Listening in a pandemic: the latest data

Great new data on podcast listeners during the pandemic

COVID-19 has changed how we work and that change has had major impacts on the way podcast listeners consume content and the content they consume. Podcasts are more frequently becoming a go-to medium for work-from-home professionals.

According to Nielsen’s August Total Audience Report, before the pandemic peak media consumption was outside of work hours, with podcasts and talk radio performing well during commutes. Since working from home became the norm for many, things have changed.

Working from home provides consumers two elements vital to increasing consumption: time and choice. Whether its streaming video content, listening to podcasts or browsing social media, a majority of consumers have reported partaking in these behaviors during work hours. That means more windows of opportunity for content creators and advertisers alike to reach audiences outside of the traditional primetime, as well as potential new, creative ways to engage with consumers.

53% listening to spoken word (talk radio, podcasts) while working from home
From Nielsen: 53% listen at least once a week while working from home.

The WestwoodOne Podcast Network also released new data in September. Their Fall Report focuses on popular content, platforms, and the impact of the pandemic on listenership.

Some of their key findings are particularly relevant to public affairs podcasting, but we’ll get to that in a moment. Let’s start with their data on how podcast listeners’ behavior is changing.

According to the report, “Podcast listening is pandemic proof.” Over 90 percent of weekly podcast listeners say they spend the same or more time listening since the pandemic began. Of the listeners who say they spend more time with podcasts now, 55 percent are what WestwoodOne calls “Podcast Newcomers,” people who only started listening to podcasts in the months leading up to or in the early days of the pandemic.

In addition, the data show more people are listening to more podcasts. This year, 39 percent of podcast listeners say they listen to six or more hours a week, a 22 percent rise since 2017. For comparison, the percent who say they listen to three-to-five hours dropped from 38 percent in 2017 to 31 percent this year, and those who listen to under three hours held steady at 30 percent.

Another key finding is that among the six-hours-or-more listeners, to whom WestwoodOne assigns the hard rock moniker “Heavy Listeners,” 35 percent say they just started listening to podcasts within the seven to twelve months prior to January 2020. In other words, more than a third of Heavy Listeners are relatively new to the medium.

Podcast listeners and public affairs

While this is all positive data about the growth in podcast listenership generally, there are some data points that we think are important to public affairs podcasters. The demographic with the largest growth in listenership were women, among whom the average weekly time spent listening to podcasts increased 27 percent since 2017.

Listening among women grew 27%, Milennials 22%, and Genx-ers 18% since 2017.
Women and millennials were the fastest-growing demographics in the WestwoodOne survey.

Millennials also had a strong showing, with listenership growing 22 percent over three years, and GenX listeners grew a respectable 18 percent. Interestingly, Boomers, which WestwoodOne infuriatingly defines as age 50 to 64, actually fell by nine percent. They offered no explanation for this and, frankly, we can’t think of one. (I am not a Boomer, no matter what they say.)

Apart from demographic information, what listeners want from podcasts has some lessons for the public affairs industry. Not surprisingly, the top reason people say they listen to podcasts is to be entertained (63%). The second most common answer is to hear interesting stories (56%), and the third is to learn something new (50%). Staying up-to-date on news and current events comes in at 37 percent.

What does this mean for you? If you can make a podcast that includes interesting stories that teach your listeners something new, you can reach a sizable audience even without being “entertaining”. Just remember to create value.

In the coming weeks, Voxtopica will be learning more about how working from home impacts the kind of content people consume, and how valuable work-related audio content can be to them. We’ll be sure to share those results

Association Podcasts: 5 Awesome Ways to Create Value

In my last post, I wrote about how important it is for association podcasts to define their audience and why you need to create value for that audience. It’s the value you provide that will help your podcast grow.

In this post, I want to focus on that value. There are five things you should think about when creating a podcast for your association or business to ensure you are creating something that audiences will return to episode after episode.

Association podcasts should provide VALUE

Here’s the list in a nutshell: Make your podcast for your listener, not for yourself. Let them know what to expect, and give it to them consistently. Give them something to do in each episode, and give them ways to talk to you — then make sure you talk back. Finally, enjoy making your podcast. Listeners know when your heart’s not in it.

Make podcasts for the Audience

The first thing you need to know about creating value for your audience is that the podcast has to be for them. It doesn’t matter if you’re entertaining, educating, or challenging them. It has to be for them. It can’t be for you.

You association podcast is speaking to an audience.
It’s the people on the other side of the mic who matter most to your public affairs podcast.

Enterprises often make the mistake of focusing their podcasts on what they really want listeners to know. That’s an important business goal but it often leads to podcasts that talk at listeners instead of to them. Take the time to consider what the listeners want to know, learn, and understand.

At the risk of sounding repetitive, let me remind you that defining your audience is an important first step. If a business podcast’s audience is potential customers, for example, a podcast that talks about how to use their products will just confuse listeners. They don’t even have the product yet, so the creator risks making the product sound complicated: “Wow, I have to listen to a podcast to be able to use this stuff? Sounds hard.”

Potential customers will likely be much more receptive to a show that talks about a product’s features, perhaps including interviews with current customers who offer testimonials about how easy the products are to use and how they’ve benefitted.

Of course, the opposite is true for a podcast audience of current customers. They’ll appreciate tips and tricks for using your products and information about new features as add-ons.

This all sounds intuitive, I know, but you’d be surprised by how often I hear podcasters go on about the cool guests they have, the great ideas they’re sharing, and the really important information they’re offering up for free, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone listening. A major factor is usually that only they think the guests are cool, the ideas are great, or the information is important.

Fulfill the audience’s expectations

The second thing you need to know about creating value in your podcast is that you have to set expectations for your listeners and then fulfill them in every episode. 

If you open a box from a retailer, but the contents aren't what you expect, you'll be disappointed.
No one likes to be disappointed. Set your audience’s expectations, and meet them.

The hardest thing about starting a podcast is getting new listeners. The second hardest thing is keeping those listeners, and I’d argue that keeping them is much more important. Why? Think of it this way: If you get 25 new listeners each week but only 10 of them listen to the next episode, it’ll take you 10 weeks to have 100 listeners. If 20 of them come back, however, you’ll have 100 listeners in just five weeks. (This is a simplistic scenario, but you get the point.)

Meeting expectations plays a huge role in keeping listeners. If, for example, your podcast is lighthearted and fun one episode, but serious and intense the next, you’re placing a burden on your listeners to be in the right state of mind for your changing tone. Over time, listeners who prefer lighthearted content will choose to listen to something they know is fun rather than taking a chance that the latest episode of your show is what they want.

Listeners’ expectations aren’t just about tone. They have expectations for audio quality, topics, and length. If your episodes range in length from 20 minutes to 90 minutes and are released on an inconsistent schedule, you’re making listeners find time for your show. If they know your episodes are always 20-30 minutes and come out every other Thursday, then they can plan for your show, say, during their morning commute.

When listeners know what to expect from every episode, and those expectations are met, they’ll press “Play” again when your next episode appears, and your listenership will grow.

Get your audience active

The third thing you need to know about creating value for your podcast audience is to include action items. These shouldn’t really be “assignments” necessarily, just something they can do after the episode has ended.

Giving your audience a way to get more, learn more, engage more, participate, or anything else they can do creates the sense that you’re offering more than just the podcast. It doesn’t need to be a lot; simply inviting listeners to read a related blog post (and including the link in your show notes!) is enough to give them the feeling that there’s more value available.

You needn’t worry too much about whether listeners actually do the action you’ve offered. Just by letting them know there’s more, you’ve added value. Of course, it’s a good idea to track what you can. (For example, use a trackable link in your show notes.) If you can measure the response, you’ll be gathering valuable data that can inform your choices for future podcast episodes.

When listeners know that your business podcasts are a piece of a larger value package you offer, they’ll look forward to each new episode and the “extras” that go along with it. 

Engage your audience

The fourth thing you need to do to provide value in your podcast is to be responsive. Let your listeners know you’re there for them, and make it easy for them to provide feedback, ask questions, or make topic recommendations.

Talk to your listeners outside of your podcast.
Be there for your podcast listeners.

Engaging your listeners goes hand-in-hand with activating them. In fact, your activation can be something as simple as, “If you have questions about this episode visit our website and ask us in the comment section.” That doesn’t work, though, if you don’t fully engage the people who do.

That’s why engagement is a separate item in this list. Listeners don’t have to take the actions you offer but if they communicate with you, it’s imperative that you respond — even if they don’t expect it. For example, if someone leaves a great review on Apple Podcasts, give them a shout-out in your next episode. Not only will it make that listener feel appreciated, but it may also inspire others to leave great reviews, too.

As with actions, track engagements as best you can. If you can verify that your audience wants certain information or is interested and/or entertained by some things that you’re doing in the podcast, you can tie that to improving the association podcasts you’re producing. 

Enjoy yourself!

The fifth thing you can do to create value for your podcast listeners is to have fun making it. Listening to podcasts is an intimate communication experience, and you’d be surprised how easy it is for listeners to hear your state of mind in your voice.

If you’re making a podcast for a business or organization, there is the potential for the content to get a little dry. You (or whoever is hosting) should add some personality to the delivery to help overcome conversation or topics that might become dull.

This is not to say that your podcast has to be funny or silly or even entertaining. It’s quite possible your show will cover serious topics, technical details, or difficult issues. The objective isn’t to make the podcast “fun” necessarily (although if it can be fun, go for it). The objective is to ensure listeners know you are there because you want to be there, to provide them this important information.

If you sound like you’re having a great time, listeners will hear it in your voice. If you sound like you wish you were somewhere else, they’ll hear that, too. Make sure your tone and demeanor make listeners feel welcome and appreciated.

A podcast that provides value will always have listeners

Whether your goal is an audience of 100 listeners or 100,000, those people are playing your business podcasts because of what they gain from it. If you make sure to provide value to them by making a show for them, meeting their expectations, creating opportunities to act, engaging listeners, and having a good time doing it, listeners will stay with you episode after episode.

Learn more about starting a podcast for business. 

If you focus on the things I’ve explained here, starting business podcasts can be a very effective addition to a content marketing strategy. Find out more about all of this and get a free consultation about podcasting for your business or organization by clicking the button below.

Starting a public affairs podcast? Don’t skip 1 important task!

Knowing your audience is the #1 key to starting a podcast right

If you’re thinking about starting a public affairs podcast you’re probably asking (or being asked), “okay, so who’s going to listen to this?” Good question.

In fact, it’s not just one of the questions you should be asking when you think podcasting for your business or organization, it’s the first and most important question you should ask. The simple answer is your audience. So you’d better know who that is before you start your podcast.

Read: 3 Common Questions about Podcasting for Public Affairs Organizations

Whether anyone listens to a podcast has a lot to do with marketing and promotions, distribution platforms, and other common content marketing requirements, but, ultimately, your podcast will be judged on just one criterion: the value listeners get from it. A podcast that provides real value to the audience can always succeed, even if the marketing goes through changes before it finds the right audience.

Define your audience

If you're starting a public affairs podcast, you're speaking to an audience. Know who they are.
If you’re podcasting for business, you’re speaking to an audience. Know who they are.

You can ensure you are starting a podcast that creates value and avoid marketing misfires by making defining your audience the first step in your process. 

Depending on how comprehensive your marketing (and particularly any content marketing) is, you may already have a good idea of who your intended audience is because you’re already using blogs, social media, and other channels to reach them.

If you’re a nonprofit, for example, your audience may be your members. If you’re a business, your audience might be potential customers or current clients. If you have a large number of employees, you might create an internal podcast with your employees as your audience. Your audience might even be a combination of these.

Whoever they are, when starting a podcast for public affairs you should take the time to consider what you know about your audience and how they might listen to your show. Are they commuters? Activists? Very busy people with little time on their hands? Think about them and the factors in their lives that might affect how they think about a podcast.

Often, people in podcasting talk about creating an audience “avatar,” a hypothetical individual who represents the most important characteristics of your ideal audience member. This is a useful exercise if the primary (and possibly exclusive) goal is maximum listenership. 

For most businesses and organizations I work with, who listens to their podcasts is as important as how many, and a single avatar usually fails to encompass that effectively. In these cases, defining a few avatars can be helpful but often simply defining a clear market for the podcast, as with any other product, is sufficient. 

Define the value you give

If you are starting a public affairs podcast, you should provide clear value to your audience. They should enjoy listening.
Your podcast should provide clear value to your audience. They should enjoy listening.

Once you’ve got a clear picture of the audience you’ll need to articulate the value you intend to provide them before starting a podcast.

That value might be education, or information, or even entertainment, but you should consider what kind of value your ideal audience might want from a podcast. Would they appreciate help figuring out investment strategies or buying a new car? Is parenting advice likely to be something they can use? Maybe they’d find discussions and insights about government policy important? 

It’s important to articulate the value you think your audience wants; don’t assume you know what they would find valuable in a podcast, even if you have a clear idea of what they like in other media. Podcasts are not the same. 

One key difference between podcasts and other content marketing channels is the need to provide consistent content over several episodes. A list of ten steps to perfect barbecued spare ribs may make a million-view blog post, but that doesn’t mean people will want to listen to a 30-minute podcast episode about each of the ten steps. It might, however, mean they’d listen to a 30-minute podcast episode about spare ribs, and another about brisket, and another about barbeque chicken, etc.

The value you get makes it worthwhile

If your public affairs podcast provides value to your audience, they will return that value to your organization..
If your podcast provides value to your audience, they will return that value to your organization.

One of the great things about starting a podcast is that they can provide much more value to an audience compared to other media. Video and text require your audience’s undivided attention but many people listen to podcasts when doing regular activities such as exercising, doing house or yard work, or are otherwise actively engaged in something else. Only podcasting can reach people during these times.

Video and text’s need for an audience’s undivided attention also limits their scope. A home renovation company, for example, can produce a blog post or video called Ten Steps for Renovating your Home, but both require the focused attention of the audience so brevity becomes important. Imagine how much more detail (and value!) they could provide by producing ten 15-minute episodes of a podcast!

Businesses and organizations, in particular, reap the benefits of the value they provide to audiences by starting a podcast. As with all well-executed content marketing, your listeners become customers, members, or stakeholders, and the value they gain from your podcast, plus the value you receive from them as your business grows, creates more opportunities for you to produce new podcasts and episodes that keep them engaged. 

Listening to your podcast represents an investment someone is making in you, your business, or organization. Defining your audience, and articulating the value you can provide to them by starting a podcast, will go a long way toward ensuring you can answer the question, “Who’s going to listen to this?” with a confident, “All the right people.” 

Learn more about starting a public affairs podcast. 

If you focus on the things I’ve explained here, starting a business podcast can be a very effective addition to a content marketing strategy. Find out more about all of this and get a free consultation about podcasting for your business or organization by clicking the button below.