Podcasts. What’s the big deal?

We’ve talked a bit about blogging and how valuable and important it is on chilibean. What we haven’t spoken about all that much is why podcasting could be valuable, particularly to a business. I’m going to throw out a few ideas about podcasting and its relevance in a business context in this post.

An important consideration when it comes to new media is making it relevant to a business where the bottom line is, well, the bottom line. It is all well and good how cool new media is but coolness is of limited value when you have to justify the expense. It makes sense to go back to what a podcast is and then proceed from there. A podcast is a pre-recorded media file that is made available for subscription using technologies like RSS. Although the term "podcast" was originally derived from the device that supported them, namely the iPod, podcasts can be downloaded and accessed using a variety of applications, not just iTunes and can be played on pretty much any device that supports mp3s (the most common format), not just the iPod. You can subscribe to episodes using a feed reader or applications designed for podcasts like iTunes, Juice and a variety of podcast clients.

So what does all of this have to do with a business? In a way, much of what a blog has to offer a business except the format creates a few interesting opportunities. Like a blog, a podcast gives you the opportunity to speak to your customers and prospective customers in your own voice (literally). If you publish a video podcast you can actually show your subscribers what you do and how you do it. Start thinking about the possibilities with audio and video formats and you begin to appreciate the potential of a podcast. Some of the principles of blogs remain relevant. The podcast should still be an expression of an authentic voice. If it becomes a series of adverts then you will lose your subscribers. The idea is to tell your subscribers about you and your business. A big part of that may be talking about what is going on in your industry or what your take is on your products. Things really start to become interesting when you open up for feedback (something I highly recommend you do) and how you respond to that feedback.

Something to bear in mind is that you don’t need to stick to a specific duration for your episodes. The nice thing about podcasting is that it can sometimes work better if you have a shorter show every week or two rather than a 40 minute diatribe about your latest product twice a week. The idea is to give your subscribers an insight into your product, your business and the people behind the scenes. Another thing to bear in mind is when your subscribers are likely to listen to the podcast and take this into consideration when you record the episodes. You may find that your subscribers will listen to your podcast during their commute or while they are on break so you may want to keep the duration shorter.

Another consideration is the format of your podcast. Some easy podcast recording applications will save the episodes in a specific format. For example, Apple’s Garageband prefers to export the file to iTunes in .m4a format (the iTunes format) which will only really suit people who listen to the podcast using their iPods. A better option if you want to appeal to a broader audience is the .mp3 format which will play on the vast majority of audio devices. Of course there is no rule that podcasts must be played on a portable audio device. Subscribers can just as easily listen to them on their computers or burn a collection of podcast episodes on to an audio CD and pop it into their car CD player.

There are a lot of podcasts out there and as more people start listening to podcasts you are going to find yourself competing for a very limited amount of time available for podcasts so you should make sure that your content is worth setting aside some rare listening time to listen to. People are not going to subscribe and listen to your podcast just because you publish it. There has to be something of value to them in it and to keep them coming back so I suggest you plan each episode and include show notes or even have your podcast transcribed and the transcription made available to your subscribers. Make your podcast accessible and engaging and it could prove to be a valuable tool for reaching your customers.

Of course, podcasts could also be used to communicate internally with your employees or even your stakeholders. A properly prepared podcast could replace a newsletter and perhaps even make your communications more human simply because it would be your voice on the podcast. The advantage of humanising your communications is that people tend to respond better to people they believe they know and if you come across as more human, you will probably find people start to identify with you and start to feel they know you better than your competitor. Think about it this way: if you are looking for a plumber, do you prefer someone you know or a total stranger?

There is so much more to podcasting. This post is really intended to be an introduction to some of the possibilities. Feel free to drop us a line if you would like to chat about more podcasting tips and ideas.

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