Listen to this.
Very nearly 6 million people in the UK download podcasts every week. (Ofcom September 2018). In February 2018, 23% of the UK population listened to a podcast. And that figure is rising like a thrill-seeker’s ambition.
In the USA, more than 50% of the population describe themselves as Podcast subscribers or fans and 44% (124 million people) listens to at least one podcast in the course of a year. Podcasts are consumed by all sorts of people, in all sorts of places, seeking all sorts of content. Marketing organisation, MarTec, admitted to 4 million downloads of 200+ episodes since starting in 2003 - and 2018 research reveals that people like you and I listen to an average of 7 shows per week.
Podcasts work. And when they work well, they have the potential to become a fundamental part of daily life. Not least because they can satisfy a number of needs, without requiring us to ‘re-configure’ our ‘reception’. We can go from the intrigue and cliff-hanger hooks of a podcast like the brilliant ‘S-Town’, to the intellectual stimulus of In our Times, to Nocturne to Ear Hustle (created by two inmates in San Quentin State Prison), to whatever we fancy – or something we had no idea we would fancy until lending it an ear - and there is no need to adopt a different ‘stance’ or state of readiness.
When watching video content, shifting from genre to genre almost always requires an accompanying shift in state of mind. We find it hard to watch things when we aren’t ‘in the mood’ and this can get in the way of a story being pursued.
I can’t offer a clear, scientific reason why it is that people can go from podcast to podcast, seemingly effortlessly – while requiring a break in transmission when it comes to sustained visual engagement. But I wonder if part of the reason is to do with the fact that podcasts only require us to see with our imaginations. The worlds we hear don’t demand that we ‘sign-up’ for someone else’s vision. We don’t have to look for people, places, or things to identify with. We don’t have to work so hard at immersing ourselves in the story or insight we are ‘listening to’. Indeed, when we listen to a podcast, we bring with us a skill that goes back to our origins. ‘Listening in the dark’, is something that was essential to survival.
Once, humanity had to apply the sense of hearing and maintain a state of awareness whilst also, doubtless, being on the verge of sleep. Perhaps, as a result, we can instinctively listen with less determined effort – instantaneously engaging with audio stories and insights that provoke our intellects, emotions and imaginations.
Whatever the reasons for the constantly blossoming popularity of Podcasts globally, it seems to me that there is opportunity awaiting organisations who need to engage and connect with customers/stakeholders/employees/ collaborators/etc.
Podcasts at their best are so much more than a fact-dense audio update, or a picture-free news item. Podcasts are content rich and constructed with the a clear intention to provoke questions and enhance our desire to seek more insight elsewhere. The best Podcasts are really PRodcasts. They inspire us to go deeper and discover fresh information that we were not aware of before.
PRodcasts invite us to OWN the story and contribute to the outcome.
PRodcasts don’t need the draw of a Season finale. They keep the audience enthralled because audience members can, potentially, become contributors to the season and keep the story going, without break. (Reference the BBC’s: Death in Ice Valley)
Perhaps it is time for organisations, businesses and corporate communities to reflect on more than the potential appropriateness of a popular format – but also how that format works when it works at its best - delivering most impact. Creating PRodcasts may require some creative story setting, some editorial direction, some unexpected input in terms of audio triggers such as effects, soundtrack signallers, layered moments of intrigue and surprise – and these factors do not necessarily make podcasts easier to make… but the production value is well worth the effort, when the outcome is an audience that sticks and grows and grows and keeps on growing. And sticking.
PRodcasts might be a key way to create real desire to both know what’s going on and be a dynamic part of what happens next.