How Can Your Business Benefit From Podcasts?

Image Courtesy Zoomar on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/zoomar

Earlier this month, Social Media Consultant, and entrepreneur, Kiruba Shankar and I launched our podcast on digital and social marketing. The podcast, called Digital PowWow with Kiruba and Amar, aims to be a go to resource for digital and social marketing in India. As we were drawing up the list of topics to cover, one of the subjects that came up was podcasts themselves. Specifically, we wanted to talk about why businesses in India should consider launching a podcast. A series of brainstorming sessions led to a two part series (you can listen to Part I and Part II of our discussion on the Digital PowWow website). Like always, we tried to answer the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. Let me explain.

(Many of you might be familiar with podcasts, so you can skip to the segment “Should Businesses consider podcasting?”)

What is a Podcast anyways?

The What: According to Wikipedia, a podcast is a series of audio or video files that users can subscribe. In most cases, podcasts can be freely downloaded. The first part of our discussion is a sort of a curtain raiser. We talk about the types of podcasts that business can launch. A podcast is an on-demand form of digital content. Consider it similar to a RSS feed for news. Once a podcast is subscribed to, the new episodes get delivered to the your device.

Video podcasts provide a rich experience but sizes of the files are heavy and can take up a lot of bandwidth. The advantage of an audio podcast is that the listener can multi task while listening to the podcast: driving, walking the dog, or running.

Should Businesses Consider Podcasting?

The Why. Like any initiative, the purpose behind launching a podcast should be very clear. Is the podcast going to help in branding? Can it help in establishing a thought leadership position for the company? Can podcasts be a means of customer connect paricularly for business to business organizations? How about employee engagement and even recruitment?

Most podcast hosting sites provide statistics in the form of what are the number of downloads per day and per episode, which can be further divided by geography, and even the type of device. And of course, the level of engagement (number of shares, likes and comments) can also be tracked. Most importantly, the listeners can subscribe to podcasts or newsletters, which provides an opportunity for targeted marketing.

Podcast hosts can get data about the devices used by susbscribers to consume the content. Screenshot taken from Libsyn for MyKitaab Podcast.

Where is the Audience for Podcasts?

The Where. As is expected, the target audience for the podcast may differ depending on the positioning of the podcast. There might be some overlaps, for example, a customer connect story could play a very important role in recruitment particularly in customer focused companies.

According to some recent studies, atleast 17% of US population has listened to podcasts in the past year (data from Edison Research); and there are several thousand podcasts available on the US iTunes store. According to the Washington Post, the number of downloads for podcasts reached the 1 billion mark last year and monthly podcast listeners number 75 million per month. In contrast, India has only about 30 or 40 podcasts that are actively publishing new content, with atleast three or four podcasts getting launched every month.

Podcasters can track subscribers by geography. Screenshot taken from Libsyn for MyKitaab Podcast.

The content on podcast can be easily re-purposed. For example, creating a video podcast need not be seen as a one time expense. The video(s) can be hosted on Corporate site, Youtube or Vimeo for example. The audio feed from the video can be extracted and released as an audio podcast on iTunes or other streaming services such as TuneIn or Stitcher Radio. The transcripts from the podcasts can be converted into an article, a series of blogposts, a whitepaper or even a book.

Lets’ Talk Specifics

The How. Podcasts can also be used as a brand building exercise. For example, a science fiction podcast called The Message was sponsored byGE. It has a very high quality of production, and the podcast was very well received and received great reviews. Back home, Flipkart has an in house podcast is called Studio 34. There has been news about Arre, a content platform from from UDigital Content Pvt. Ltd and backed by Ronnie Screwwala which will produce content for podcasts among other things. In the following section, we will talk about how podcasting can help different types of businesses.

Podcasting for education

Education or product companies can use podcasts as a marketing tool or lead generator for reaching out to potential students or customers. In particular, Professions which have continuing education requirements can benefit through podcasts. For example, I am a US Green Building Council Accredited Professional. I am able to meet most of my continuing education requirements required for maintaining my credential by listening to or watching podcasts.

Y Combinator and Stanford University have a podcast called How To Start a Startup, where students receive first hand knowledge on how to pitch to investors, how to build teams, etc. from the likes of Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn) and venture capitalist Peter Theil.

Podcasting for Startups

Startups can launch their own podcasts or appear as guests on podcasts can get free PR. Gimlet Media’s founder Alex Blumberg has been able to use this idea very effectively. Since the time Gimlet media was founded a little more than one year ago, Startup has gone on to become one of the most popular podcasts, making Alex and Gimlet Media recognizable brand names. Similarly, Kathy, the co-founder of Webs Yarn Store, has hosted over 200 podcast episodes on the topic of knitting. This is a very niche market, but she has become the go-to person in this field, which has helped not only her company’s brand but also in helping her business to grow.

As on today, 5 or 6 out of the top 20 podcasts on iTunes India are on the topic of Entrepreneurship. Founders of startups can contact the hosts of these shows to get interviewed. For example, Kiruba was a recent guest on the Rocking Entrepreneur podcast.

Kiruba was also able to benefit by launching a podcast. He interviewed Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia forKiruba.tv, and their mutual interest in Creative Commons Licenses led to Kiruba attending a conference in Japan. It was a great learning experience for him. More recently, Kiruba interviewed Anand Mahindra, Chairman and Managing Director of the Mahindra Group, for his show. This resulted in one of the biggest social media consulting engagements for his company.

Podcasting for Small Businesses

Organizations like Wishberry, which is a crowdfunding company similar to kickstarter, have very good tutorials on how to raise funds using crowdfunding, They can convert this content into a podcast which can help in expanding the reach as well as visibility with little incremental effort. Similarly, legal firms, Marriage Bureaus and consultants can launch podcasts in niche areas, and they may even get sponsorships for their work.

Podcasting for Large Business

Kiruba was a co-host of the India Digital Summit in New Delhi, where Rajan Andan, Managing Director of Google India, noted that 95% of the video consumed by urban Indians on YouTube is in regional languages. Next growth for consuming content will come from the Tier III or smaller cities. Digital content in regional languages is expected to grow exponentially.

Hindustan Unilever (HUL) has made a headstart in connecting with the rural population through its initiative called Kan Khajura Tesan. Listeners can call a toll free number, and for 30 minutes they can listen to news, jokes, etc. This is general information content similar to broadcast radio, but the difference is that it is On Demand. HUL can very easily make this into a podcast as the data connectivity and smartphone usage in rural areas increases.

Podcasting for Personal Branding

YouTube Celebrity Chef Sanjay Thummaand Robin Sharma’spodcast are examples of personal branding. Sanjay Thumma, for example, has received over 100 million views on YouTube for his videos and now has shows on TV channels. (For the purpose of this post, I am not differentiating between a classic Podcast (available on itunes or other podcasting apps and YouTube channels). This should give an idea of the potential and the power of podcasting as a tool for personal branding.

Audio or Video?

The How. The short answer is that it depends on what is the purpose behind the podcast, as well as the intended audience. For Audio, the Go To place is iTunes. Similarly for Video, the Go To place is YouTube. To circle back to education as a market, video (rather, audiovisual) is and should be the preferred medium. Product companies can also use this format effectively for demonstrating the features of their products, including tutorials and instructional videos. Audio might work better where the end user (listener) is unable to watch the videos, or because of cost of production or bandwith. For a wider reach, audio could be thr preferred medium.

What is Preventing a Adoption of Podcasts by Indian Businesses?

Ignorance about the power of the medium could be the primary reason. Second factor is the technology and limited reach. The technological challenges are bound to be overcome in the coming years with the use of smartphones, wider availability of podcasting apps (including native apps for android devices) and wider reach of 3G and 4G networks. Cost of production of content as well cost of bandwith is reducing, which will help in spread of podcasting. For example, a 20 minute weekly podcast used to consume roughly 280 MB of data in the past for the listener. Today, the same podcast with equivalent audio quality consumes 80 MB.

The market size for podcast remains small in revenue terms. In the US, the estimated market size for ad revenue for this medium is 50 million dollars. Even National Public Radio, the Big Daddy of podcasting with severl hit shows such as Serial and This American Life, earned less than 5 million US Dollars last year from corporate sponsorships, according to a CBS Moneywatch report.

I do not believe they look at the monetary value of podcasting holistically, they are only looking at ad revenue, because that is measureable right away. However, let us consider the cost of customer acquisition, or a walk in candidate who listened to a podcast by a company X and wanted to work with them. Add these intangible benefits, and the numbers could be much higher. But that is a conversation for a different time. For the Indian market, we should not even look at the revenue opportunity just yet. But I believe that podcasts can provide a first mover advantage for companies that adopt this medium because the market is still very nascent.

The good part is that the production ecosystem is in place in India: video production houses that produce video and audio content for corporates, lowering bandwidth costs, increasing use of smartphones all point towards one conclusion: the timing is right for businesses to consider this medium. More so if we consider regional languages.

What’s Next?

The When. Brand managers and marketers who are unfamiliar with podcasts as a medium of distribution of content can begin by listening to podcasts related to topics of their interests. Secondly, they should spend time in understanding what companies around the world are doing with this medium. It might be too early for most organizations to launch a podcast in the coming financial year. In fact, I believe that it might even be too late to propose such an idea; considering that the marketing budgets must have been frozen by now. But this is the perfect time to get comfortable with the medium, prepare a strong case for podcast, and keep the powder dry.