Mailchimp. Blue Apron. Squarespace. If you listen to a lot of podcasts, you’re probably very familiar with these brands. That’s because all three have made a name for themselves by advertising heavily on podcasts. And in the last few years, podcasts have really taken a step into the limelight, so these brands have been able to get their names in front of an ever-growing number of consumers.
But there’s a rub: Podcasts are a bit of a black box for advertisers. With very limited reporting data available through podcast platforms like Apple’s, it can be be difficult for advertisers to know that they are reaching the right audiences. They may know how many times the podcast has been downloaded or streamed but that’s where it ends. There’s no way to tell what parts of the podcast were listened to (including the ads) or get any information about the interests and demographics of their audience.
Luckily, social media analytics can help brands identify the demographics, interests, reactions and listening habits of podcast audiences to determine the right shows to advertise on.
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Before diving into what social media can tell us about podcast audiences, let’s look at how podcasting went from niche “audio blogs” to mainstream popularity, and what social media can tell us about its ascent.
The Rise of the Podcast
While podcasts have been around since the 1980’s when they were known as audio blogs, Apple introduced the modern version of the podcast in 2005.
In 2010, five years after Apple’s introduction, the podcast became more popular when more consumers gained access to smartphones and wifi connected devices. Now, people were listening on-the-go, not just on a computer. In June of 2012, podcasts gained more mainstream popularity when Apple introduced the podcast only app.
From there, the popularity of podcasts has continued to grow with more listening options and more podcasts. Today, the two most common platforms to listen to podcasts are iTunes and SoundCloud. In early 2016, Apple stated that they had over 325,000 podcasts on their platform, but with hundreds of other podcast streaming services there are far more out there beyond Apple’s library.
Who Listens to Podcasts and When?
The conversation about podcasts on Twitter takes a dip on the weekends, which can lead us to believe that people are listening to the shows during working hours or when they are commuting to and from work. The demographic for the general podcast conversation on social media is mostly men over the age of 35, which aligns with the demographic of radio consumers. That being said, each individual podcast appeals to a different audience.
Thanks to the vast library of podcasts and wide range of demographics, these shows are increasingly important advertising opportunities for brands. Brands can now advertise to very specific audiences via podcasts, but the challenge is understanding the exact interests and demographics of a particular podcast’s audience. AdAge states that advertising “is forecast to grow in the US about 25% a year through to 2020.”
Some podcasts have straightforward subjects that make it easier for advertisers to align, like advertising for online investing platform Betterment on NPR’s Planet Money podcast. It’s reasonable to assume that fans of Planet Money, a podcast with stories about money and finance, would be interested in investing, and thus a good audience for Betterment ads.
But many of the most popular podcasts aren’t so straightforward. Some of the top podcasts including This American Life and My Brother, My Brother, and Me attract big audiences but don’t stick to consistent topics, making targeted advertising more challenging.
Building Big Audiences
This American Life was already a successful podcast, but when they released Serial in October of 2014, their popularity grew. Serial, a nonfiction retelling of a 1999 murder trial, became a breakout hit, capturing the hearts and ears of millions. There was a 47% increase in conversation about podcasts after the release of Serial. The show still sits in the top 10 podcasts on iTunes.
The show won the first-ever Peabody award for a podcast, stating that the podcast “rocketed podcasting into the cultural mainstream”. Serial has also been optioned for a TV series on the making of the show. In the wake of Serial’s success, the creators of Serial and This American Life launched another new show in 2017, S-Town. In just one week S-Town was downloaded 16 million times, it took Serial eight weeks to reach that.
Podcast recommendation: S-Town. It’s epic, intimate, crazy, mysterious, informative, tragic and downright brilliant. …
— somnamkang (@somnamkang) April 9, 2017
Let’s take a look at the comedy category. My Brother, My Brother and Me, known as MBMBaM to their listeners, an advice show for the modern era. Collectively, the three brothers behind the show now have over 300k followers on Twitter and over 15 podcasts between them. In February of this year they released season one of their TV show, with NBC’s Seeso, inspired by their original podcast MBMBaM.
— Kiera Peacock (@KieraTweetWorld) January 15, 2016
The McElroy Brothers are a zany bunch and you can imagine that those who listen to their shows would share similar interests to them, and you would be right. Listeners of MBMBaM are interested in: Doctor Who, webcomics, video games, and blogging, when compared to the rest of Twitter. These topics are all frequently discussed on the show.
When choosing a podcast to promote your brand’s message on you need to take into account both the audience and the way that the message will be presented on the show. For example, if a company was looking to advertise on a show like MBMBaM they would need to first understand the advertising structure. The brothers have an advertising section in their show which they call “The Money Zone” where they talk about their sponsors, usually through comedy. Listeners of the show can also buy “Jumbotron” spots to have the brothers read messages to their friends. If the advertising structure works for your brand you have to figure out if your audience and the podcast’s audience share similar interests to ensure that the message will resonate.
The Radio Resurgence
History repeats itself, and as it turns out, entertainment trends also repeat themselves. Traditional AM/FM talk radio has been declining in popularity for years, but the type of story-based audio programs that once ruled the airways before television are now back in style with podcasts. As more and more people begin to “cut the cord” on their cable subscription in favor of services like Netflix and Hulu, podcasts provide the audio alternative to Netflix and Hulu.
*listening to podcast on phone through headphones, walk in house*
“Alexa, connect to my phone”
*podcast continues playing through echo* ?
— Robb Lewis (@rmlewisuk) October 3, 2016
By leveraging social media analytics brands can capitalize on the podcast trend to find new advertising opportunities. In 2017 and the years to come we can expect a continued rise in the popularity and reach of podcasts. Even since the beginning of the year the conversation around podcasts has increased by 53%. With the introduction of new audio devices like Apple TV, Google Home, Amazon Echo, and the on-demand nature of podcasts, listening has become easier, and will only continue to get easier.
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