The spoken word. It connects in ways that the written does not. Maybe that is why the podcast, an old delivery platform that many thought was past its prime, is enjoying such a revival. The podcast allows us to tell stories, provide context and connect on a human level, and it holds a very important place in the role of an integrated digital strategy.
Serial changed everything for the podcast. The series, hosted by Sarah Koenig and part of the This American Life podcast was a 12 part in-depth look at the true crime case of Adnan Syed. It shattered records, making the podcast the most popular in the United States and leading to real life ramifications with the re-opening of the case it covered. The success of Serial has led to an explosion of interest and adoption of this venerable delivery platform, with an enormous number of people and organizations jumping on the bandwagon and producing podcasts for their audiences. What made Serial so successful, what can we learn from it, and how do we deliver a meaningful podcast in the digital strategy space?
Serial succeeded on two critical levels. It had a tremendous story, and it delivered it exceptionally well. The singular focus on telling the one story, with a clear understanding and application of the story arc is part of what drove this to such heights. But more than that was its delivery. Function followed form, taking advantage of the inherent strengths of the podcast format, integrating narration with first party interviews from a wide variety of perspectives, and delivering it over almost 12 hours of episodes. It is the epitome of a great story well told.
A great story well told. That is the key takeaway of the success of Serial. At the heart of this is the ability and the opportunity to be a great storyteller. What are the fundamentals that you need in order to be that, and to deliver it well through podcasting?
It begins with a very clear sense of your audience, what they want to hear, and how they will react. Understand that the podcasting revolution has happened at the same time as the rise of mobile. This is not a coincidence. Podcasting is built for mobile consumption, with its ability to operate in the background for an on the move audience. Unlike other digital platforms, the podcast doesn’t need you to actively focus on it in order to get its message across.
Built on that is the need for a vision. Ask yourself, what is the purpose of this podcast? What do I want people to think on hearing it? How do I want them to feel? This is important because it will help you focus your podcast. And focus is important because there is so much noise in this space. By focusing on a specific topic, you are able to differentiate, to better communicate, and to connect. Focus helps you tell your story better and not only tells your audience what to expect, it encourages them to tune in to the next episode. If this podcast series suddenly featured an episode on cats and how awesome they are (because they are!), it would be factually correct, but it would be a jarring experience for those that were tuning in to hear more about digital strategy.
The next consideration is planning. By staying focused, it makes you more disciplined in the subject matter. This makes it increasingly difficult to deliver original and compelling stories on a regular basis. It is only through planning that you are able to do so.
With all that in mind, you have to consider the delivery of the story. A podcast is very simple and low tech to produce. I use a Snowball Microphone and edit on my laptop using Garageband. I then use Liberated Syndication to host the podcast. This is all something that can be learned in an afternoon. I pair the release of each episode with a posting on this blog in an effort to reach as many of my audience as possible. And importantly, I ensure that a new episode is released on the same day every week. This trains the audience to anticipate and look for it, just as they would a regular radio show. This is then shared through social platforms and optimized for search in order to generate as much exposure to the material as possible. In other words, consistency matters in podcasting.
Through this combination, I have been humbled to see that my niche podcast, focused as it is on a highly specialized and nerdy subject in a crowded marketplace has been downloaded tens of thousands of times over. The accompanying blog, almost at the end of its second year, has been visited by over ten thousand people in over 150 countries around the world. I share these numbers with you not to boast, but rather, first to sincerely say thank you for following, listening and sharing, and also as an illustration that by focusing on the fundamentals I’ve outlined above, it is possible to create a connection with an audience through a simple and direct platform. But to do so, it starts with an important principle. A great story well told.
Next week on octopus, we will continue to explore the role of the digital strategist. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.