If you identify yourself as one of the 27 million Americans  who listened to at least one podcast in the last month, then you have caught on to the joys of streaming, audio knowledge. A silent revolution, overshadowed in part by social media, podcasts have dramatically impacted the way we acquire information on a daily basis.
They have enabled us to have virtual conversations with the editors of The Economist  on world politics, discuss psychology with the writers of Scientific America  and keep up to date on the latest online marketing news with This Week In Google . The best part? We get to have these discussions while brushing our teeth, taking a jog or driving to work. Podcasts have become an ideal form of acquiring information in an age when newspapers seem archaic and the majority of us don’t have the time to sit down to have breakfast. They are efficient, free and informational.
As subscribers, podcasts are convenient, but as marketers they present us with the opportunity to speak directly to an engaged, curious audience that has self-identified themselves as interested in what we have to say.
What is podcasting exactly and how can it be used for marketing?
Podcasts resulted from the proliferation of social media and the iPod, and the relatively low costs of creating audio content. As Annalee Newitz wrote back in 2005 for Wired magazine, the podcast, “is the bastard offspring of the blog and the Apple MP3 player. It combines the hyperactive talkiness of blogs and the hipness of iPods into something utterly new: the podcast.”  Back in 2005 podcasts were primarily used by tech geeks, looking for a cheap means of broadcasting their opinions. Today, several leading corporations, such as American Airlines, Disney, McDonalds and the New York Times, have caught on to the power of the podcast, producing their own original content. Other companies, like Whirlpool and Georgia-Pacific Corps., have begun sponsoring podcasts directed towards their targeted demographics.
These marketers have figured out how to leverage podcasting as a marketing tool.
Here are a couple of ways they are achieving this:
- Invitation Marketing – The basic theory behind online marketing is that customers invite you into their space, rather having you invade it with traditional forms of analogue marketing. Podcasts follow this same principle. Listeners invite you to share with them your company’s message and, in doing so, they identify themselves as pre-qualified leads, generating higher conversion rates and saving time and money.
- Building a Relationship – One of the benefits of podcasting is that the listeners tend to keep coming back. Because listeners can choose to subscribe to your podcast, they act like regular customers who come into your shop for a quick chat. Good podcasts take this relationship seriously and ask their listeners for feedback on what they enjoy about the podcast and what they want to hear more or less of.
- Brand Building – Brand building has become a more nuanced practice since the advent of online marketing. Rather than relying on ad layouts and witty creative, online marketers now have to strategically position themselves as industry thought leaders. Podcasting present an opportunity, in conjunction with blogging and social media, to position your brand as progressive and an authority in your industry.
- Public Relations– While it shouldn’t be the only thing companies use podcasts for, they are a great way to report important developments and allow marketers to include audio interviews and commentary.
What do you need to know?
Creating a podcast can be as complicated or as simple as you want to make it. The basics are very basic, but there is a whole world of jargon  and advice on how to properly produce a podcast.
Here’s the foundation of what you need to know in terms of the technology:
- Creating the file – In order to create a podcast, you first have to create an audio file. Here’s what you need:
- Microphone– There are a range of microphones available on the market. Some sources will tell you that you can use the microphone built into your computer, but in reality the quality won’t be great. Others say that you have to go as far as buying a recorder/mixer, but if you aren’t planning to go out in the field with your podcast you can save the money and just invest in the microphone.
- Audio Software– Producing your podcast can done either on a Mac or a PC with the recording/editing software the computer came with, for Macs that’s GarageBand and PC users you can use Window’s Media Player. Both systems can be used to edit your podcasts, which can help delete awkward silences, tangential conversations or edit together snippets recorded at different times. If you aren’t comfortable working with GarageBand or Window’s Media Player, there is a free audio program available for both Macs and PCs called Audacity .
- Saving the file – You should save the podcast as an MP3 file. Keep in mind that the higher the encoded bit rate, the better the sound quality will be.
- Hosting/archiving your podcast– Your podcast has to be stored somewhere in cyberspace. There are two options for storing your podcast, either on your website or using a third party hosting service.
- You can store your podcast on your website, but you run the risk of exceeding the bandwidth maximum set by your internet provider, which will cost you a pretty penny.
- The other option is to outsource your hosting to a company that specializes in podcast hosting. (Check out PodBean,  Podcast Revolution, or Dream Host )
- Getting your podcast out there– Assuming that you already have a blog, (if you don’t, check out this website  on how to start one), you have to create an RSS feed, which your listeners will subscribe to to receive automated updates for future podcasts. The easiest way to generate an RSS feed is to use Google’s Feedburner . To note: an RSS feed for a podcast is basically the same as it is for your blog. The only difference is that it also includes information about the content of your MP3 files (size, content, location, etc.).
- Obviously, you want to make your podcast available through iTunes. For all the details on how to submit your podcast and the terms of conditions required by Apple, check out their website .
- Tracking technology– PodTractor  is the most sophisticated tracking technology available. Their tracking technology is extremely comprehensive, tracking every download, the keywords used to find your podcast on iTunes, and more.
The benefit of producing a podcast is that is can support and help unify your other online marketing efforts. Successful podcasts often work in conjunction with corporate blogs and social media campaigns to discuss relevant topics and current events in your industry, which can help distinguish your organization as an industry thought leader.