Business

The popularity of podcasting is growing and if your business hasn't considered it, perhaps it should

Podcasts have transformed hours of otherwise tedious commutes for millions of people. Podcasts can be informative, motivational and entertaining. According to Edison Research, one-third of all Americans 12 or older say that they have listened to at least one podcast.

Podcasting isn't new. It has been around for more than a decade. Podcasts are digital media files that can be audio and video, though audio is more prevalent. They are often produced into a series allowing users to subscribe, then download and listen. Podcasts may be consumed on the podcaster's website or downloaded on mobile devices using apps such as Podcast, Stitcher, Tune In, SoundCloud and iHeartRadio.

The podcast audience has shifted from "early adaptors" of the media to more mainstream media consumers. What makes podcasts attractive is they allow the user to choose the content when they want to consume it. Podcasts range from information podcasts on industry-specific topics to entertainment series.

Podcasting is the dark horse of online marketing.

With 17 percent of the U.S. population listening to podcasts, businesses cannot ignore this means of communication to share information. Statistics show that people downloading podcasts are generally affluent and educated, and avid social media users. They typically get their information from the Internet, not traditional news sources.

Podcasts are a great communication tool for brands, and the goal should be producing a quality podcast representing the brand positively, says Steven Lubetkin of Lubetkin Media Companies and co-author of The Business of Podcasting. Businesses should not be focused on how many people are downloading the podcast but on who is listening to the podcast. Going viral is not the point; reaching customers is. The key is getting the right people listening to the podcast.

An example Lubetkin shares is of a specialized insurance company that received multiple calls from prospects asking what they do and what it means, etc. It was time-consuming for the business and wasn't resulting in productive conversations. The business created a series of podcasts from the top questions it was receiving. There were 13,000 downloads of their podcast, which potentially helped avoid conversations with 13,000 people. When prospects did call, the calls were more valuable and productive conversations for both company and customers.

The benefits for businesses in adding podcasts to their marketing mix include:

■ Promotes the business as a thought leader by sharing their expertise with the audience.

■ Time efficient for the business and customer.

■ Becomes a go-to resource for customers for help, news and insights.

■ Good content regularly produced can help with SEO.

A good podcast is not about the hard sell and should not be a commercial. It is about solving the customers' specific problem or giving them information they are looking for. It should be good, honest information. That said, if consumers are listening to specific content and are learning from it, they are more willing to listen to subtle sponsorship promotions if targeted to their needs.

It takes planning to produce a quality podcast. While good content is important, the production value is just as important. It can make the business look professional or not. Podcasts should have quality audio, music intro/closing, be edited well, easily distributed to audience, and embeddable into the business's website. Time investment varies based on the topic of the podcast. Businesses should budget four figures for a series of podcasts to be produced professionally.

Businesses that use good podcasting can build trust and a relationship with their audience that ultimately could result in more customers and more business.

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