts to drive people to participate in your private online customer or member community. In the same way that network TV shows, like Good Morning America, discuss news from other shows on the ABC network, your podcast is a media asset that can be used to drive deeper engagement in your community.
Since you are creating the content for your podcast anyway, here are ways that your podcasts can drive participation in your online community without exhausting too many resources.
Tip #1) Point All Further Communication Back to the Community
If you're an avid podcast listener, you've probably noticed the tendency for episodes to end with directions to visit a website or to send comments to a specific email address.
Use that opportunity to bring people back to your community to extend the conversation after their listening experience. Create a discussion on your community's discussion forum dedicated to the podcast. Ask your audience to give their feedback about the episode in the community where other listens can respond rather than sending a one off email to you.
You can also encourage customer or members to post their suggestions for future episodes to the community or to interact with other community members and share their opinions about the podcast.
Tip #2) Schedule 'Ask Me Anything' Shows
People love the accessibility and vulnerability that comes with a podcast. They often aren't as overly produced or organized as something like a webinar and have a more casual tone that makes people feel more connected to the narrators.
'Ask Me Anything' series are great tool for driving community engagement. This tactic is especially useful when you can capture big names to your audience - like a CEO or a board member - or someone who is well known in your industry.
Here is how:
Publicize the episode a few weeks in advance and ask community members to leave their questions in the podcast thread of the community.
Then, pick 10 or so questions to have your guest answer and record an episode. People will want to tune in to hear if their question gets answered and to take part in this kind of candid access.
Tip #3) Turn Show Notes Into Discussions
Podcasts can cover a range of fairly in-depth topics. They often reference other news stories, online tools, and websites. However, since podcasts are typically exclusively an audio medium, podcast producers usually list those resources in the podcast's show notes, a webpage or blog post that includes that specific episode's research or reference materials.
Virtually all podcasts have a show notes website. This can be anything from text content and links to photos and videos. The show notes might include additional information on music used or quotes read that give the listener a better understanding.
Take advantage of the opportunity to place your podcasts accompanying resources in your online community.
Here is how:
Rather than posting the show notes as a web page or blog post with a static list of links, create a new discussion thread in the podcast area of your online community's forums for each new episode.
By reframing your show notes as an engagement opportunity within your online customer or member community you are not only sharing the resources from the show, but also driving people to the community to get the information, as well as offering listeners the opportunity to engage with each other and ask questions of the show's hosts.
This keeps the podcast's momentum going in the community and creates a habit of engagement from the podcast to your community.
Online Community Engagement Takeaway
Finding new ways to connect with your customers or members is just one way to keep your online community relevant, valuable and engaging. As podcasts are growing in popularity, they are a fresh medium that can breathe new life into your community management plan.
As with any content channel created by your company or organization, they offer another avenue to bring people back to your community. Smart community managers look for ways to make the community platform the center of all customer interactions to keep community members consistently coming back to participate.