Along a somewhat personal journey (that you have chosen to join) to better define the term content, I’ve stumbled upon the puzzle of podcasts. Full disclosure: I have never been and most likely will never be a consumer of podcasts, ten years ago or today. I tried several times to listen to “Serial” and my lifestyle just doesn’t seem to allow for the level of concentration that a podcast requires. It’s not music or background noise; you actually have to be able to listen to it and pay attention. I’m lucky to have a pretty short commute to work via public transportation, so there goes one of the more applicable situations. But Serial’s popularity and the launch of Slate’s Panoply makes it clear that I am (or am soon to be) an outlier. Podcasts seem poised for a major comeback and have to be part of any content consideration.
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A quick review of the U.S. Government Podcast Directory feels like a snapshot of the state of the podcast genre as a whole. Several agencies continue to provide solid offerings with recent updates alongside broken links to long-forgotten podcast directories or podcasts that stopped being produced in 2009 (most likely the year most agencies really started ramping up their social media presence). But what is the way forward? Is it time for government agencies to brush off their microphones and fire up the ol’ RSS again? Let’s all say it together: “it depends.” And what does it depend on? You guessed it: your content strategy and goals.
Andy Bowers, executive producer of Slate’s podcasts, points out some of the key characteristics that should be explored when trying to determine if they are a fit for your strategy.
Podcasts Require Time and Attention
Typically, podcasts are a 20-30 minute segment that will require the user’s attention. Keep this in mind when deciding whether your audience typically is willing to invest this much (mainly distraction-free) time on your content. At times we seem to be chopping content into smaller and smaller bits for faster and easier consumption. In some ways, podcasts (like long form articles) are a step away from this (especially when you combine the two forms, such as the Longform Podcast). As a positive, they do not require your user to focus on a screen, like a video does, and they can still impart significant information while a user’s eyes can be used for what are hopefully fairly mindless tasks.
They Don’t Do Viral
A great point from Bowers (via Digg) points to podcasts’ “anti-viral” nature, especially at a time when social media sharing is a predominant way of finding content.
Some of the main reasons for this viral resistance are the points made above. Podcasts are generally more of a meal rather than the snack of a cat video or some animated gifs. This significantly informs the process of how users will find your content. Podcasts depend on more traditional forms of marketing, such as word of mouth for Serial, or social media promotion that promotes the podcast more directly and doesn’t depend on organic sharing. If you have gotten used to retweets and other viral marketing, you will need to revisit how you promote a podcast series.
Once People Find it, They’re Hooked
Bowers also points out the almost cult-like nature that podcasts can foster, comparing them to “appointment television.” Anyone else had to sit at a dinner party as the only one who hadn’t followed Serial? It can be worse than not watching House of Cards. The devotion to podcasts is one of the reasons that they have been able to quietly continue to grow in popularity (PDF, 468 KB, 61 pages) despite falling out of the news or public awareness. This level of dedication is extremely attractive to advertisers but can also be very important to your content strategy. As opposed to people who follow or like your content, podcasts provide a captive audience for a much more substantial content experience.
Should you be podcasting? You’ll have to figure it out for yourself, but your agency should at least remember it is still a viable and useful channel, and its increasing popularity can be an opportunity.
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