Luke Mintz looks at how technology firms can leverage the podcasting revolution.
When popular dating app Tinder launched a podcast last year, exploring the tricks and perils of romance in the digital age, the online reaction was generally skeptical – who would listen to a podcast so clearly designed for corporate brand promotion?
But Tinder is just one of many tech companies taking advantage of the so-called “podcast renaissance”.
Podcasts have rocketed in popularity since Apple added them to iTunes in 2005, with a US-based Pew study finding in 2016 that 21% of Americans had listened to a podcast in the previous month, up from 12% in 2013. Indeed, 5 million people downloaded the first series of ‘Serial’ – the hit murder mystery created by the producers of This American Life. That’s more than the number who watched HBO’s much-hyped TV series Girls the same year.
Tech firms are quickly discovering podcasts as the ‘new big thing’ they would be foolish to ignore. So how can they take advantage?
According to The Atlantic’s Joe Pinkser, during the late 2000s (when podcasts were first getting big) the new medium was thought to attract the “entrepreneurial, early-adopter” type of listener that tech firms sought to sell to. The firms were searching for “tech-savvy listeners”, and believed the new, shiny form of content that all the kids were using was the perfect place to find them.
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This legacy continues today. A 2015 analysis of podcast sponsors by US blog FiveThirtyEight found that 87% of adverts featured in iTunes’ top 100 podcasts were for web-based services, including a sizeable number of web-production companies. Indeed, the prominence of Squarespace in podcast advert slots has become something of an online joke.
Sophie Herdman, from London-based podcast platform Acast, says that with 53% of listeners having visited a website they heard advertised on a podcast, sponsorship makes sense.
“From an advertising perspective, tech companies and startups should definitely be using podcasting as part of their marketing mix,” she said, “and many of them do.”
The expansion of podcasting has also come hand-in-hand with the return of what marketing executives call “native advertising”. Whilst single corporate sponsorship (reserving only one firm to advertise on each programme) fell out of fashion many decades ago in the television world, many companies – including several key tech firms – have found the practice well-suited to podcasts.
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Hearing an advertisement from the trusted and soothing voice of your podcast host is more likely to make you listen to what it says, it is believed. The overwhelming majority of ads analysed by FiveThirtyEight were native.
Many tech firms have sought to exploit the “podcasting renaissance” one step further – by creating their very own.
Cloud-based collaboration tool Slack leaped on this bandwagon in 2015, producing 28 episodes of Slack Variety Pack. The programme describes itself as a “podcast about work, and the people and teams who do amazing work together”. The most recent episode discussed emojis, and how they can politely be used in the office.
This projection of a tech firm’s function onto an original content programme appears, at first glance, bizarre: the equivalent of Tesco producing its own TV sitcom about shopping antics, or Barclays bank releasing a cover of Abba’s ‘Money Money Money’.
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But more and more tech firms are taking this path, and audiences don’t yet seem to mind. The podcast produced by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Andreessen Horowitz, as well as those belonging to eBay and Need/Want, have attracted loyal audiences.
Blair Metcalfe, from the London-based PR firm MSLGroup, believes tech firms take their personality seriously, and podcasts provide an outlet.
“In the tech world, many business leaders live their brand,” he said, “and to some extent their brand is an extension of their personality and vision.
“There are of course dangers to having too much personality behind a business […] However, the benefits of showcasing your talent, its voices, and opinions can distinguish you from competitors and help support reputation and sales,” added Metcalfe.
Those working in tech can also, of course, resort to the simple, old-fashioned method of podcast use: listening to them. Luckily, the internet is awash with lists of informative tech-related podcasts, which any budding tech entrepreneur should be consuming daily.