They have their own ways of listening.
According to Edison Research, only 14% of Americans 55 and over listen to podcasts weekly, compared to about 40% for other age groups. This data has led to a lot of analysis pointing out just how vital podcasts should be to brands hoping to reach younger consumers, particularly with the research by Sounds Profitable and Signal Hill Insights showing that podcasts are almost as effective at reaching 18- to 34-year-olds as TV and radio. I have contributed to that analysis.
A few folks have mentioned that the 55-plus age group represents an opportunity. I agree. In fact, many of Voxtopica’s clients are very interested in reaching older Americans, so we pay very close attention to the needs of these listeners. As a result, about 20% of our podcast listeners are 55 and older. Some shows have audiences with more than 25% of listeners in that age group. (Note: Chart of Voxtopica listener ages is based on Spotify data, which is not delivered in the same age ranges as the Edison and Sounds Profitable research.)
Reaching Older Listeners
I’d like to take the credit for reaching these older listeners, but our results aren’t based on any clever strategy or secret sauce. Many of our clients regularly communicate with older Americans through multiple channels, including to promote a podcast, so it stands to reason that these podcasts would have a more significant percentage of older listeners.
Voxtopica can take credit, however, for helping our clients understand how their older listeners consume the podcast. We do that in several ways, but I wanted to see if our approach was unique, so I asked some fellow podcasting experts what they thought.
Go Where They Are
The first consideration for a 55+ audience (a cohort to which I proudly belong) is that we aren’t online in the same ways as 18-34 year-olds. Chris Colbert, CEO of DCP Entertainment and Podstream Studios in New York, reminded me that, according to Edison’s latest Infinite Dial study, older listeners use YouTube Music more than other demographics.
“I’d take advantage of YouTube Music now offering podcasts on both their YouTube and YouTube Music platforms,” he said. They also use iHeartRadio more, so you should ensure your podcast is available on the iHeart app.
Another essential consideration is older adults’ social media habits. As Chris noted, “That demo is still a heavy user of Facebook, so I’d gear my marketing materials for that platform.”
He’s right, of course, but you must also consider how you talk about podcasting.
Use Their Language
Because they are less likely to listen to podcasts, older consumers are less likely to be familiar with podcast-speak. “Wherever you get your podcasts” is meaningless to someone who doesn’t listen to podcasts. As Rich McFadden, VP of Operations for Radio America, said, “Have your calls-to-action be very specific on how to access the podcast for those new to it. Also, write your CTA to the listener you’re trying to attract.”
His point about access is crucial. Large percentages of the audience for many of the podcasts Voxtopica produces listen to the audio at work. That often means through a browser. In fact, for some of our shows, more than 30% of downloads come through web browsers, not podcast player apps. Occasionally, a particular episode can see browser-based downloads as high as 60%.
Rich added that you can grow your audience by asking these listeners to help. “Definitely ask for them to share it with their friends! They will,” he said. He’s right, but you do have to make it easy for them.
Give The People Something Else
After nearly 20 years of researching podcast audiences, Tom Webster of Sounds Profitable arguably knows more about listener behavior than anyone alive. He stresses the importance of content to 55+ listeners. “Radio serves 55+ in a way that it doesn’t younger demos, so you can’t just look at what works there as an opportunity like conservative talk, personal finance, sports,” he told me. “What many in that [older] demo will tell you is that podcasts give them nothing they don’t already have. They are at least half right. The gold is in the other half.”
As I said earlier, Voxtopica’s success in reaching older Americans is significant because, for many of our clients, the 55+ demo is an essential cohort of their overall audience. Our advantage is in the content. Together with our clients, we offer conversations they just can’t get anywhere else.
Shows like The Future of Nursing (from the National Academy of Medicine), From The Crows’ Nest (from the defense industry Association of Old Crows), and the Career Education Report (from Career Education Colleges & Universities) are consumed by older Americans more than others because they provide niche content that these audiences don’t hear on talk radio — or anywhere else, for that matter.
The Opportunity Is Real
There is definitely an opportunity for podcasters to reach the 55+ market, but only some podcasts should try. If your show can provide unique value to older listeners, you should be sure you’re marketing where they are and using language that’s meaningful to them.
In the long term, of course, time is on our side. In five short years, millions of Americans who regularly listen to podcasts will enter the 55+ demographic, growing listenership there, too. And that’s good for all of us.