11 July 2019
Today, podcasts are everywhere. And yet, I distinctly remember a day in 2014 while studying for my journalism degree that podcasts, or “audio blogging” as my lecturers then called it, was presented as a new, shiny alternative to so-called ‘traditional’ broadcasting. This was the year that podcasts resurfaced, arguably with the investigative journalism podcast Serial being the catalyst, and their popularity shows no signs of slowing.
Whether it’s to avoid speaking to passengers on your daily commute, or because the generic ‘marathon playlist’ is no longer spurring you to do that 5k run, people are turning to podcasts for their diversity of topics, convenience, and intimate listening experience.
Since working at Right Angles, I have been involved in the production of five different podcasts, which has given me a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how they can flourish, be monetised and used as a business tool. But there is always room for improvement, and sometimes this means taking time out to think creatively, which is why I recently attended a Podcast Day event in London. Here are some of the key messages and strategic approaches that have stuck with me in creating a unique listening experience.
“Bittersweet, most of the podcasts are addressing something that shouldn’t have happened, they take trauma and put it into a story to make change, they are showing the next generation a new form of constructive creativity”
The winner of five podcast awards, George Mpanga, better known as George The Poet, has an inspiring approach to podcasts. A rapper since he was 15 years old, George has transformed his rhymes into musical poetry, commenting on major social issues such as Grenfell and hate crime. He’s pushed the boundaries of what a podcast “should” sound like by presenting angles not covered in the mainstream media; his opinions are representative and transparent. Not only is he educating through his stories, he’s creating an experience.
“The most effective thing is social media, if you want to be at the top of people’s feed, you’ve got to keep interacting with your audience and promoting your next episode”
When Lydia Bright walked onto the stage under the heading ‘ audio influencer’ I didn’t automatically recognise her, although everyone else did, given the number of people taking pictures! Lydia used to be in The Only Way is Essex, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but nonetheless her podcast The Brights is the industry’s first structured reality podcast, and has been hugely successful. Taking advantage of her fan base, she gives listeners behind-the-scenes snippets, and is constantly engaging with her listeners through comments, IGTV and Instagram Live events.
“I think people who are interested, are interested in their locality, that familiar scenario, it makes people feel safe and aware at the same time”
Sinead Mchugh of true crime podcast Mens Rea, explained how, although time consuming to produce, it stands out thanks to its human impact. One brave audience member asked if they felt guilty for exploiting these stories, making myself — and probably everyone else in the room, given the eager anticipation for the answer — question our own enjoyment of the true crime genre. But these stories are all in the public sphere; Sinead explained how they just need to be mindful of the perspective — and the voices you don’t hear.
We later heard from the producers of Death In Ice Valley by the BBC World Service. Yes, it’s another crime podcast, but worth mentioning just for their strategy for engaging listeners: they simply created a Facebook group to release extra material to engaged listeners. This idea not only created a worldwide fanbase which comes together on one platform, but it also creates a space for the listener to be the Agatha Christie or Columbo, solving the mystery with the production team.
“The future of Google is full coverage news and podcasts that allow you to dive into a story from different angles”
Zack Reneau, founder and head of product for Google Podcasts, shared their plans to add podcasts to search results. They are transitioning to a world where people are prepared to listen to content outside of the home, and where people can observe a news story from a plurality of angles. The initial winners of this update will be those who have built up a catalogue of content with topics that will be picked up by SEO. But, for those who aren’t interested in finding a podcast on the Top 10 lists, this technology will transcribe the audio and pick up on more details. So, if you’re interested in more obscure podcasts like The Secrets of Shaving or “cat people” podcast Purrrcast, then you’re in for a treat!
The day’s events clearly demonstrated how podcasts are continuing to evolve. We will soon see an increase in the content produced around them, from live shows to some even making a move to TV, like Brexitcast.
With the power of subscribe, donate and share on social media, it looks like podcasts are here to stay for the long haul — and the best thing is, getting started in the podcast game is easier than you may think. The key is finding a theme that aligns with your brand and practice. So pick up your mics and get podcasting!